Diagnosing your dogs health issues

At home diagnosis for six common health issues that can help to stabilize a sick or injured dog before heading to the vet.

Like us, dogs experience sudden onset health issues like vomiting, diarrhea, heatstroke and broken bones. Even if you live only minutes away from your veterinarian, it’s a good idea to know how to act if your dog gets injured or suddenly falls ill, especially after hours or on Sundays, when many small town clinics are closed and emergency help might be miles away. Here’s a look at six common scenarios and what to do if they happen to your dog.

1. Diarrhea and vomiting

Both of these health issues can be caused by any number of things, so start by removing all food and and keeping watch to see if the symptoms persist. “When an animal is suffering from diarrhea and vomiting, people often think that withholding water will help treat the symptoms,” says Lisa Wagner, Operations Director for Walk ‘n’ Wags Pet First Aid. “Keeping an animal hydrated is extremely important when he is losing fluids so dramatically, so continue to allow and encourage drinking.” If diarrhea and/or vomiting continue, it’s time to seek veterinary care, because both can lead to serious loss of fluid and electrolyte imbalance.

2. Fractures and broken bones

To stabilize a fractured or broken bone, you will need to fashion a splint of some kind. Lisa says that splints can be made from many different items you can find in your home including pens, Popsicle sticks or rulers. If your dog has a fractured or broken pelvis or rib, however, you will not be able to stabilize the area with a splint.

Keep the animal as still as possible and on a hard surface en route to your veterinarian. Arnica montana is a good homeopathic remedy to have on hand for any kind of injury, shock or trauma. It can help stabilize your dog until you get him to the clinic.

3. External bleeding

Trauma of any kind may result in external bleeding, and if not attended to in time could cause shock. Your first priority before getting your dog to a veterinarian is to stop or at least get the bleeding under control. To do this, gently apply pressure to the wound until the blood begins to clot. If your dog is bleeding from the leg or foot, elevate the limb so the wound is above the level of the heart. Remember to keep applying pressure. Again, use Arnica montana to help stabilize your dog until you get to the vet.

4. Bee stings and insect bites

Unfortunately, most people don’t know their dogs are allergic to bee stings or insect bites until a reaction is in progress. Signs that your dog has been stung or bitten include redness, swelling and itching around the affected area. Where applicable, try to locate and extract the stinger. To ease some of the irritation around the site, apply a paste mixture of baking soda and water.

If your dog is allergic, a sting or bite can become a life-threatening situation that requires veterinary attention. “Watch for the following signs that will involve immediate first aid and veterinary care: swelling of the throat, difficulty breathing, collapse and unconsciousness,” explains Lisa. Apis mellifica is another homeopathic remedy than can help relieve your dog’s symptoms en route to the vet.

5. Dehydration

The symptoms of dehydration – vomiting, diarrhea and fever – can mimic the symptoms of other ailments, so the best way to get a definitive diagnosis is to check your dog’s mouth and eyes. His gums should be moist, not dry, and his eyes should not sink into the sockets Immediately move your dog to a cool area and frequently administer small amounts of water until he returns to normal. If symptoms persist or worsen, it’s time to head to the vet.

6. Heat stroke

Heat stroke occurs when the dog’s body temperature is elevated to an abnormal level. Usually indicative of a high fever, other symptoms include an inability to stand and heavy panting. If you suspect a diagnosis of heat stroke, move the dog to a shaded or cool area, and begin applying cool (not cold) water to the trunk and legs. Your dog should be taken to the veterinarian as soon as possible for further examination.

Staying calm is crucial

It can be hard to stay calm in the event of a medical emergency diagnosis – seeing your beloved pooch injured, in pain or near death can stop you dead in your tracks, making it difficult to act rationally. “Take a deep breath and remind yourself of your Emergency Action Plan (EAP),” advises Lisa. “Remind yourself that your dog is counting on you to do the best you can. Try humming to block the negative thoughts out of your head; it will be a good distraction for you and will help calm your dog.

“Remember that first aid is meant as interim, first response care only,” Lisa adds. “Your job is to stabilize the dog as best you can right away, before heading to the vet. It will give him a higher chance of a successful recovery.”


Sara Jackson lives on a 12-acre farm in American Canyon, just outside the Napa Valley. She is a graduate from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco and has a B.F.A. in Screenwriting. She is also a freelance writer for several publications, and has written on a range of topics from politics to animal rights. She has also written a number of short stories and two horror scripts which are being read by two production companies in England. Her first book, Jack's Dreams Come To Life, was published in 2009.