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Should I bring my dog to the ER?! What symptoms to watch out for?

sick dog laying on bed under towel

Being the owner of a dog can lead to some toughest and hardest decisions revolve around when is the right time to take your dog to the vets. I'm going to run you through some of the most common signs of health problems in dogs and, what you can do about them.

What do I do if my dog has diarrhea?

It may be gross, but one of the easiest ways to tell if something is wrong with your dog is to examine their poop.

Diarrhea can be sudden and could have any number of causes from stress or abrupt change of food to a more serious underlying condition. Generally, one watery stool is not a cause for concern however if the diarrhea persists for the longer than 24 hours, then it's time to head for the vets.

While you're waiting for the crucial time period to pass, there are some things you can do to help ease your dog's stomach.

  • Firstly, make sure you don't adjust their food. In the middle of a bout of diarrhea, it is not a good idea to switch from one dog kibble to another. If you feel it may help, you can feed your dog a bland diet of rice and chicken until the diarrhea passes.
  • Secondly, keep your dog hydrated. Lots of diarrhea can lead to dehydration which causes a number of other issues so make sure you keep your dog's water bowl topped up with fresh water.
  • Thirdly, continue to monitor your dog's poop. If there's any sign of blood in the stool or the colour looks darker than usual then it's the time to call the vet as there's most likely something else going on. Other symptoms to watch out for alongside the diarrhea include vomiting, lethargy (which means having less energy than usual), or a fever. Any of those paired with the diarrhea is also a sign to head for the vets sooner rather than later.

What do I do if my dog is vomiting?

I mentioned above that if your dog is vomiting along with diarrhea then a visit to the vets is on the cards, but let's look at what you can do if your dog is just vomiting alone.

Vomiting can also have lots of potential causes from an infection or internal parasites like worms to more severe life-threatening conditions such as kidney failure or poisoning. But, don't panic just yet. The most important thing you can do observe your dog's behaviour. If they still are their happy, bouncy selves, it's less likely something serious is going on.

If your dog has just eaten, it's likely to be more of a reflux from eating too fast or eating too much on an empty stomach. In this case, give them some time for their stomachs to settle down and then offer them a little bit of food (not treats, but some kibble or a little piece of chicken). If they can keep that down, it's a good sign that there's nothing to worry about.

Signs that you should watch out for if your dog continues to vomit are any spots of blood in the vomit or if your dog again appears lethargic, keeps vomiting for more than 24 hours straight, or starts to not able to hold down liquids as well. If any of these occur, it's time to take your dog to the vets.

What do I do if my dog has an ear infection?

The good news about ear infections is that, unlike diarrhea or vomiting, they're not normally an emergency and can wait until the vets open up in the daytime to be dealt with.

The signs that your dog could have an ear infection include head shaking or head tilting, lots of scratching around that area, a lack of balance (as ears are very important in helping to maintain balance and posture), any redness or swelling in or around the ear, and any kind of discharge coming from the ear itself.

In most cases, the most that's required to treat an ear infection is a good cleaning out and medication prescribed from your vets. If it's more serious or if it's a chronic condition that keeps recurring and therefore causes more damage inside the ear, your vet may advise you to consider surgery, but those cases are rare.

The important thing is to get your dog to the vet as soon as you suspect there's an ear infection, so it can be treated quickly to stop the infection developing.

What do I do if my dog has worms?

Most people these days follow their vets' advice and periodically treat their dogs for worms as a preventative measure. This is especially important if your dog is a scavenger and eats things like snails or slugs from the garden as these can carry parasites. The most common worms found in dogs are tapeworms, roundworms, hookworms, and whipworms - each of which have their own causes and risk factors.

Even if you do use worming treatment on your dog, not every medication covers all the possible worms. So, it's still important to be aware of the symptoms of your dog becoming infected so you can act fast to treat the problem. These can include diarrhea (sometimes bloody but not always), weight loss, a rough dry coat, scooting (which means dragging their bum across the floor), vomiting (worms can sometimes be visible in the vomit but again not always), and a change in appetite.

Some of the signs above can be attributed to other conditions as well so it doesn't necessarily mean your dog does have worms, but it's still a good idea to have your dog checked out at a vet at the next available opportunity. The sooner a worm infection can be caught and treated, the less damage it'll do to your dog's health.

What do I do if my dog has fleas?

Fleas can be a major problem, not just for your dog but for you and your entire household. It takes just three weeks for one flea to multiply into 1000 and your home will soon become infested. The good news is fleas are just as easy to treat as they are for your dog to catch.

Preventative flea treatment is available on a prescription from your vets and this medication will stop your dog catching fleas in the first place (or in some cases, kill the fleas as soon as they latch onto your dog). If your dog does become infested, the treatment is often the same as what you would use to prevent fleas, just sometimes in a stronger dose or taken as part of a longer course. It's also important to treat your entire home as fleas will live in your furniture or carpets for a long time, and your dog will keep becoming re-infested.

The signs that your dog may have fleas include excessive scratching, licking, or biting at their skin, hair loss or patchy areas, and flea dirt (small black dots) visible against your dog's skin.

A quick and easy test to see if it is indeed flea dirt - or if it's just a bit of regular dirt - is to place it on a piece of kitchen towel and run it under the tap. If the black dots turn red upon contact with water, then it's flea dirt. But don't fear - a trip to the vets will normally solve your problem very quickly!