1. Change in behavior. There are changes in behavior that can be associated with many types of illnesses or pain, and may indicate that your dog is suffering.
  • Restlessness, agitation, hyper-activity
  • Lethargic
  • Abnormal sleeping habits
  • Withdrawn, fearful, increase or decrease in affection
  • Aggression and resistance to handling
  1. Decreased appetite or weight loss. These signs are non-specific and can occur from the following diseases and many others. Weight loss can also occur with a normal appetite.
  • Gastrointestinal disease (stomach, small or large intestine)
  • Diseases of the pancreas, liver, kidneys or other internal organs
  • Cancer
  • Heart disease
3. Increased thirst and urination. For increased thirst and urination to be truly a cause of a disease, it must be excessive. You should see a noticeable difference in the amount and frequency of drinking. How long your pet postures to urinate or whether urination is just more frequent can be a subtle sign. Urine accidents or urine in bedding may also occur. The top three diseases are the most common causes of increased thirst and urination.

  • Kidney disease, which could be due to ingestion of a toxin, genetic, chronic kidney disease, infections, cancer or other causes
  • Diabetes
  • Cushing’s Syndrome (a hormonal disease of the adrenal glands)
These diseases can also increase thirst and urination.

  • Urinary tract infections, stones, or tumors (whether benign or cancerous)
  • Neurologic problems
  • Elevated calcium levels due to endocrine or kidney disease, cancer, with lymphoma and anal gland tumors being the most common, and many other causes
  1. Cough/labored breathing/excessive panting. Many dogs have a chronic, intermittent soft cough which may warrant evaluation, but is not as urgent as a new or worsening cough in a dog, that is also having any form of labored breathing (panting, belly is moving back and forth deeply or at a faster rate than usual). Causes include:
  • Heart disease or heart failure
  • Pneumonia and other diseases of the respiratory tract
  • Anemia (decreased red blood cell count)
  • Cancer
  • Swallowing an object that is obstructing breathing
  1. Distended abdomen. A change in the appearance and size of the belly is often a cause of a serious disease.
  • There may be fluid in the belly caused by:
    • A benign or cancerous tumor
    • Trauma
    • Heart disease
    • Liver failure
    • Pancreatitis (sometimes after eating a fatty meal)
    • Having swallowed an object that is obstructing
    • Blood clotting disorder
  • Bloat (Ballooning and dilatation or twisting of the stomach and/or intestines, known as GDV)
  • Cushing’s syndrome

Get your own vet prescribed supplement here:

Hemp & Hips:


Ettinger, Stephen J., and Edward C. Feldman. Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine: Diseases of the Dog and the Cat. Elsevier Saunders, 2010.

Thompson, Mark S. Small Animal Medical Differential Diagnosis: a Book of Lists. 2nd ed., Elsevier, 2018.

Yin, Sophia A. The Small Animal Veterinary Nerdbook. Cattledog Press, 2010.

About the Author: Dr. Leah Cowburn

Dr. Leah Cowburn is a graduate of Western University of Health Sciences College of Veterinary Medicine. She completed a post-graduate internship and worked as an emergency veterinarian at one of the largest emergency/specialty hospitals in the country. Leah now works in private practice in Maryland that is dedicated to community outreach for an underserved community. She has a special interest in pain management, quality of life, alternative and physical therapy and is currently being certified as a Certified Canine Rehabilitation Practitioner through the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine.