When to take your dog to the vet

Are you wondering whether you dog needs to go to the vet? Check out this list to see if you should take them.

labrador head in vet hands with stethoscope

Dogs are important members of our family, and we all want them to stay healthy and happy. Like young children, dogs can’t verbally tell us when they are feeling unwell, or if they are struggling emotionally. So, we need to be aware of any signs that they may be ill, injured or need to see a vet.

By regularly checking your dog you can make sure any problems are picked up early and your dog gets the help that they need. Find how to perform a health check on your dog.

Before booking a consultation 

Due to a rise in people getting dogs during the pandemic, vets across the country are stretched thin. This has resulted in many owners finding it more difficult to get a consultation.

We recommend that if you have concerns about your dog, you should ring your vet practice directly for advice. While waiting to be connected, you can also use your vet’s online symptom check (if available), and our list of signs that your dog should see a vet below, to assess how urgently your dog needs to be seen.

If you’re ever worried or in doubt, contact your vet. Once you have spoken to your vet practice, they may decide that an in-person consult is not required and may book you in for a tele-consult to offer advice over the phone.

Signs that your dog should see a vet

This list isn’t exhaustive and there may be other reasons your dog needs to visit the vet. If you are ever worried or in doubt, contact your vet.

Change in eating and drinking habits

If your dog seems happy and they’re not lacking energy, then a couple of meals missed is probably nothing to worry about. Especially in hot weather when they may be less inclined to eat.

But if your dog usually has a good appetite and this behaviour is persistent or out of character, or they have symptoms such as vomiting and/or diarrhoea, contact your vet for advice. Always speak to your vet if your dog misses more than two meals.

If your dog regularly leaves food, then check on the amount you are feeding them — there should be a guide on the food packaging. It may be that you are feeding them too much, or too much in one go. Most dogs will prefer to have their daily total split into more than one meal. It’s usually good to feed your adult dog at least twice a day.

If your dog seems particularly hungry or thirsty, and is excessively begging or stealing food, or emptying their water bowl, then it may be sign of a medical condition or a developing behavioural problem and your vet should be consulted. Hot weather may cause an increase in thirst, which isn’t usually a concern, but keep an eye on your dog.

If your dog has difficulty chewing or picking up food this can be a sign of dental disease, so your dog should be checked by a vet.

Consider your dog’s age and health when deciding when to contact the vet. If your dog has underlying medical conditions such as diabetes, or is very young or old, then changes to their eating and drinking habits could have a more sudden and drastic effect on their wellbeing.

Dangerous and unsuitable foods

There are lots of foods we enjoy that can cause digestive problems for dogs, or even be fatal. If your dog has eaten any of the following, contact your vet immediately with the details of what they have eaten (keep any wrappers for ingredients information): 

  • chocolate
  • caffeine
  • grapes and raisins
  • onions and garlic
  • alcohol
  • macadamia nuts
  • food containing xylitol (an artificial sweetener often found in sweets, gum, and some peanut butter)
  • any bait that may contain rat poison.

Find out more about foods and plants that could be toxic for your dog.


Sometimes your dog may seem to lack energy. They may be spending more time resting in their bed, sleeping, or reluctant to respond to normal commands or interactions. If your dog is showing signs of lethargy and this is out of character, contact your vet.

Sudden weight loss

If your dog suddenly loses weight, this could be a sign of a health condition requiring veterinary attention. Get in touch with your vet right away.

It is a good idea to weigh your dog regularly either at home, or at your vets. This will help you identify any weight loss or gain. Scoring your dog by using a body condition chart can help you recognise changes in your dog’s body condition. More advice on weighing your dog and getting them used to scales.


Whenever you pick up dog’s poo, make a mental note of how this normally looks. This will help you notice any changes. Your dog’s poo should be firm, moist and easy to pick up.

If your dog’s poo is hard and dry, or if your dog is having difficulty defecating, it may be a sign of dietary problems, dehydration, or other illness. Occasionally, dogs may have a stomach upset, causing them to have looser poo, but this should quickly clear up. If your dog has episodes of constipation or diarrhoea lasting for more than 24 hours, talk to your vet.

