Recognizing Signs of Illness or Injury

You're already the expert on your dog's behavior. You know its personality energy level, likes, and dislikes, so you have a big advantage when it comes to recognizing that something is amiss. Changes in your dog's appearance or behavior could indicate that all is not well. Pay particular attention to the following:

  • Loss of appetite: Maybe Spunky is just fed up with the same old dog food. But if your little dog refuses to eat and a diet change doesn't do the trick, it may be a sign of illness.

  • Drinking habits: If your small dog drinks water as if it can't quench its thirst or stops drinking it altogether, this could also signal a problem.

  • Elimination: Diarrhea is always a concern. Pint-size dogs dehydrate more quickly. The problem may be something your dog ate, but it could also indicate a virus or a worm infestation. Note the color and consistency of your dog's normal stool so you'll be aware of changes. Evidence of parasites, blood, a dog that strains or cries when it tries to eliminate, a marked change in the frequency of needed potty calls, or increased accidents indoors should alert you to a possible medical problem.

  • Vomiting: Dogs can be notoriously indiscreet about the things they eat and drink, so occasionally they will get an upset tummy. With-hold food and water for one feeding. If your dog keeps its next meal down, you don't need to run to the vet. Repeated stomach upsets and vomit containing blood or parts of ingested foreign objects indicate an emergency situation. Gagging might also indicate that the dog is trying to expel something it swallowed.

  • Coughing, wheezing, and sneezing: These can indicate a respiratory infection as well as heart, lung, or tracheal problems, so they call for prompt checking by the vet.

  • Seizures: In young dogs, these are not usually life-threatening and are commonly short in duration, but they need to be brought to the vet's attention, especially if they last more than five minutes or recur. When having a seizure, your dog may appear dazed and confused and may shake, pant, or lose its balance. Seizures are often hereditary and are usually controllable with medication.

  • Weight changes: If your little dog appears to be rapidly losing or gaining weight or has a bloated belly, it needs to see the vet.

  • Discharge: Runny eyes; a drippy nose; and brown, black, or yellow discharge from the ears are all signs of illness or infection.

  • Eye problems: A closed, swollen, or squinting eye could indicate an ulcerated cornea or the presence of foreign matter. Flush gently with eyewash and see the vet.

  • Growths: If lumps and bumps pop up overnight, they need immediate checking. Lumps that emerge more slowly could range in severity from harmless fatty tumors to cancerous growths. Insect bites, especially from bees and wasps, often have a serious effect on small dogs, so monitor your little dog very closely after such an event.

  • Fatigue: Panting, heavy breathing, lethargy, a lack of interest in normal activities, or a dramatic change in sleeping patterns should be brought to the vet's attention.

  • Odor: A foul smell from the mouth, ears, or skin could indicate illness or infection. Tooth decay, ear discharge, anal gland problems, cancerous tumors, and mange all produce odors that are markedly different from the normal smell of a healthy dog.

  • Coat and skin changes: Redness; inflammation; rashes; crusty lesions; hair loss; excessive dander; and constant scratching, licking, and biting can all indicate the presence of parasites, allergies, or an underlying disease.

  • Abnormal behavior: If your dog is just not its normal happy self, suddenly snapping, whining, depressed, anxious, or lethargic, it's time to see the vet.

  • Impaired movement: Limping, not being able to climb stairs if they usually present no problem, crying when you pick it up, trembling, falling, and dragging its back legs — these are signs of injury or disease in a dog.

Having a small dog is not much different than having a small child. Sooner or later, you'll be faced with a trip to the doctor or the emergency room for an illness or injury. If you are in doubt about the seriousness of symptoms, by all means call your vet. If the situation is potentially serious, waiting could make it worse.

Try not to panic. Whether it's a minor mishap or a serious illness, your vet is your best resource in all such situations. With today's amazing advances in veterinary medicine, our dogs have never been in better hands.

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