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Knowing when your Labrador is genuinely ill and when to call the vet can sometimes be difficult.
Thousands of years of evolution playing ‘survival of the fittest’ have created in dogs a species programmed to do their best to overcome and hide any weakness.
On top of this, your dog cannot speak and tell you how they feel like a person can.
And if your Lab is anything like mine, they will eat days old abandoned food, other animals excrement and lord knows what else while out and about, inevitably leading to the odd spell of diarrhea and vomiting that isn’t really much to worry about.
So how should you decide when to call the vet?
Contents & Quick Navigation
- First Of All – When Is It a True Emergency?
- Learn To Recognize And Act Upon These Warning Signs
- When To Call The Vet For Vomiting and Diarrhea
- When To Call The Vet For Loss Of Appetite or Rapid Weight Loss
- Noticeable Increase in Thirst, Water Intake and Change in Urination Habits
- When To Call The Vet For Constipation
- When To Call The Vet for Coughing or Wheezing
- Constant Ccratching and Chewing, Fur Falling Out and Other Coat or Skin Problems
- When to Call the Vet For Lumps and Masses In Or Under The Skin
- When To Call The Vet For Weakness, Lethargy and Tiredness
- When To Call The Vet For a Change in Temperament
- When To Call The Vet for a Discharge, Odors or ‘Crustiness’ in the Ears
- When To Call The Vet For Scooting – Dragging Their Rear Across The FLoor
- When To Call The Vet For Lameness and Limping
- When To Call The Vet For Signs of Mild Pain or Discomfort
- Final Thoughts And Conclusion
- Top Picks For Our Dogs
First Of All – When Is It a True Emergency?
There are some symptoms of illness and injury that signal life-threatening situations and getting immediate and urgent help is critical.
I’ve already written an article on ‘when to call the emergency vet‘ and it’s a good idea to read that first before continuing this article to find out the other times your Labrador may need to see the vet but when it isn’t necessarily an emergency.
Learn To Recognize And Act Upon These Warning Signs
Following is a list of symptoms you should learn to recognize and use as a guide to decide when a call or visit to the vet is required.
You should contact your vet if you see any of the following symptoms and they remain for anything greater than 2 to 3 days:
- Prolonged vomiting and diarrhea
- Loss of appetite or rapid weight loss
- Noticeable increase in thirst, water intake and change in urination habits
- Coughing or wheezing
- Constant scratching and chewing, fur falling out and other coat or skin problems
- Lumps and masses in or under the skin
- Weakness, lethargy and tiredness
- Noticeable change in temperament
- Discharge, odors or ‘crustiness’ in the ears
- Scooting – Dragging their rear across the floor
- Lameness and limping
- Obvious signs of mild pain or discomfort
I’ll run through each of these symptoms in a moment, but before I do, it’s easy to summarize when you should consider calling your vet in just one short sentence…
Simply put, consider calling your vet for anything you notice that’s abnormal with your dog
That’s really all you need to know and do in one simple sentence.
Better than anyone, you know your own dog.
You know their look, personality, energy levels, temperament, eating habits, toilet habits and how they feel to the touch (if you groom regularly).
So you will know when ‘something’s not quite right’ by seeing any sudden changes with them. Even if those changes are subtle.
If you spot a change or symptom in your dog that isn’t listed in the article: ‘when to call the emergency vet‘ (meaning you need to seek medical attention immediately) and the symptom lasts for more than 2 to 3 days, then you should call your vet.
Of course use common sense!
You shouldn’t be calling them 5 times per month for every sneeze, missed meal or thorn in a pad, but it’s better to be safe than sorry and you shouldn’t be afraid to call them.
So let’s discuss the most common symptoms listed above that you might notice warranting a call to your vet.
When To Call The Vet For Vomiting and Diarrhea
The most common cause of sickness and diarrhea in dogs is simply eating something that their stomach doesn’t agree with.
Other more serious causes can be diseases of internal organs, intestinal diseases or even parasites.
As long as your dog is able to hold down some water without vomiting right away and there aren’t accompanying symptoms such as lethargy, lack of interest or awareness, you should simply monitor their condition and see how it changes over a 24hr period.
