It’s late in the evening. Your dog has vomited twice. You’re starting to wonder if you should go to bed or get dressed and get him to a vet.
It’s sometimes a tough call because emergency vet bills are high. Between office visit fees, x-rays, tests and medications, most of us can’t easily absorb an unexpected hit of $1,000 or more.
Yet even more than that, we don’t want to endanger our dogs’ life or prolong their suffering. We want to help them when they’re in pain or distress.
So how do you make the right decision?
Here are 10 signs that you should get your dog to the vet, especially if your dog is exhibiting other signs of distress or discomfort.
- Restlessness. Dogs who get enough exercise during the day usually lie down or nap in the evening. If your dog is pacing, or lying down and then getting up within a few minutes, it could be a sign of anxiety and pain. You know your dog’s routine. If she is restless and there’s no other cause that it could be attributed to (i.e., houseguests, fireworks, a new neighborhood dog barking outside), get to the vet.
- High temperature. It can be tricky to take a dog’s temperature, especially if he’s not feeling well. So when he’s feeling fine, take his temperature a couple of times to get him used to the procedure and to establish a baseline normal temp for him. For most dogs, it’s 101 to 102.5. When he’s exhibiting some of the other signs mentioned here, an accompanying high temperature — which can indicate a viral or bacterial infection — might clinch your decision to seek veterinary attention.
- Hesitation to jump or climb. If your dog, who normally jumps into the car or onto the bed readily, or climbs stairs with no problem, suddenly looks unsure or waits for help, he could have an internal or structural problem you can’t see.
- Changes in body posture. Bloat is a serious illness that can take the life of a dog within hours. Dogs experiencing bloat will have a distended stomach due to gas buildup (hence the name). They will also exhibit other signs of illness, such as restlessness and panting. Your dog might be reluctant to sit down, yet looks as if he wants to, or he’s lying or sleeping in an unusual posture. Maybe his mouth is open but he’s not panting, or he’s holding one or both ears at an awkward position. These are things that may indicate he needs a vet.
- Hiding. Dogs who are in pain often don’t want to be bothered. If your dog hides in an uncharacteristic way, see if a treat or toy that she would normally respond to can coax her out. If not, she may be in trouble.
- Unusual ways of getting your attention. Dog’s can’t tell us they’re in pain, so they just usually deal with it by withdrawing or trying to make themselves more comfortable. However, sometimes, they do seek us out, because they know we’re their source of safety and comfort. If your dog uncharacteristically pesters you for attention, and your attention doesn’t seem to satisfy her need, there may be something more serious she’s seeking help for.
- Disruption in elimination patterns. Frequency, volume and condition of urine and feces is a good indicator of health. Get to know your dog’s normal patterns so that if they change, you’ll see it early on. When changing your dog’s food, watch for new elimination patterns and don’t be surprised if there’s a little diarrhea the first day or two as his system adjusts to the new food. But after that, things should get back to normal. It’s harder for homeowners who let their dogs eliminate in the back yard, because we often don’t see the result of the dog’s visit to the yard. But daily cleanups will give you an indicator, and it’s important to know what’s normal for your dog.
- Vomiting or retching with other symptoms. It’s not unusual for dogs to vomit. Some individuals hardly ever vomit while others vomit more regularly. Sometimes it’s because they didn’t chew properly, but it can be his body rejecting a toxic substance or bacterial infection. If your dog vomits once or twice, but otherwise acts and eats normally, it’s probably not an emergency. But if she can’t seem to stop vomiting, becomes listless, has diarrhea, or refuses food, she needs a vet. Also, if she’s retching but not bringing up anything, she could be bloating or have an obstruction, which also require quick veterinary intervention.
- Unusual vocalizing. Dogs usually don’t cry when they’re in pain. They tend to isolate. But if your dog is whimpering, crying, or wheezing in a way that’s not normal, definitely get to a vet.
- Unusual panting. Dogs pant when they’re hot, but if your dog is panting when he’s inside and would normally be resting (i.e., evening), there may be a problem. Our collie seemed to pant all the time, even in the air conditioning. The groomer took his beautiful coat off for the summer to help him stay cool, but he still panted. After some tests by the vet, we learned he had leukemia. If your dog shows unusual panting, especially when combined with weakness or unusual thirst, get him to the vet.
Remember, any of these signs could mean your dog needs to see the vet, but if your dog shows more than one sign, it’s even more likely that veterinary attention is needed. When in doubt, see the vet. It’s better to spend some money needlessly than to endanger your dog’s life because you’re unsure.