If you ever see blood, worms or worm eggs, mucus or a change in colour in your dog’s poo, always talk to your vet.


As with your dog’s faeces, it’s useful to note the normal appearance of your dog’s urine, and how frequently they wee.

A sudden change of the appearance or frequency of urination can be a sign of underlying problems. Speak to your vet if you notice:

  • a sudden change of colour or smell
  • blood in your dog’s urine
  • that your dog is urinating in unusual places
  • that your dog is straining to pass small amounts of urine
  • your dog is straining to urinate, but no urine is being produced. This is particularly serious and should be considered an emergency.


Many dogs will vomit occasionally. Their tendency to sniff and explore means they will sometimes pick something up that they shouldn’t. Vomiting can be a useful way to rid the body of something that doesn’t agree with it. But you should seek veterinary help if your dog is vomiting repeatedly, frequently or regularly over a long period.

Seek urgent veterinary attention if your dog shows any of the following signs alongside vomiting: 

  • unproductive vomiting (retching but no vomit produced)
  • blood in vomit
  • immediate regurgitation of food or water after eating or drinking
  • swollen abdomen
  • lethargy
  • restlessness
  • loss of appetite or thirst
  • diarrhoea.

Coat and skin

Your dog’s coat and skin should look clean and healthy. If it doesn’t, this may be a sign of illness, parasites like fleas, grooming needs, or a nutritional imbalance. It might also be due to pain which stops them being able to comfortably groom themselves. It’s important to seek veterinary advice if your dog shows any of these signs: 

  • increased hair loss
  • signs of fleas, mites, or ticks
  • lots of scurf (white skin flakes in coat)
  • dull coat
  • any sore looking areas of skin
  • any lumps or bumps
  • discolouration of hair (this is often due to excess licking of area)
  • scabs
  • hair matting
  • patches of hair loss
  • greasy feel to skin and/or coat
  • increased odour of skin/coat
  • any cuts or grazes.


If your dog is chewing or licking their bottom repeatedly, or scooting their bottom along the ground, then make an appointment with your vey. They can check for conditions like anal gland impaction or intestinal parasites.

Seek urgent veterinary attention if you see any of these signs: 

  • blood from or around the anus
  • Swollen or sore anus
  • pus discharge from or around the anus
  • any body tissue protruding from the anus
  • straining to pass faeces
  • growths or bumps around the anus.


Some dogs may have a slight natural discharge from their eyes, but if you notice any abnormal discharge or if your dog's eyes look different to normal, talk to your vet immediately. Check your dog’s eyes daily and call your vet if you have any concerns or see any of these signs: 

  • white or green discharge
  • any increase or change in normal discharge
  • reddening of white area of eye (sclera)
  • swollen, puffy eyelids
  • your dog is frequently pawing or rubbing their eye or seeming to be in pain
  • an eye is permanently closed
  • cloudy eye
  • visible damage to eye
  • protruding eyeball.


Check your dog’s ears regularly as part of an at home health check.

If you notice any of the following symptoms or behaviours, contact your vet: 

  • your dog showing discomfort and reluctance for their ears to be touched
  • bad smell associated with ears
  • excess discharge, often smelly
  • red or sore-looking ears
  • matted or dirty hair around ears
  • rubbing or scratching of ears
  • swelling of the ear flap.

Mouth and teeth

Check your dog’s mouth and teeth regularly as part of an at home health check.

Just because your dog may still be eating doesn’t mean they aren’t suffering oral discomfort. Contact your vet if you see any of these signs: 

  • red or sore-looking gums
  • tooth discolouration
  • build-up of tartar
  • bad smell coming from mouth
  • any lumps or growths on gums or general mouth area
  • any discolouration of tongue or gums (pale or bluish)
  • difficulty picking up food or eating
  • tilting head or eating to one side
  • pawing at mouth.

Legs and feet

Check your dog’s legs and paws regularly as part of an at home health check. Get to know how your dog moves normally. You can even film your dog when they are relaxed, running, and walking so you know what is ‘normal’ for your dog.

