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My dog is ill. What should I do?

April 16, 2021

We know our pets so well that we can easily spot the signs that they’re under the weather. But knowing what to do and when to get help can be difficult – and finding reliable information online can be even more challenging. The PDSA has created the Pet Health Hub, where pet owners can look up common pet health symptoms and decide if a trip to the vet is needed. PDSA vet Anna Clark explains more and shares some advice on the three most common health problems and what to do if your dog is ill. 

What is the PDSA’s Pet Health Hub?

The Pet Health Hub is an online resource for pet owners with lots of information about common symptoms, conditions and medications for dogs, cats and rabbits. All the articles are written by PDSA vets and vet nurses. Best of all, it’s completely free to use! 

It’s a great place to go if you’re looking for unbiased, clear medical advice to help you know when your pet needs a visit to the vets, what symptoms to look out for and to find more information about conditions that have been diagnosed by your vet.

However, while the Pet Health Hub is a great place to get veterinary advice, it’s not a substitute for speaking to your vet. You know your pet best and if you are concerned about them, it’s always best to contact your vet, especially in an emergency.

Three common health issues in dogs

1. Stomach upsets

Stomach upsets (gastroenteritis) in dogs are common and there are lots of different causes. This includes eating something they shouldn’tchanges to their dietfood allergies or food intolerances, parasites like worms or giardia and infections such as bacterial infections or parvovirus.

Stomach upsets typically cause vomiting and/or diarrhoea, but they can also lead to blood in your dog’s poo, which can be very worrying for owners. The good news is that in many cases these signs resolve once the stomach problem improves.

What to do if your dog has a mild stomach upset

If your dog has a mild stomach upset, for example they’ve been sick once or passed some loose poo but they are bright and well in themselves and eating normally, you should give your dog a light diet to help their stomach settle and monitor them closely. 

You can buy special gastrointestinal or light diets or cook something plain, like chicken or scrambled egg with rice or pasta. 

What to do if your dog is showing more serious signs of a stomach upset

If your dog is unable to keep down food and water, has very watery diarrhoea or shows other symptoms such as being off their food or having very low energy, it’s best to contact your vet for help and advice.

2. Limping and leg problems

Many dogs will have a leg or foot problem at some point in their lives. The most common symptoms of these are limping or stiffness

Some common causes of leg problems include strains and sprains, arthritis and ligament issues, like cruciate disease. However, you should always look for other problems such as your dog having something stuck in their paw or a torn nail.

Limping in older dogs

If you have an older dog that’s stiff or limping, it’s still important to get them checked by your vet. Old age and stiffness don’t have to go hand in hand.  With pain relief and other management, you might find your older dog gets a new lease of life.

Inherited conditions

Hip and elbow dysplasia can also lead to leg problems and limping, especially in certain breeds of dogs. 

As these can be inherited problems, which means they are passed down from a parent to their puppies, there are now health screening schemes which aim to identify parents who may carry the conditions. 

If you are planning to get a breed of puppy with a higher risk of hip or elbow dysplasia, make sure that both parents have been tested and you see the results.  It can be helpful to discuss the results with a vet before you commit to buying a puppy, as treatment can be painful for your dog and very costly for you.

Treatment for leg problems in dogs

There are lots of things your vet can do to help if your dog has a leg problem.  This often includes pain medication and strict rest or a special exercise routine, for example physiotherapy or hydrotherapy. In some cases your dog may need x-rays, surgery or referral to a specialist vet depending on the cause of their problem.

3. Ear and skin problems

All dogs will scratch now and then, but if your dog is itching all the time or has rashes and red skin, it might be that they have a skin problem. There are many causes of skin conditions, from allergies and wounds to fleas and mites.

You might be surprised to learn that ear problems are often linked to skin issues. This may be the case if your dog has red itchy ears or repeated infections.

Problems with anal glands can also make your dog itchy. If your dog is biting round their back end or scooting along the ground, this could be a sign that their anal glands are blocked or infected.

Treatment for skin problems in dogs

Some dogs have a skin problem just once in their lifetime, but for many it can require life-long management or treatment. Fortunately, there are lots of things you can do to keep your dog comfortable and happy, including medication, special diets and supplements. The key thing is to get help for your dog early – most skin problems get worse over time and become more difficult to treat.

Check out the PDSA’s Pet Health Hub for advice on dental problemseye problemslumps and masses and much more. 

Anna Clark is a PDSA vet with a degree in Animal Behaviour & Welfare. She has worked in a several PDSA Pet Hospitals, writes for the Pet Health Hub, is a media spokesperson and provides veterinary advice for the PDSA communications team. She lives with her dog, Kirk, and two rescue rabbits, Jack and Harley.