15 signs you should bring your pet to the vet (2023)

  • Since pets can't talk, sometimes it can be difficult to detect when they don't feel well or they aren't in perfect health.
  • But there are a lot of signs you may want to bring your pet to the veterinarian including a change in your animal's behavior, water consumption, bathroom habits, and diet.
  • If your pet's skin has some abnormal bumps or lumps or their eyes look different or discolored, you may also want to take them to the vet.
  • Visit INSIDER's homepage for more stories.

It's natural to want to keep your pets as healthy and happy as possible. Unfortunately, it can sometimes be tough to figure out exactly how your pet is feeling and when they may need medical care.

INSIDER spoke with veterinarians to identify a few signs that your pet may need to see a vet.

Keep in mind that although knowing these symptoms can be useful, if you are concerned about your pet's health at any time, you may want to visit a veterinarian for a professional evaluation.

Their bathroom habits are abnormal

If you notice that your pet's bathroom habits have changed significantly or that their feces looks different than normal, it might be time to make an appointment with your vet.

"Change in the color, consistency, odor, or regularity of bowel movements can all be indicative of anything from inappropriate food, allergies, viruses, bacteria, intestinal parasites, or organ problems," Jessica Trimble, chief veterinary officer for Fuzzy Pet Health, told INSIDER.

Diarrhea, blood in the stool, and constipation are all reasons to contact your veterinarian. If you're not able to bring in a stool sample to be tested, be sure to snap a photo of your pet's feces to show your vet if needed.

Your pet is drinking way more water than usual

15 signs you should bring your pet to the vet (1)

(Video) 15 Signs you Need to Take your Pet to the Vet's

Believe it or not, humans and animals can develop many of the same diseases. Veterinarian Sara Ochoa told INSIDER that excessive water drinking may be a sign that your furry pal has diabetes or kidney disease.

Both of these conditions can be potentially life-threatening, so it's important to contact your vet for screening if you notice your pet seems unusually thirsty. If caught in time, both animal diabetes and kidney disease can be managed or possibly corrected with medical treatment.

Read More: 8 ways to get your pets to drink more water

They vomit more than once in 12 hours

If your pet vomits, it could be that they just have an upset stomach or ate food that didn't agree with them — but it can also be a sign of something more serious.

"A single episode of either vomiting or diarrhea may not be significant but pay attention when vomiting occurs with other symptoms like lethargy and lack of appetite," said Trimble. "In some cases, continuous vomiting may signal a virus, pancreatitis, organ failure, intestinal obstructions, and endocrine diseases."

Animals experiencing continuous vomiting and diarrhea can also be at risk of dehydration. Pets with these symptoms often need supportive care, like fluids and anti-nausea medications, and in severe cases, surgery.

They're eating less than usual

15 signs you should bring your pet to the vet (2)


Not all pets have huge appetites, but most animals should be eating regular meals and have an interest in food.

A loss of appetite or avoidance of food might be a sign of illness or mouth injury, Travis Arndt, veterinarian and director of the Animal Medical Center of Mid-America, told INSIDER. Keep an eye on your pet's eating habits and make a vet appointment if its been more than a day or two since your animal has eaten.

Your cat seems to be panting

Although some cats will pant very briefly after a chase or intense playtime, continuous panting in a cat could be a sign of breathing troubles.

"If your cat is ever open-mouth breathing, especially at rest, you should consider taking it to the veterinarian as soon as possible. Prolonged open-mouth breathing in cats is almost always a sign of respiratory distress from a condition like asthma or heart disease," Dr. Oscar E. Chavez, veterinarian and chief medical director at Just Food For Dogs, told INSIDER.

(Video) If Your Cat Does This, IMMEDIATELY Call The Vet (16 Signs Your Cat Needs Urgent Help)

Read More: 14 myths about cats that you need to stop believing

Your dog is licking the air

"When a dog looks like it's licking the air, it may be feeling nauseated. There may also be something stuck in the roof of their mouth or a very loose tooth that is bothering them," explained Ochoa.

Give your pet's mouth a quick peek to make sure there isn't anything lodged in there and call your vet if they begin to vomit or the air-licking behavior doesn't stop.

You notice changes in their breathing

You're probably pretty familiar with how your pet sounds when they breathe. If you notice any changes, such as labored breathing, fast panting, or particularly shallow breaths, you may want to visit the vet.