If your dog seems to improve, they will probably be OK. But if there’s no improvement or things get worse, call your vet and follow their advice.
When To Call The Vet For Loss Of Appetite or Rapid Weight Loss
Dogs, and especially Labradors, love to eat. So a loss of appetite should always be monitored closely as a possible sign of underlying disease.
Similarly, any signs of sudden and unexpected weight loss, even in overweight dogs, is a cause for concern.
For a dog to miss a meal now and then is perfectly ordinary, but not eating for more than 24hrs should set the alarm bells ringing.
And not eating for 2 days or more, or eating and almost instantly vomiting more than once in a day means you should definitely call your vet.
Noticeable Increase in Thirst, Water Intake and Change in Urination Habits
Taking into account changes in exercise and weather temperatures, your dogs drinking and urination habits should be fairly consistent.
So you first need to know how much water your Labrador should be drinking each day, and then make sure you monitor it.
If your dog suddenly changes to emptying his water bowl at a much faster rate, or needs to go to toilet far more often than normal, or even starts to have accidents in the home where otherwise they never do, this is usually a signal for you to call the vet.
Causes for this can be hormonal problems, kidney disease, diabetes or a host of other things requiring medical attention.
When To Call The Vet For Constipation
If your dog hunches over as if to go to toilet, is seen straining but produces nothing, there’s a good chance they’re constipated.
Also if they produce hard and dry stools that they have difficulty passing, they are probably constipated (the moisture gets absorbed and the stools dry out the longer they stay in the colon.)
Some causes of constipation can be dehydration or a lack of fiber in the diet, but you should still consult your vet before a dietary change.
Other causes can be a blockage due to swallowing a foreign object, infections in the anal glands, injury in the back-end area or even just stress.
Constipation can become very serious if it continues for more than just a couple of days.
The waste builds up expanding their insides and backs up inside them. This requires medical intervention to resolve before it gets too serious.
When To Call The Vet for Coughing or Wheezing
Dogs can cough for many reasons and it isn’t always serious, but if a cough lasts for more than just 3 or so days or if your dog is particularly young or old it warrants a visit to the vet.
The list of possible causes can include bronchitis, influenza, kennel cough and heart-worm, though often it will just be a minor allergy or a mild infection that will safely pass.
But you should monitor the situation and be ready to call the vet if other symptoms arise, breathing becomes labored or it lasts for more than just a few days.
Constant Ccratching and Chewing, Fur Falling Out and Other Coat or Skin Problems
Labradors should have a nice, shiny, soft yet thick double coat.
If their coat looks unhealthy, becomes dull, rough and brittle, or if balding starts to occur either from excessive shedding or by scratching and chewing the fur out, it’s a sign that something’s wrong.
This could be down to diet, allergies, parasites or skin diseases but whatever the cause you should consult your vet to get to the root of the problem and solve it.
When to Call the Vet For Lumps and Masses In Or Under The Skin
If you regularly groom and handle your dog…and you should…then you might, particularly as they age, discover the odd lump and bump.
Thankfully the majority of these turn out to be perfectly safe benign fatty deposits, but now and then a lump is a warning sign of a malignant cancerous tumor.
If you find any lumps and bumps, you should make an appointment to get these examined by your vet as soon as possible because the earlier they’re caught and removed, the more positive the outlook will be.
Never leave the lump to ‘see how things develop’, get it checked right away.
When To Call The Vet For Weakness, Lethargy and Tiredness
Your Lab may seem unusually tired and lethargic after an extreme bout of exercise or in extremely hot weather, but other than this, prolonged tiredness and lethargy that lasts more than 2 days is a reason to call the vet.
If they’re suddenly disinterested in activities they normally enjoy, reluctant to walk, play and generally just lethargic, it’s often a sign of underlying problems and you should get this checked out professionally.
When To Call The Vet For a Change in Temperament
A normally friendly, even mannered dog with a good temperament that suddenly turns aggressive out of character will have an underlying problem at the root of the change.
It could be psychological or environmental, but you should first have your Lab examined by a vet to rule out any underlying medical problems which can often be the cause.
