I Have a Sick Puppy! What Do I Do (or Don’t Do)?

I Have a Sick Puppy! What Do I Do (or Don’t Do)?


You’re still getting to know your puppy, but the little guy already has you wrapped around his paw. Then one day, you notice he’s not feeling well. You panic, partially because he’s your dog, but also because you don’t know what’s happening. How can you help? Does he need help?

Getting to Know Your Puppy

Figuring out whether or not you have a sick puppy on your hands isn’t as black and white as it may be in the human world. After all, pups aren’t going to provide you with any communication to let you know something wrong’s going on. You’re going to have to figure things out by watching their behavior.

This is easier said than done because puppies may be prone to engaging in oddball behavior as they try to figure out how to navigate through this world – or more specifically, your home. However, the more time you spend with your pup, the more you’ll get a better bead on what’s normal and what’s strange for him.

For instance, you should develop a pretty strong read on how long he can play without getting tired, or how much he eats during each meal, or how often he does his business. You also may be able to ascertain behavioral clues simply by having breed-specific knowledge on how they act.

Once you figure out what constitutes normal behavior for him, you’ll be able to detect abnormal developments much easier. Without developing this concrete differentiation between what’s right and what’s wrong, you may turn deducing your dog’s health into guesswork.

Seeing – and Interpreting – the Signs

So you’ve gotten to know your puppy, his behavior, and all of his other idiosyncrasies. Once you have this information, the best way to see if your pooch is ill is to look for specific non-learned behaviors that deviate from his normal routine. The behaviors you’ll be looking for will look out of place compared to behaviors that push development forward.

Even when you see some behaviors that look questionable on paper, they may require you to do some extra investigation. The trick here is to remember that they are puppies that are still not fully cognizant about how the world works. As such, what may look like a clear-cut problem may not be one.

Take vomiting, for example. You may see your pooch throwing up, and you may instantly think that he has a problem with his digestive tract, such as a worm infestation. However, a puppy throwing up could simply mean that he’s eating his food too quickly.

Interpreting these signs correctly again goes back to developing a keen sense of how your pup behaves. In this case, if you’re strictly monitoring how much food he should be eating, and he’s still barfing anyway, you may be able to conclude that something bad is afoot.

Other than vomiting, some of the signs you may see in a sick puppy include lethargy, a loss of appetite, vomiting, excessive itching or licking, or whimpering. As you get to know your dog, you should be able to differentiate quickly if the behavior is part of his evolving nature or if it’s an indicator of illness.

One behavior that may be a bit tougher even if you know your pup well is dizziness. If you have a pup that’s walking around aimlessly or even drunk, you could potentially read that as your little guy being awkward and clumsy, as puppies sometimes can be. If your puppy is moving in this manner, it could be a sign that he’s dehydrated or has low blood sugar.

The Signs Behind the Signs

In order to pinpoint whether or not the “signs” your puppy is giving you indicate actual illness, you may have to dig a little deeper into your dog’s behavior. This means that you may have to resort to doing some dirty, unpleasant work. But since it’s your puppy, you’ll happily do it, right?

For instance, if your dog does have diarrhea or vomits, it’s important to inspect both substances to see if there are any unusual elements in play, such as vomit, mucus, or even parasites like tapeworms. These could not only be indicators that your dog is sick, but it could also symptomatic of a much greater, scarier issue.

What are Some of the Common Puppy illnesses?

There are six common illnesses that your pup may encounter within the first year of his life. Most of these diseases may be stamped out before they start with a simple vaccination. If your pup contracts these issues, he’ll require vet visits and/or medication for the issue to be eradicated.

The first illness is parvovirus, or parvo; a highly contagious disease that can affect dogs up to 3 years old. This virus can wreak havoc on a dog’s digestive system – diarrhea and vomiting are common – leading to dehydration and weakness. In extreme cases, it can even lead to sepsis, which can be fatal.

Fortunately, parvo is relatively easy to treat. Making sure you vaccinate your puppy against the virus will stop it dead in its tracks before it infiltrates your four-legged friend’s body. If he does contract parvo, expect him to be hospitalized for up to four days before being sent home with medications.

The second ailment, distemper, is something that can also be halted with a vaccination. It’s a good thing, too – this illness is a nasty upper respiratory disease that can lead to pneumonia or even brain damage or death if not treated swiftly. What’s worse, is that it tends to look like the pup just has a cold, so you may not think much of the symptoms.

If your puppy catches the disease, it can take weeks of hospitalization and medications to knock it out. Unfortunately, distemper can lay dormant within the puppy’s system after recovery and break out again when they’re older, often with more severe symptoms. Because of this, it’s urgent that your pup has his distemper vaccination.

Another common illness is kennel cough. This condition is either caused by an airborne bacterial infection or the airborne canine parainfluenza virus, and can be caught well beyond the parameters of a kennel. In addition to developing a deep cough, the illness is marked by lethargy, fever, and a decreased appetite, and could lead to pneumonia.

Puppies can receive a vaccination to combat kennel cough, but this merely takes the edge off of the symptoms rather than stopping it cold. Typically, your pup can make a full recovery from the condition in 10 to 14 days with treatment.

Adenovirus is a rarer disease, primarily because vaccines tend to overpower the condition. However, it’s worthy to note its potential presence because it can do some pretty nasty things if it ends up in your little guy’s system.

Like distemper, it may be difficult to determine if your pooch has adenovirus. However, the symptoms to look out for include various digestive tract issues like diarrhea or vomiting. If left unchecked, these conditions could lapse into jaundice.

The adenovirus vaccine is given at the same time as the distemper vaccine, and usually, that’s enough to nip the problem in the bud. If it does manifest in your pooch, your doctor will prescribe various antibiotics to take care of the issue.

Your dog may also come down with leptospirosis; a bacteria-based ailment that can be transmitted through contaminated urine and water. This disease can have a wide range of symptoms that can make your puppy miserable, from mild conditions like sore muscles and diarrhea to sever issues like renal failure.

Your puppy can get vaccinated against leptospirosis; however, not all veterinary clinics vaccinate for the disease. As such, be sure to talk to your vet to make sure your puppy is receiving this vaccination when he’s getting his shots. Your pup will be very grateful you didn’t assume.

Finally, you should practically expect your puppy to develop diarrhea or vomiting at one point. However, just because it’s a common issue, this doesn’t mean it should be treated like it’s no big deal. It can be symptomatic of intestinal parasites, or it can even be linked to one of the five aforementioned conditions.

If your pup has persistent diarrhea or vomiting, schedule a trip to the vet to make sure nothing too terrible is going on. If you happen to see blood or other funky-colored discharge in the vomit, get to a vet as soon as possible. The treatment your vet will prescribe your pooch will depend on the cause of the condition.

Keep a Cool Head, for the Sake of Your Puppy!

If your pup is showing signs of illness, the most important thing you can do for him is not to panic. Chances are, the little guy isn’t at full strength to begin with, and he may be feeling a bit nervous or depressed. Acting harried won’t help this.

Instead, be gentle with your pup throughout his illness, from the moment you figure out he’s under the weather to the moment his vet-prescribed treatment is done. Your pooch won’t be able to verbally thank you for this, but just know he’ll be appreciative.


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