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8 Signs It’s Time to Take Your Dog to the Vet

By Wendy Rose Gould
published: February 14, 2019 - updated: February 22, 2023 • 5 min. read
dog at the vet

Key Takeaways

  • Take your dog to the vet for an infection that gets worse over time.
  • Ongoing diarrhea, constipation, and vomiting are reasons to see a vet.
  • Visit a vet if you suspect heatstroke, hypothermia, or poisoning.
  • Before transporting a dog with an injury, call your vet or animal hospital for advice.
  • An abnormal shift in behavior may also warrant a trip to your dog’s vet.

If you’ve ever struggled with not knowing when you should take your dog to the vet, you’re not alone. It’s a frequently searched topic, and many times the answer isn’t exactly clear-cut. Nobody wants to “jump the gun” and spend lots of money on an unnecessary visit, but you also don’t want to misjudge the situation and cause your dog any potential harm. Luckily most accidents and injuries are covered by your pet health insurance policy, saving you up to 90% on those vet bills, so the decision remains on if it’s an emergency. When in doubt, we recommend taking a cautious approach and to really pay attention to your dog’s behavior and symptoms. After all, you know your pooch best. Outside of that, the below signs are all cause for concern and do require immediate vet attention.

Infection That Worsens Over Time

It’s normal for dogs to get themselves into a little trouble, which may result in a scratch or a small wound. Like humans, their bodies do a pretty good job of healing if the wound is cleaned and treated. Sometimes, though, an infection may occur that worsens over time. This can cause discomfort and can lead to complications if not addressed swiftly.

If your dog’s infection doesn’t seem to be getting better despite your efforts, it’s time to see the vet. Note that infections can happen anywhere on their body including torso, legs, ears, eyes, paws, anus, and genitals. Look for swelling, pain, fever, and abscesses to indicate an infection gone awry.

Protect your pet

Ongoing Diarrhea or Constipation

It’s not considered an emergency when dogs experience an isolated case of diarrhea or constipation. However, it becomes a more serious situation when the issue persists for more than two or three days.

Ongoing diarrhea could indicate a food allergy, bacterial infection, or parasite as the cause, and can lead to other issues such as malnourishment and dehydration. Constipation could be caused by a blockage, internal trauma, dehydration, or other issues that require attention. A vet visit is necessary in order to diagnose and treat the issue, and to bring your dog some much-needed relief.

Signs of dehydration:

Persistent Vomiting

While a singular case of vomiting isn’t reason to sound the alarm, persistent episodes should be addressed. If your dog has been vomiting for more than 24 hours accompanied by dehydration, seek immediate veterinary attention. Symptoms of dehydration include dry and pale gums, sunken eyes, and thick saliva. If your pet collapses after vomiting or appears dehydrated at all, get to the vet immediately.


Heatstroke typically occurs in hot climates, when your pup has been particularly active, or if they’re left in a hot car or building. Symptoms include a temperature greater than 103°F degrees, lethargy, heavy panting, clear discomfort, vomiting, diarrhea, drooling, loss of consciousness, and inability to move on their own. Heatstroke can result in internal damage and cause blood clots, so an immediate emergency vet visit is necessary.

While on the way, you can try to lower your dog’s temperature by placing cool, damp cloths over their body – especially under their forelimbs (armpits), between the hind legs (around the groin), and on their paw pads. Most of a dog’s sweat glands are in their paws and cooling these down may help lower their temperature. You could also try flushing them gently with cool water, placing frozen veggies or ice packs on their abdomen, giving them cool water (not ice water! It’s important to bring the temperature down gradually) to drink, and by massaging their limbs and torso to boost blood circulation.

Find out more about preventing heatstroke in our article, 5 Rules to Prevent Heatstroke in Pets. And remember: K9 Rescue says that even on a pleasant 75°F day, it will take only 10 minutes to reach 100°F inside a car. Accuweather continues that even 60°F is too hot for pets in cars. Cracking windows offers little to no relief. Simply don’t leave your pet in a car.