"Dogs and cats should have a normal resting or sleeping respiratory rate of less than 30 breaths per minute," said Trimble. "Faster resting respiratory rates can be a sign of fluid buildup in the lungs or decreased lung capacity, which can be caused by heart disease, pneumonia, cancer, or other respiratory diseases."

X-rays and bloodwork are often needed to diagnose lung conditions. Breathing changes in combination with lethargy, weight loss, and coughing is especially concerning and often require an immediate visit to the vet.

Their eyes look unusual

Any noticeable changes in your pet's eyes typically warrant medical attention, especially if you can't isolate the cause.

"Dilated pupils, constricted pupils, or one pupil that is dilated and the other is constricted can all be a sign of illness," said Arndt. "Other indications you need to see a veterinarian include eye discharge, droopy eyes, or the third eyelid covering part of the eye."

Because these changes can happen normally throughout the day, it's important to consult your veterinarian if you notice a change continuing or repeating over a long period of time.

Your pet seems hyperactive

15 signs you should bring your pet to the vet (3)

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Extra energy might not seem like a symptom of illness to us, but hyperactivity can often signal a medical problem or injury in an animal.

"When your dog is running around nervously and just can't seem to get still, they may be telling you that they are not feeling right. It could be anything from a stomachache to a fever, but hyperactivity can indicate they can't get comfortable," explained Ochoa.

Pain or discomfort can be an unusual sensation for pets and it may make them squirm or run around anxiously. It's also possible that they simply have something in their fur or feathers that is making them itch, so be sure to give your pet's coat a once-over before calling the vet.

Read More: From sniffing butts to getting the 'zoomies,' here's the explanation behind 12 weird things your dog does every day

You notice bald patches or tufts of loose fur

Hair loss is another sign that your pet might not be well. Fleas and ticks can cause hair loss in dogs and cats, but if your pet's fur is free of invaders, the problem could lie deeper.

"Thyroid disease is one of the most common reasons for hair loss in dog and like most other diseases, can make your pet feel very badly," Ochoa told INSIDER.

Hair loss warrants a visit to the vet where testing can be done to confirm a diagnosis. Thyroid disease generally cannot be cured, but it can be managed with medicine prescribed by your veterinarian.

Read More: 8 things you didn't know were poisonous to cats

You find a new bump on your pet

It's normal for a few lumps and bumps to develop as a pet ages. These can oftentimes be benign but sometimes they may be malignant masses or even severe bug bites that require an immediate diagnosis.

"It's important to have every lump and bump checked, as they can range from simple bug bites to abscesses to cancerous growths," said Trimble. "Some masses are fine to leave alone and others need to be surgically removed and biopsied to determine the course of treatment."

They seem extra tired or listless

15 signs you should bring your pet to the vet (4)

(Video) 11 Signs You Should Call The Vet Immediately!

It can be hard to tell if your pet is more tired or listless than usual, especially if they're normally a couch potato. However, if your pet is used to running multiple laps per day but can now barely make it around the block or they are avoiding stairs or unable to jump as high as usual, they may not be feeling well.

Lethargy and tiredness can be signs of a lot of different things such as infections, pain, and a variety of diseases. When combined with other symptoms like a change in appetite, pale gums, vomiting, diarrhea, and weight loss, you may want to bring your pet for a checkup, said Trimble.

Your pet is showing visible signs of pain

Trimble told INSIDER that dogs and cats hide pain well and tend to be very stoic, so any type of pain shown by pets should be taken seriously.

"Limping, flinching, yelping, whining, reluctance to move as normal, hiding, and panting can all be signs of pain and discomfort in our pets," she said.

Pain can be related to simple things like a broken toenail or much more complicated conditions like spinal, dental, or abdominal problems. Diagnostic tools like blood work, X-rays, ultrasounds, and MRIs may be necessary to pinpoint the source of the discomfort.

They have a cough that lasts for more than a day

Animal throats can get dry or irritated, just like ours, and they may cough once or twice in a day. However, if you notice a persistent cough that lasts more than a day or two, you might want to have your pet checked out.

"There are a long list of causes for coughing that can include everything from an object being stuck in the throat to infections to neurological or conformational defects in the larynx," Chavez told INSIDER.

It's important to note that coughing in animals is considered to be abnormal, even if it has been going on for years or since the animal was very young.

Their behavior noticeably changes

You know what's normal for your pet. If they start to act in a way that seems odd or atypical, it may be an indication that something isn't right.