If your dog displays a sudden slight limp (with no other signs of injury), it may be wise to rest them for a day. Restrict them to a short lead walk just to allow them to toilet, and avoid any running and jumping. If they are still limping after a day’s rest, or if you see any sudden change in your dog’s gait, they should see a vet. Seek urgent veterinary attention if you see any of these signs: 

  • any swelling or change in shape of leg or foot
  • cuts or lesions to the leg or foot
  • lameness combined with obvious pain (lack of appetite, intolerance, whining, hiding)
  • lameness combined with laboured or fast breathing
  • broken nail
  • sore-looking pads or toes
  • lumps on leg or foot.


If your dog suffers any major physical trauma, such as being hit by a car, or falling from a height, seek immediate veterinary care. Internal injuries are often not immediately obvious, but can result in life threatening conditions. Your vet will be able to perform the checks needed to ensure any such internal injuries are found and treated as soon as possible. 


Careful consideration should be given before deciding to breed your dog. Pregnancy can be an arduous process with hard work and sleepless nights for both you and your bitch. It can also be very expensive, with check-ups, ultrasounds, medications and supplements all costing money. She could also need an emergency caesarean section (surgically removing puppies from your dog’s womb if she is unable to give birth naturally) which can cost thousands of euros. Helping the mother rear the puppies is also hard work and very expensive. You will need to pay for worming, vaccinations, microchipping and more.

If your bitch is mated accidently, speak to your vet immediately as, if you wish and it is very early they can help to stop the pregnancy and prevent unwanted puppies.

If you have decided to go ahead or if your dog has been purposely mated, talk to your vet if you believe she may be pregnant. They will be able to give you advice on caring for her and the best time to bring her in for any check-ups. Confirmation of the pregnancy can be made by a vet at around four weeks after mating, via palpation, blood tests or ultrasound. This will also be a good time to discuss any further questions or concerns you may have regarding your bitch and the puppies.

Some breeds of dog will unlikely be able to give birth (whelp) naturally, and a caesarean may have to be arranged with your vet. This may prove to be very expensive so always ensure you have sufficient funds to cover large veterinary bills if you decide to breed.

Whelping usually occurs on average around day 63 after first mating, but could be at any time between 56 and 73 days. Have regular check-ups with your vet during pregnancy, so they know everything about your bitch’s and her puppies’ health, and can respond if veterinary attention is required.

Seek urgent veterinary attention if any of these things happen: 

  • premature whelping (before day 56)
  • no signs of whelping past 70 days
  • strains or contractions without producing puppies for an hour or more
  • a gap of more than two hours between puppies (if you know there are more puppies to come)
  • A puppy gets stuck
  • there is bloody discharge from the vulva.


If your dog’s behaviour has changed, they are exhibiting any problem behaviours, or you are worried about their emotional wellbeing, then your vet should be your first point of contact for advice. They will be able to rule out any medical causes or treat problems like pain. 

Many behavioural issues can be dealt with by simple training or behaviour modification techniques. Most problems are much easier to deal with if they are caught early. Don't wait until a small problem has become a major problem behaviour, this can more stressful and damaging for you and your dog. At the first signs of any adverse behaviours or problems, speak to your vet.

Ask your vet clinic about puppy visits socialisation and habituation training, and local dog training. 

Other emergency situations

Seek urgent veterinary attention if your dog shows any of these signs:

  • difficulty breathing
  • Bluish or dark colouring of tongue and gums
  • Pale or white gums
  • collapse
  • inability to use their back legs
  • incoordination
  • head tilting, turning or circling
  • seizures
  • uncontrolled bleeding
  • adder bite
  • bite wounds from other animals
  • ingestion of medicines or toxins (more information here)
  • overdose of own medicines (take the packaging with you)
  • ingestion of a foreign body
  • swollen abdomen
  • pus discharge from vulva
  • repeated abnormal vocalisations like howling or yelping
  • sudden behavioural change resulting in aggression.

Don’t hesitate to contact your vet if you’re at all worried about your dog’s health. They are best qualified to know when their care and expertise is needed. It’s important your dog is registered at a veterinary clinic, and that the clinic’s number is in your phone’s contact list.

You can make vet visits less stressful for you and your dog if you have previously introduced them to the vet clinic in a positive way. Find out more about puppy socialisation and habituation vet visits

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