Top 10 Symptoms in Dogs: Veterinarians List Their Top Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog

How often do we say we wish our dogs could talk to us, tell us when they hurt? But they do. We need to learn how to listen.

Veterinarians share their list of top 10 symptoms to watch for in dogs.

Top 10 Symptoms in Dogs: Veterinarians List Their Top Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog
Dr. Julie Buzby
Dr. Julie Buzby, South Carolina, ToeGrips
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Dr. Julie Buzby

Having just experienced a tragedy that still has my friend’s children crying themselves to sleep, I am compelled to give just one answer to this question—LOSS OF APPETITE.

Loss of appetite

Recently my friend was babysitting a senior dog for her close friend on vacation. Less than 24 hours into their time together, the dog became lethargic and began vomiting. Rapid breathing followed. My friend texted me a video of the dog, and we walked through a crude exam by phone. My heart sank because intuitively I knew this was very serious.

My friend rushed the dog to a local vet who diagnosed a large mass of the spleen on physical exam. 

The poor dog was a time bomb for bleeding to death internally, and she was too weak to even get up. After communicating with the dog’s owner several times via phone, it was determined unanimously that the kindest thing for the suffering dog was euthanasia. It was a tragic, traumatic outcome, and completely blindsided my friend and her family.

A missed symptom

However, in discussing the unfolding situation with the out-of-state owner, it came to light that the dog had not been eating normally for weeks. The lady had naively ignored this symptom, which in most dogs is a major red flag.

If your dog has an unexplainable/uncharacteristic decrease or cessation of appetite that lasts for more than one meal, please contact your veterinarian immediately.

Dr. Daniel Beatty, DVM
Dr. Daniel Beatty, DVM, Dog Kinetics
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Dr. Daniel Beatty, DVM

Interesting question considering I have had clients come in to see me because the hair on their dog is going a different way in a spot than it did a couple of months ago – NOT an exaggeration!

When should you bring your dog to the vet 

The obvious such as excessive bleeding, gaping wounds, loss of consciousness, multiple seizures, obviously broken limbs, difficulty breathing, paralysis, or painful cries dictate a need to get to the vet ASAP.

For other symptoms that may not be as obvious to some people but do dictate a visit to your vet include:

  1. Digestive issues – vomiting more than once in a 24 hour period, diarrhea for more than 24 hours, not eating for more than 24 hours, blood in the stool
  2. Respiratory problems – coughing, sneezing, nasal or eye discharge for more than 3-4 days, excessive panting when the dog is at rest and its not hot, any labored breathing
  3. Eye disorders – anything relating to the eye constitutes a visit to the vet within 24 hours
  4. Urinary tract issues – straining to urinate, blood in the urine or having accidents in the house, drinking excessively and/or urinating excessively
  5. Musculoskeletal problems – not being able to raise or turn the head, wobbly or weak in the hind legs, not putting weight on a leg, limping for more than 3 days or a limp that gets worse instead of better
  6. General – restlessness, not able to sleep, depressed and not wanting to play, hiding and not wanting to be around family, a significant change in behavior

Sorry, there are no top 10 because it really depends on what conditions or body system that is having an issue, some are more immediate concerns than others.

I am sure I have missed some other concerns that would require a trip to the vet, but I did purposely leave out a spot of hair going in a different direction than it once was. It’s fine if you bring your dog to a vet for an issue such as that, but it is not an immediate concern and certainly would not be in a top 10 of what to watch out for.

Dr. Keith Niesenbaum, VMD
Dr. Keith Niesenbaum, VMD, New York, Crawford Dog, and Cat Hospital
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Dr. Keith Niesenbaum, VMD

Top 10 symptoms owners should watch out for in their dogs

  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Increased water consumption
  • Changes in urinary habits. Either frequency or volume.
  • Vomiting. Chronic vomiting is not normal. Dogs that vomit once or twice a week, off and on, need to be checked out
  • Coughing. This is often overlooked in cats and attributed to hairballs. Hairballs form on the stomach and do not cause coughing. Pulmonary or cardiac diseases cause coughing
  • Sneezing or nasal discharge
  • Bad breath. This is most often caused by dental disease but could also be an indication of systemic illness
  • Red ears or a smell coming from the ears
  • Hair loss
  • Changes in bowel habits
Dr. Rae Worden of Fergus Veterinary Hospital
Dr. Rae Worden, DVM, Ontario,  Fergus Veterinary Hospital
Dr. Rae on Facebook and Twitter
Dr. Rae Worden, DVM

At this time of year, a panting agitated dog in a parked car!


  • Changes in volume of water drank
  • Changes in the volume of urine produced
  • Gain or loss of weight
  • Unexplained lumps
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Blood visible anywhere
  • Gain or loss of appetite
  • PAIN or the suggestion of PAIN anywhere
  • ANY issue the veterinarian says is abnormal or requires monitoring
Dr. Patrick Mahaney
Dr. Patrick Mahaney, Los Angeles, The Daily Vet
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Dr. Patrick Mahaney

This is a fairly broad question, so here are my answers:

  • Difficulty breathing or any change in respiratory patterns
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea or other alterations in bowel movement production
  • Abnormal urinary patterns or appearance to urine
  • Water consumption changes
  • Decreased appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Lameness (limping, not being able to go up/down stairs or on/off elevated surfaces, etc.)
  • General behavior changes (hiding, aggression, not wanting to be held/touched)
Dr. Nancy Kay, DVM
Dr. Nancy Kay, DVM, Speaking for Spot
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Dr. Nancy Kay, DVM

Most people know to watch out for symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, and lethargy.