"Pets experiencing behavior changes need to see the veterinarian. For example, if your pet has started snapping, biting, pacing around the house, excessive grooming, or house soiling, there could be a medical reason," explained Arndt.


What are the 3 warning signs your dog is crying for help? ›

Wincing, Whining or Crying

All three of these actions indicate an injury or some kind of pain your dog is experiencing.

What questions will my vet ask me? ›

14 Questions Your Vet Will Ask You
  • When and where did you get your pet?
  • What vaccinations — if any — have your pet received?
  • Has your pet ever had a serious health issue or surgery?
  • Have you ever traveled outside of the area with your pet?
  • Are there any other pets in the house?
6 Apr 2022

How do you know if an animal is hurt? ›

7 Signs Your Dog or Cat May Be in Pain
  1. Aggressive or Antisocial Behavior. ...
  2. Being More or Less Vocal. ...
  3. Changes in Habits. ...
  4. Problems Moving. ...
  5. Changes to Body or Posture. ...
  6. Shaking or Trembling. ...
  7. Excessive Grooming.
18 Nov 2018

Why does my dog stare at me? ›

Just as humans stare into the eyes of someone they adore, dogs will stare at their owners to express affection. In fact, mutual staring between humans and dogs releases oxytocin, known as the love hormone. This chemical plays an important role in bonding and boosts feelings of love and trust.

What are signs that your dog trusts you? ›

Their body language is calm and relaxed in your presence
  • A slightly open mouth, with a relaxed, lolling tongue.
  • Rolling over for a belly rub (this shows they trust you)
  • Soft, relaxed facial expression.
  • Blinking eyes.
  • Tail wagging side to side.
  • A “bow” to invite and encourage play.

What can I do instead of yelling at my dog? ›

New research and most dog-training experts recommend you stop yelling at your dog and instead use a soft, quiet voice when you talk to your dog. That doesn't mean you have to use baby talk. It doesn't mean you can't be firm or discipline your dog. It just means stop yelling at your dog.

How do dogs ask forgiveness? ›

Dogs say sorry by expressing physical signs like the tail-between-the-legs pose, dropped ears, wide eyes, reduce panting, rubbing their face against the paw or wagging the tail. Usually, it's the dog's way to accept that they made a mistake and it is a submissione expression rather than saying sorry.

What happens right before a dog dies? ›

The last few days before your dog passes you may notice: extreme weight loss, a distant look in their eyes, a lack of interest in anything, restlessness or unusual stillness, a change in the way that your dog smells, and a changed temperament.

How do dogs express pain? ›

A hurt dog may express their pain either through whining, whimpering, yelping, growling, and even howling.

How do I get the most out of my vet visit? ›

9 Tips To Get The Most From Your Vet Visit
  1. Low-stress planning.
  2. Be present.
  3. Be on time.
  4. Write down problem details.
  5. Make your pet the star.
  6. Trust your vet.
  7. Don't save up problems.
  8. Ask questions.
20 Aug 2021

What questions should I ask a pet owner? ›

10 Questions To Ask A Pet Owner
  • 1 - How much and how often does the pet eat, go outside, go to the toilet? ...
  • 2 - How do you deal with good and bad behaviours? ...
  • 3 - What is the pet's behaviour like on a walk? ...
  • 4 - What are their favourite toys and games? ...
  • 5 - What should you do in case of medical emergency?
29 Oct 2014

What questions should I ask at my first vet visit for my dog? ›

10 Things to Ask at Your First Vet Visit
  • What should I feed my pet? ...
  • What vaccines does my dog need? ...
  • How much exercise does my dog need? ...
  • When should I spay or neuter my dog? ...
  • How much should I save up to cover my pet's health needs? ...
  • How can I get my pet to stop [any one of the maddening things puppies do]?

Why do dogs hide when hurt? ›

Why do dogs conceal pain? In wild species, learning to conceal signs of injury, disease and pain prevents them from being perceived as weaker and thus an easy target for predators.

Why do dogs hide when sick? ›

In the wild, ill animals instinctively avoid predators by finding concealed resting places. Although your sick or injured pet is in no danger in your home, his or her instincts trigger the immediate desire to locate a safe hiding place.

Do dogs try to hide their pain? ›

Why do pets hide pain? Even though they sense and process pain similarly to humans, hiding pain is a behavior animals developed long ago in the evolutionary process. This was necessary to protect themselves from predators during times of injury or sickness.