Dogs can also experience hypothermia, a condition that occurs when their bodies get too cold. This happens in especially frigid climates and affects dogs that live outside, as well as dogs that are small or young. If your dog inadvertently gets wet in low temperatures this also puts him or her at risk.

Shivering is the primary sign of hypothermia, but weakness, lethargy, and shallow breathing may also occur. If your dog exhibits these symptoms and their temperature is below 98°F degrees, seek emergency veterinary care right away. On the way, wrap them in warm blankets, keep the temperature warm in the car, and apply a hot water bottle or heating pad that’s been wrapped in a towel.

Injury That’s Causes Clear Discomfort

Injuries happen to the best of us, including pups. Some injuries are obvious, such as a wound that’s bleeding profusely or a broken leg. Some are less obvious, so you should look for signs like limping or crying out when walking or being petted. If you notice that your dog is in any sort of pain that’s not getting better, a veterinarian can help you figure out the cause and treat it.

If your pet has been hit by a car or bitten by another animal, get to the vet immediately as these injuries can be fatal. Pets bitten need vet attention to prevent infections and to check for internal wounds. If your pet is cut or bleeding, apply direct pressure using gauze, and if the gauze soaks completely through, do not remove it – simply add more gauze on top of it until you get to the veterinary hospital. Familiarize yourself with how to craft a splint or tourniquet.

If you’re transporting a dog with a broken bone, follow these rules:

  1. Call your local veterinarian or emergency animal hospital and describe the injury. This prepares them for your arrival, and they may also require you to perform minor first aid while on the way.
  2. Most emergency experts recommend muzzling your dog before attempting any care. Then try to stabilize the limb by wrapping it loosely in a towel. Be careful – hurt animals sometimes lash out, even at their owners!
  3. If possible, have someone help you move the animal into the car. Lift the animal gently onto a blanket and lift the corners of the blanket, moving the dog as little as possible.
  4. Again, if possible, have someone else drive, and try to keep the animal stationary and calm until you reach the vet clinic or hospital.


If you suspect your dog has gotten into something poisonous that they shouldn’t have then intervention is required. Any case of ingested poison is considered an emergency situation. Your first step is to call your vet clinic or the Pet Poison Helpline at 800-213-6680. Do not force your pet to vomit or administer any medications without professional direction.

Inhaled poisons, such as insecticides, household chemicals, and smoke, can be very dangerous and cause seizures and vomiting. Take your pet to the nearest vet clinic immediately if this occurs.

If it is a topical poison, call your vet and get a recommendation before attempting at-home treatments. If  your dog’s skin has been burned, blistered or appears heavily irritated, bring your dog into the emergency vet.

Some minor abrasions can be treated by gently applying vegetable oil on the affected area to remove and loosen the substance. If the substance has hardened, trim away the fur. Next, wash the area with puppy shampoo or gentle, unscented soap and then thoroughly rinse with warm water.

Change in Behavior

If your dog displays a major shift in their typical behavior it could indicate that they’re not feeling well. An “off day” happens every once in a while, but if the change persists then it will be helpful to take them to the vet to figure out the cause. Changes in behavior include barking or whimpering excessively when they usually don’t, not being vocal if they usually are, showing no interest in their favorite activities, a major and ongoing decrease or increase in appetite, and lethargy and malaise.

The phrase “better safe than sorry” truly does apply to our best furry friends. It’s best to be overly cautious than to potentially miss something that’s causing your pet pain or discomfort — or something that could potentially affect their life.

wendy gould
By Wendy Rose Gould

Wendy Rose Gould is a freelance lifestyle reporter based in Phoenix, Arizona. She has been in journalism for over a decade, and has been freelancing almost that entire time. In addition to lifestyle reporting, she also works with brands to create marketing content for their websites and blogs.

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