For purposes of this survey, I will mention 10 important symptoms that people are more likely to ignore. If any of the following are observed, consultation with a veterinarian is warranted:

  • Increased thirst
  • Increased appetite
  • Diminished (narrower) urine stream
  • Decreased stamina (exercise intolerance)
  • Feeling more boney prominences when petting your dog or cat
  • Increased panting
  • Eating a normal amount of food, but taking longer to do so
  • Change in behavior- clinginess, grouchiness, etc.
  • Change in texture of the coat
  • Unexplained change in body weight
Dr. Krista Magnifico, DVM
Dr. Krista Magnifico, DVM, Diary of a Real-Life Veterinarian
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Dr. Krista Magnifico, DVM
1. Shortness of breath, breathing difficulty

It is easy to miss this subtle slow onset as lethargy or panting. But a dog with an extended head and neck, open mouth, or abdominal involvement in moving air has difficulty breathing. This is a medical emergency.

2. Distended abdomen

Most dog parents don’t notice this either. However, a distended abdomen is one of the most critical clues in bloat, which requires immediate surgical intervention.

3. Gagging, retching, attempting to vomit with, or without producing vomit or liquid from the mouth

This is yet another sign of bloat or intestinal obstruction. Both require immediate veterinary care and intervention.

4. Panting

Excessive panting can be challenging to distinguish from regular ordinary panting. Beware, though, that your dog’s internal temperature can climb quickly and become life-threatening. A panting dog who becomes quiet, recumbent, and lethargic is, in some cases, a dying dog.

5. Excessive chewing

You might think that having lots of rawhides, toys, chewies, etc.. around will keep your dog from becoming bored. However, there are cases when these dogs learn to become fixated on oral stimuli, which perpetuates more chewing and chewing on objects that are not safe.

If your dog is an excessive chewer, I worry about intestinal obstructions. We have seen 2, and 3-year old’s undergo multiple exploratory surgeries. Think about whether your dog is bored. Dogs need exercise, mental stimuli, and a safe, happy, engaging environment. Feed that, not the stomach.

6. Persistent lameness

If your dog is limping and it either becomes more severe OR persists, it is time for an examination. At some point, it is time for an x-ray or even serial x-rays to identify cancer, osteoarthritis, and other possible soft tissue or orthopedic conditions. The early these are diagnosed, the better chance of successful treatment options.

7. Obesity

It is easy to miss those pounds creeping up. You are with your dog every day and don’t recognize that your furry friend is packing on pounds that can lead to diabetes, cancer, osteoarthritis, other diseases, and premature death. Obesity is an epidemic in the USA for both dog and their parents. This is a preventable disease!

8. Head shaking, licking paws, scratching..and all of the rest of the ways our dogs try to tell us that their skin is bothering them

These clinical signs tell me that your dog has a struggle with a bug..those bugs can be bacteria, mites, yeast, fungi, fleas, ticks, aka; nasty tiny bloodsucking/chewing/biting parasites. Get to a vet before your dog is bald, bleeding, red, and so itchy that they are miserable.

9. Anxiety

As a parent, it is our job to provide our kids with a safe household and the building blocks to become successful and acceptable members of society. If your dog barks, lunges, snips, bites, growls, snarls, harasses, challenges, cowers, urinates in fear, or cannot deal with everyday routine social interactions, then your dog needs help. Don’t just adjust your life to avoid, mitigate, or excuse the behavior. Address it! Understand that you and your actions might adversely affect your dog’s ability to function appropriately and seek an unbiased credible third party to help. It is for the sake of you, your dog, and the rest of the members of society. Dog bites, attacks, and even deaths occur because people ignored the many warning signs their dogs gave them.

10. Bad breath

Bad breath is always bad teeth (well, maybe not 100% of the time, but enough for me to say,,,) If your dog has bad breath, see your vet. Further, have a dental cleaning that includes thorough probing of all teeth AND digital dental x-rays. Your dog’s oral health is intimately tied to their overall health, especially heart disease. If your dog has a murmur, make extra efforts to keep the teeth healthy and clean.

Related articles:
Symptoms: Recognition, Acknowledgement, And Denial

Categories: Dog careDog health advocacyLethargyLoss of appetiteSymptomsVeterinarians answer

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Jana Rade

I am a graphic designer, dog health advocate, writer, and author. Jasmine, the Rottweiler of my life, was the largest female from her litter. We thought we were getting a healthy dog. Getting a puppy from a backyard breeder was our first mistake. Countless veterinary visits without a diagnosis or useful treatment later, I realized that I had to take Jasmine's health care in my own hands. I learned the hard way that merely seeing a vet is not always enough. There is more to finding a good vet than finding the closest clinic down the street. And, sadly, there is more to advocating for your dog's health than visiting a veterinarian. It should be enough, but it often is not. With Jasmine, it took five years to get a diagnosis. Unfortunately, other problems had snowballed for that in the meantime. Jasmine's health challenges became a crash course in understanding dog health issues and how to go about getting a proper diagnosis and treatment. I had to learn, and I had to learn fast. Helping others through my challenges and experience has become my mission and Jasmine's legacy. I now try to help people how to recognize and understand signs of illness in their dogs, how to work with their veterinarian, and when to seek a second opinion. My goal is to save others the steep curve of having to learn things the hard way as I did. That is the mission behind my blog and behind my writing. That is why I wrote Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, which has turned out being an award-winning guide to dog owners. What I'm trying to share encompasses 20 years of experience.

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