Can dogs see in the dark? ›

Obviously, his stronger sense of smell is useful, but it's also because dogs can see movement and light in the dark, and other low-light situations, better than humans. They are assisted by the high number of light-sensitive rods within the retina of their eyes. Rods collect dim light, supporting better night vision.

What does it mean when a dog sighs? ›

Another sound of contentment is the sigh, usually accompanied by the dog lying down with its head on its forepaws. When the sigh is combined with half-closed eyes, it communicates pleasure; with fully open eyes, it communicates disappointment: “I guess you are not going to play with me.”

Why do dogs look at you when they poop? ›

Eye Contact

You'd think she'd look away in hopes of getting a little privacy, but she locks eyes with you instead. That's because when your dog is in that pooping position, she's vulnerable, and she's looking to you to protect her. "Your dog is instinctively aware of his defenselessness.

Why do dogs put their paw on you? ›

By putting his paw on you whilst you are petting him, he is expanding contact and reciprocating affection back to you. While this act can be interpreted as an expression of love, your dog pawing at you can also be credited to numerous other feelings. He wants to play, he wants food, he's anxious, or may be in pain.

Who is my dog's favorite person? ›

But most dogs tend to bond to the person who gives them the most attention. For example, in a family with two parents and two kids, the dog may favor the parent who fills their bowl every morning and takes them for a walk every evening. In addition, physical affection solidifies the bond between dog and person.

Do dogs forgive you for hitting them? ›

While a dog doesn't hold a grudge against you for hitting him, the story is different if the pattern of hitting is repeated. According to Current Biology, a pooch can go back in time and recall certain events and places plus the emotions connected to them.

Can a dog be mad at you? ›

They can, Morgan says, but dogs don't have the capacity to assign a motive to an emotion, which means being angry at you (or anything) isn't something for which there is evidence. This also means behavior that seems angry—growling, snapping, barking, etc. —is more in-the-moment than it is built-up and vengeful.

How do you tell if a dog is abused? ›

Signs of Animal Abuse
  1. Tucked tail, flinches at human contact.
  2. Unexplained fractures or limping.
  3. Unprovoked aggression, whining, or whimpering.
  4. Overly submissive (rolling onto back, tail tucked, urinating)
  5. Suddenly avoiding any physical contact.
  6. Attempts to bite or scratch when petted.
6 Sept 2018

What is I love you in dog language? ›

Your dog's eyes do much of their talking. You can communicate back to them using the same language of eye contact. When a dog gives you long, lingering eye contact, it's a way of saying “I love you.” A recent study shows that oxytocin, the 'love chemical,' goes up in both dogs and humans when they share a kind gaze.

How long is a dog's memory? ›

Memory Span

"Dogs forget an event within two minutes," reported National Geographic, citing a 2014 study performed on various animals from rats to bees. Other animals have long-term memories, such as dolphins, but dogs don't seem to have a long-term memory that lasts much beyond those two minutes.

Does my dog remember when I yell at him? ›

Well, according to science, the answer is actually yes! Depending on the behaviors we exhibit when we're mad, dogs will recognize them and react differently.

Can dogs sense their own death? ›

Dogs being able to sense death is nothing new. In fact, dogs have been sensing death, alerting people to oncoming death, and even sniffing out those already dead for centuries. In fact, some dogs are specifically trained as Hospice Dogs to sit with and comfort those are dying.

Can dogs sense death? ›

They provide comfort not just in death but also in other difficult times, whether it's depression, job loss or a move across country. Dogs know when people are dying or grieving, through body language cues, smells only they can detect and other ways not yet known, experts say.

What to do if dog dies at home at night? ›

Obtain a blanket, towel, or bed sheet that is large enough to wrap around the body. Also, get a heavy-duty plastic trash bag (double them up if the body is very large or if the bags are thin). Arrange the body on the blanket, towel, or sheet. Place the body on its side in a curled-up position, as if sleeping.

How do I say goodbye to my dog? ›

A good end consists of three things: gratitude, the sharing of the favorite things, and goodbyes. Tell your dog how much he means to you, and what you've enjoyed about sharing a life with him. Thank him for being with you. Tell him what you love about him.

How long is a dog's dying process? ›

Their heart completely stops beating. As all tension leaves their muscles, they may release urine or defecate as the muscles that control these bodily functions completely relax. After about 30 minutes of absolutely no signs of life, you can be certain the dog has passed away.

Do dogs know they are loved? ›

According to Dr. Brian Hare, a canine cognition specialist, our dogs do know we love them. Dogs and humans have the ability to form a special neural connection. This connection is the same human oxytocin bonding pathway used by parents and babies.

