Worried About A Sick Puppy?

Taking care of a sick puppy can be worrying, confusing, heartbreaking... and often expensive.

Sick puppy with blanket

When little Fido isn't feeling well it's easy to panic, and it can be difficult to figure out if there really is something wrong..... and to decide exactly what you should do about it.

As your little guy is relying on you to take care of him, it's important that you know how to recognize the most common signs of illness and that proper puppy health care is a high priority in your home.




Signs & Symptoms of A Sick Puppy

There are many dog illnesses which puppies are at risk of contracting and a variety of symptoms which could mean trouble is brewing.

To make matters even more confusing, certain symptoms can be signs of either a dangerous disease or a much simpler, less worrying one.

In addition to obvious physical issues such as diarrhea, vomiting, lameness and so on, behavioral changes are often early warning signs of illness.

Exhausted and sad Beagle puppy

It doesn't take long for you to become familiar with your puppy's' individual pattern of behaviors such as:

  • how long he can play for without getting tired
  • how much he eats in a day (or at each meal)
  • how often he needs to 'potty' and what's normal for his bowel movements
  • whether he's normally happy, excitable or mellow

Pay close attention to any sudden changes in these areas as they are often one of the very first indications that your puppy is unwell.


Symptoms Of A Sick Puppy:

  • Change in activity level. Particularly if your normally active, playful puppy seems exhausted, listless and disinterested in his toys, games... even you!

  • Change in appetite. If your puppy suddenly seems to lose his appetite and won't eat, or drink, this is a red flag. If he's vomiting too, it's even more critical that you talk to your vet immediately.

  • Change in bowel movements. A big indicator of your puppy's health is his stools! If you suddenly find that Fido has diarrhea (with or without vomiting), it could signal the beginning of one of several illnesses and your pup is quite likely to get very sick, very fast.

    Repeated, watery or bloody diarrhea is an emergency situation and if your regular veterinarian's office isn't open, you need to get your puppy to a 24 hour pet clinic immediately.

    It could be Canine Parvovirus or another serious, potentially deadly, puppy illness such as Coccidia or Giardia. Soft stools, or a single bout of mild diarrhea could just mean that your puppy raided the garbage can last night! 

  • Panting, shaking or whining. Fido can't tell you if he's not feeling well, or what hurts. But his behavior can give you clues. Panting, shaking/shivering, unusually 'clingy' behavior or constant whining can all mean there's something wrong and he's trying to tell you about it.

  • Weakness, dizziness or disorientation. There can be a number of different reasons for these symptoms of puppy illness, and if your little guy shows any of them, you need to have him evaluated by your veterinarian quickly. 

    In small and tiny breeds, a drop in blood sugar can cause hypoglycemia which can result in all three symptoms. Giving your pup a little Karo syrup can help alleviate symptoms of hypoglycemia, but if it happens more than once you need some expert advice.

Poodle puppy with diarrhea

Additional Symptoms To Watch Out For:

There are other, less serious, symptoms that can crop up and suggest that your pup has some type of illness include:

Excessive Licking/Scratching

  • If your pup starts to lick himself all the time it could signal a skin problem and/or dog allergies .
  • Licking his genital area and/or frequent urination could mean a bladder infection (aka UTI). 
  • Obsessive scratching could mean parasites such as fleas or mites which cause mange in dogs etc. 
  • Constant head shaking can also mean allergies, ear mites or infection.


Change in Coat

  • If your puppy's coat seems to be dull, patchy or coarse it could mean he has parasites such as worms.
  • Allergies can also cause coat and skin changes.
  • Or it could be an indication that his diet is lacking in certain nutrients. 


About Sick Puppies - A Veterinarians' View

When puppies get sick, they can become more severely affected than adult dogs. 

Just like a human baby, a puppy’s immune system isn’t fully developed and they are more vulnerable to disease. If your puppy is showing any signs of illness, it is best to get him to the vet as soon as possible for medical intervention. 

Loss of appetite, severe lethargy, vomiting, and diarrhea are all critical symptoms to watch for in a puppy.  Some of these symptoms may be due to a mild problem such as intestinal parasites or stomach upset from a new treat.  But if these signs are ignored for too long, a puppy could become severely ill. 

Poor appetite, vomiting, and diarrhea in puppies leads to severe dehydration and hypoglycemia more rapidly than in adult dogs.  This compounds a normally simple problem and can lead to prolonged and expensive hospital stays. 

Even more worrisome, these symptoms may be the first signs of more severe disease such as parvovirus.  Even if you have kept your puppy up to date on parvo vaccines, they aren’t considered fully immune until the last vaccine is given around 4 months of age.  Parvo is extremely contagious and can cause critical illness or even death in puppies. 

Treatment is much more successful when the diagnosis is made early.  The first sign is often a lack of appetite, so if your puppy is not eating for more than one day, you should get to the vet. This is followed by the more obvious signs of profuse diarrhea and vomiting. By then, puppies are pretty sick and will require more aggressive treatment. 

Coughing is another important symptom to watch for in puppies. 

In adult dogs, sudden onset of a cough is usually due to kennel cough.  While the cough is frequent and sounds very dramatic, adult dogs typically feel okay and clear the infection with minimal intervention.  But young puppies may not be able to fight of these simple infections quite so quickly.  Their disease may progress to pneumonia, which is infection in the lungs. 

In addition to coughing, pneumonia causes fast or labored breathing, loss of appetite, lethargy, and fever.  In addition to a host of antibiotics, your puppy may require hospitalization for oxygen therapy, nebulization, and IV fluids.  Pneumonia can be fatal if not addressed in a timely manner.  

Many severe illnesses in puppies are contagious.  It is very important that your puppy be socialized with other dogs and allowed outdoors for training and conditioning purposes. 

However, this should be done cautiously.  Do not allow your puppy to be in contact with dogs that have unknown health and vaccination status. Avoid heavily populated areas such as dog parks or crowded kennels until your puppy is older and fully vaccinated.  

If you notice that your puppy is ‘off’ in any way, it is best to err on the side of caution and get to the vet. 

In most cases, the problem will have a simple fix and he will be back to his normal self in no time.  But if a serious disease is brewing, your vet will be able to intervene quickly and give your pup the best chance at recovery. 

Author: Dr. Megan Teiber, DVM


Having a comprehensive source of pet health information that you can turn to is always a good idea :)  

If you have The Veterinarians' Guide to Your Dog's Symptoms you'll always be able to find a list of the potential cause of just about any symptom you're likely to see.

Written by veterinarians, it's perfect for everyday reference and points you in the right direction, whether that is a trip to the vet's office or a home remedy.

Here are some more great books that can help you keep little Fido healthy.....



Related pages which may help:


All the information and advice on this page has been approved by
Veterinarian, Dr. Megan Teiber, DVM



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