When it comes to looking after your dog’s health, keeping him up to date on his vaccines and providing regular checkups are two of the most important things you can do as a pet parent. If your dog is young and healthy, he will probably only need to see his vet once a year. Senior dogs, or dogs with chronic health issues, should see their veterinarian every three to six months.
Prioritizing your dog’s wellness checkups will increase your chances of catching a potential health issue in its early stages before it becomes severe. With many conditions, the sooner you begin treatment, the better the outcome. Catching symptoms early can make a huge difference in your dog’s overall health and longevity.
Knowing which unusual dog behaviors warrant a visit to the vet will increase your chances of noticing these symptoms early ever further. Although dogs can’t speak up when they’re not feeling well, their behavior and body language can tell you a lot if you know what to look for. Watching for these red flags in between vet visits will help you know when there’s a reason to be concerned.
1. Head pressing
If you notice that your dog is standing with his head hanging low and pushed into a corner or against the wall or some other stationary object, this is called head pressing. Sometimes the dog will physically press his head against the object, but not always.
This unusual behavior could indicate a severe health issue that should be addressed right away. In some cases, it’s an indication of poisoning, trauma, or a central nervous system issue. In some cases, the dog will display other concerning symptoms such as additional behavior changes, vomiting, diarrhea, vision disturbances, pacing, or seizures.
If you notice you notice your dog head pressing over and over, go on for an extended amount of time, or accompany other concerning symptoms, go to the vet immediately.
Most dogs are very social and like to be around their people. If you notice that your dog is suddenly isolating himself in an out of the way place, it should raise a red flag. Dogs don’t always cry or whine when they’re in pain or not feeling well. A dog who is isolating may be sick or hurting. If the behavior goes on for longer than a day, visit the vet to rule out illness or injury.
3. Aggression and other behavior changes
Nobody knows your dog better than you, and you’re much more likely to notice subtle behavior changes that your vet might miss. If your dog is suddenly snapping, growling, becomes panicked when you touch him, doesn’t want to be petted, or is just acting strange, it may warrant a trip to the vet to rule out an underlying issue.
For example, veterinarians at Bond Vet, an Upper East Side veterinarian clinic, say that ear infections in dogs can be painful enough to the point where they can put a strain on their demeanor. When your normally loving dog suddenly acts aggressively, if you try to touch his head, there likely could be an infection. Another example is if your dog is suddenly asking to go out a lot more than usual, he might be experiencing a digestive or urinary problem.
Subtle changes in your dog’s behavior could indicate the early symptoms of a health issue that might go unnoticed otherwise. Sometimes a visit to the vet might be the best way to figure out what’s going on.
4. Changes in eating habits
Dogs tend to be very food-oriented. For most dogs, treats and food are one of the highlights of their day. If your dog is suddenly not interested in eating, it’s cause for concern.
Sometimes, there’s an apparent reason, like if it’s sweltering out or if trying new food. But, if your dog’s eating habits change without an apparent reason, it could signal illness, especially in senior dogs. Any time lack of appetite is accompanied by weight loss, lethargy, diarrhea, or vomiting; it’s time to head to the vet.
A sudden increase in appetite can also indicate a health issue. Dogs who suddenly seem to be hungry all the time or are begging to be fed at odd times could be developing diabetes or a hormonal problem. Any changes in your dog’s eating habits should be mentioned to your vet.
5. Circling, pacing, and other compulsive behavior
Circling and pacing are very healthy dog behaviors when they are looking for a place to lay down, or they need to go to the bathroom. But, if your dog is pacing or turning in circles without reason, it could signal a problem. Dogs who pace in one direction and can’t seem to change it, seem disoriented or confused, or are wandering aimlessly may have a neurological problem like dementia.
If the behavior is accompanied by limping, lack of appetite, signs of pain, or pupils of unequal size, he may have had a stroke or suffered an injury to his head, neck, or back. It can also be cause for concern if he displays other compulsive behaviors like spinning, constant licking, tail chasing, or repetitive barking along with the circling and pacing.
While compulsive behaviors could simply be the result of stress or anxiety, a visit to the vet to rule out an underlying issue is always a good idea.
6. Changes in urination habits or excessive thirst
Of course, your dog will likely want a drink of water after exercise, eating, or if he’s hot. But, if you notice that your dog is thirsty all the time without an apparent reason, it could indicate an underlying health concern. Changes in urination habits, such as difficulty urinating, excessive urination, or taking a long time to urinate, should also be reported to the vet.
These changes in behavior could indicate diabetes, an infection, kidney issues, or some other health concern. Anytime your dog exhibits changes in his urination habits or unexplained excessive thirst, it warrants a visit to the vet.
Most importantly, trust your gut. If your dog just seems to be acting differently or showing unusual dog behaviors, he could be in pain or not feeling well.
Calling the vet is a good idea, even if it’s just to ease your mind. It’s much better to find out that everything’s OK than it is to wait a few days only to find the problem has gotten much worse, and your dog has suffered needlessly.
Nicole McCray is a die-hard animal lover who has worked in pet care for years. She is a former vet technician, a dog mom to her two rescue pups, and she grew up living and working at her family’s pet boarding facility. She loves using her writing talents to share the insight she’s learned throughout her career in the hopes that her knowledge can help other pet parents out there!