What is the prayer position in dogs? ›

During an attack, dogs may take a 'praying position', with their rear end up in the air while their front legs and head are lowered onto the floor. If the attack is severe, acute shock, severe depression, and even death may occur.

Do dogs cry tears when sad? ›

No. While canines express needs and wants vocally, there is no scientific evidence proving that dogs, or any other animals, in fact, actually produce tears as a response to what they're feeling. We seem to be the only species capable of breaking into emotional tears.

When should I start taking my dog to the vet? ›

Most puppies will begin going to the veterinarian at two to three weeks of age for an initial health-check and de-worming, and then at six to eight weeks of age to begin vaccinations, heartworm, and flea preventive treatments; receive behavior and training advice; and get permanently identified with a microchip.

When should I take my sick dog to the vet? ›

If you are wondering “should I take my dog to the vet,” read on to know when it's time.
  • Not Eating. ...
  • Vomiting or Diarrhea. ...
  • Breathing Difficulties. ...
  • Drinking More Water. ...
  • Sudden Weight Loss. ...
  • Lethargy. ...
  • Red or Cloudy Eyes. ...
  • Aggressive Behavior.
26 Jan 2020

How often should I take my dog to the vet? ›

Veterinarians recommend bringing your dog in twice a year after they turn seven to 10 years old, says PetMD. Along with vaccinations and physical exams, veterinarians will also give blood and urine tests to check on your pet's kidney and liver health, thyroid hormone levels, among others, according to PetMD.

How do you know when to take your cat to the vet? ›

Signs Your Cat Needs To Go To The Veterinarian
  1. Signs Of Obvious Distress. ...
  2. Abnormal Litter Box Behavior. ...
  3. Repeated Vomiting. ...
  4. Overwhelming Fatigue. ...
  5. Sudden Change In Appetite. ...
  6. Dragging Back Legs. ...
  7. A Lump Or Unusual Growth. ...
  8. Coughing Or Other Breathing Changes.

Can you call a vet to ask questions? ›

We see so many posts with people wondering whether something is normal, what can they feed their puppy, etc. In the US, you can call your vet - for free! - and ask these questions without having to make an appointment.

Is my dog tired or sick? ›

Lethargy is a sign that something may be troubling your dog. A lethargic dog may be uninterested in playing, going for a walk, or participating in activities they usually enjoy. Normal fatigue or sore muscles can sometimes be due to high temperatures, but you should see a vet if symptoms persist for more than two days.

How long are dogs usually sick for? ›

Dogs and cats do catch colds, and their symptoms are just like humans. Both may have discharge from their noses, “wet” or labored breathing from congestion, sneezing (especially wet sneezes), watery eyes and lethargy (napping more, showing low energy). The cold symptoms will likely last 5-10 days.

What foods make dogs sick? ›

The following foods may be dangerous to your pet:
  • Alcoholic beverages.
  • Apple seeds.
  • Apricot pits.
  • Avocados.
  • Cherry pits.
  • Candy (particularly chocolate—which is toxic to dogs, cats, and ferrets—and any candy containing the toxic sweetener Xylitol)
  • Chives.
  • Coffee (grounds, beans, and chocolate-covered espresso beans)

What color throw up is bad for dogs? ›

If your dog's vomit is dark, red, or black, veterinarians recommend contacting your veterinarian as soon as possible. It's always a good idea to check with your veterinarian if anything seems off, because a dog vomit color guide is just that—a guide and not a diagnosis.

Is it OK to leave a dog alone for 12 hours? ›

Most experts agree you shouldn't leave your adult dog alone for more than eight to 10 hours, but some dogs (especially ones with small bladders) can't last that long. DO prepare your dog before you go.

How often do dogs need to pee? ›

How often does a dog need to pee? To put it simply, adult dogs generally need to toilet three to five times a day, and most vets will recommend a maximum window of between six to eight hours between toilet trips.

Can a vet tell the age of a dog? ›

Your vet can help you come up with a reliable estimate of your dog's age, so that you can provide the best care for your pup—whether he's a senior or barely an adult.

How can you tell if your cat is sad? ›

Signs of a Depressed Cat

Changes in body language, including ears held back, tucked tail, and hairs standing on end. Meowing more or less than usual or making low-pitched, mournful meows. Lack of energy or a decrease in activity level. Retreating from humans or other family pets.


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