Two of the most crucial things you can do to protect your dog’s health are to provide regular checkups and keep him up to date on his vaccinations. For young, healthy dogs, annual checkups are usually sufficient, but if your dog is older, he should see the vet every three to six months.
Being diligent with these regular checkups will increase your chances of catching a potential health problem before it becomes a major issue. In many cases, the earlier you begin treatment, the better the prognosis, so catching symptoms early can really make a difference.
You can increase the odds of catching an illness even earlier by knowing which unusual dog behaviors may require a visit to the vet. Even though your dog can’t speak to tell you when something’s wrong, they often communicate in other ways. It’s up to you to watch for these warning signs in between your dog’s regular checkups to help you know if your furry friend is feeling under the weather.
1. Unusual Changes in Eating Habits
Most dogs are very food-oriented. In fact, it’s probably safe to say that food and treats are among most dogs’ top three favorite things. If you notice an unusual difference in your dog’s eating habits, it could be time for a trip to the vet.
Sometimes, dogs won’t eat as much when it’s really hot, but in many cases, decreased appetite signal a health issue, especially in older dogs. If your dog’s lack of appetite is accompanied by diarrhea, vomiting, lethargy, or weight loss, an emergency visit to the vet is warranted.
On the other hand, an unusual increase in appetite could also indicate a problem. If your dog suddenly starts begging to be fed between meals or always seems to be hungry, there’s a chance he could have a hormonal problem or diabetes. It’s probably a good idea to visit your vet just to rule out these issues.
2. Head Pressing
Head pressing is unusual behavior in dogs that could indicate a serious medical condition. If you notice your dog standing with his head toward the wall, into a corner, or some other stationary object, not moving with his head hanging low, it could indicate an issue with the nervous system, poisoning, trauma, or some other serious illness.
He may actually press his head against the object, but not always. Other symptoms that may accompany head pressing include pacing, seizures, vision problems, vomiting, diarrhea, or other distinct behavior changes. If you notice your dog repeating this behavior or doing it for an extended period, an immediate emergency vet visit is warranted.
3. Pacing and Circling
For many dogs, pacing and circling are normal behaviors right before they lay down or go to the bathroom. However, unusual pacing and circling could indicate a problem that warrants a trip to the vet. If your dog is pacing in one direction and can’t seem to change it, wanders aimlessly, or seems confused or disoriented, he may have dementia or another neurological issue.
If you notice that his pupils are of unequal size, he’s limping or seems like he’s in pain, or he doesn’t want to eat, he may have been injured or he could have had a stroke. You should also call the vet if he displays other compulsive behaviors along with the pacing and circling, such as spinning, excessive barking, tail chasing, or constant licking.
In some cases, he may simply be feeling anxious, but it’s always a good idea to rule out sickness or injury if your dog is displaying compulsive behavior.
4. Isolating Themselves
If your normally social dog suddenly starts hiding in an out of the way place and just isn’t as playful or active as he normally is, you have reason to be concerned. Dogs don’t display pain and illness the way humans do. They don’t always cry or wine, either.
In some cases, when a dog hides himself away, he may not be feeling well, or he may be in pain. If the behavior continues for more than a day or so, it’s probably time for a visit to the vet just to rule out any serious issues.
5. Excessive Thirst or Changes in Urination Habits
While most dogs will want a drink after eating and exercise, and they’ll drink more when it’s hot, if you notice your dog is drinking a lot more water without an obvious reason, there may be a problem. The same goes for sudden changes in his urination habits, such as excessive urination, taking a long time to urinate, or difficulty producing urine.
Experts from the American Kennel Club say these unusual behaviors in your dog could indicate diabetes, a kidney problem, an infection, or a host of other issues. Any time your dog experiences unusual thirst or changes in his urination habits, it’s time for a visit to the vet.
6. Unexplained Behavior Changes
You know your dog better than anyone else, so you’re much more likely to notice when he’s acting just a bit off. If your dog is suddenly withdrawn, doesn’t want to be held or petted, becomes panicked when you handle him, snaps or becomes abnormally aggressive, or shows any other unexplained behavior changes, that should raise a red flag.
According to experts at Bond Vet’s Brooklyn veterinary clinic, ear infections in dogs can be quite painful. If your normally sweet dog suddenly starts growling when you touch his head, that could be a sign of a developing ear infection. Or, a dog who’s suddenly asking to go out more often may be experiencing urination or digestive issues.
Even the subtlest change in your dog’s behavior could indicate an underlying condition or injury that isn’t visually obvious, and a trip to the vet might be the best way to get to the bottom of it.
The most important thing is to trust your instinct. If you think your dog is acting strangely, he might be sick or in pain. You’re better off making a trip to the vet as soon as possible, even if it’s just for your own peace of mind. It’s much better to find out there’s nothing wrong than it is to wait a few days or longer only to find out you could have done something to fix a problem.