When To Call The Vet for a Discharge, Odors or ‘Crustiness’ in the Ears
The inside of your dogs ears should be a healthy shade of pink and nice and clean.
If there’s any smell, signs of soreness, inflammation or swelling it’s a sign of an infection.
This is quite common in Labradors who love to spend time in water. Due to their somewhat floppy ears, they don’t dry out properly, remaining moist, and this is a perfect breeding ground for bacterial growths.
Secondly, if you see a kind of gritty, dirty brown looking discharge then it’s likely your dog has a case of ear mites.
Both infections and mites are easily cured once you pay a visit to your vet, get a correct diagnosis and medication.
When To Call The Vet For Scooting – Dragging Their Rear Across The FLoor
You may catch your Labrador dragging their rear across the grass or a carpet, effectively using this to scratch their anal area.
The most common causes of this are parasites (worms) and blocked, impacted and possibly infected anal glands.
There are other more serious though rarer causes, but either way if you do catch your Lab scooting take them to see the vet to get whatever’s bothering your dog treated.
When To Call The Vet For Lameness and Limping
If you see your lab limping or lame, the first thing you should do is check their paws for obvious things like thorns or small pieces of glass or small cuts.
Once removed and the tiny wound is cleaned and covered, your dog may limp for another day or so but it will usually heal OK. Though you should keep an eye on it to be sure an infection doesn’t set in.
But there could be far more serious causes of limping and lameness such as fractures, breaks, joint pains and larger wounds.
If you find your dog limping and cannot identify an obvious and not serious cause, you should consult your vet with your concerns and as always, follow their advice.
When To Call The Vet For Signs of Mild Pain or Discomfort
If your Labrador is in serious pain it’s easy to see and you will have called the emergency vet. But what of milder pains and discomfort?
You might notice tender painful areas when grooming or handling your dog that otherwise they show no signs of. Dogs are very good at this, just hiding things and carrying on.
If you do notice any mild pain, be sure to keep an eye on it. Inspect the area once per day, whilst also keeping an eye on your dog to make sure their overall energy levels, mobility and general well-being doesn’t deteriorate.
And if the pain persists for more than 3 days or so without improvement, it’s time to call the vet as it could be a symptom of something more severe if it isn’t improving. As always, better safe than sorry!
Final Thoughts And Conclusion
This list is by no means complete but is a compilation of the more common symptoms seen in dogs. For a complete list of dog illnesses and symptoms, please see Dog diseases A-Z from PetMD.
If there’s something wrong with your Lab and you aren’t sure if it requires medical help or not, just call your vet.
In my book, it’s better to get your Lab seen and to spend some money on false alarms than it is to let something go on for days or weeks and turn into something very serious.
As your dogs best friend who knows them better any, you will be able to see when something’s not right and if you suspect something’s wrong don’t hesitate to call.
Never feel embarrassed if you get the all clear. You’ve not wasted anybody’s time.
Almost all vets aren’t in it for the money.
They chose their profession for the love of animals and they’d rather the odd false alarm with the chance to catch something early, than to never see you or your Lab and be unable to treat something when it’s too late.
And as a final word advice: Don’t place all your trust in the advice you find on the internet or taken from a friend or acquaintance, even if they seem to speak from experience.
Many diseases and problems display the same symptoms and just because it ‘turned out to be nothing’ with your friend and their dog, the same may not be true for you.
Always seek and trust in the advice of a professional…and almost nobody else. Your Labradors health is too important to have it any other way.
All content on this site is provided for informational and entertainment purposes only. It is not intended to be nor can it be considered actionable professional advice. It must not be used as an alternative for seeking professional advice from a veterinarian or other certified professional.
LabradorTrainingHQ.com assumes no responsibility or liability for the use or misuse of what’s written on this site. Please consult a professional before taking any course of action with any medical, health or behavioral related issue.
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Top Picks For Our Dogs
- BEST PUPPY TOY
We Like: Snuggle Puppy w/ Heart Beat & Heat Pack - Perfect for new puppies. We get all of our Service Dog pups a Snuggle Puppy.
- BEST CHEW TOY
We Like: KONG Classic - Great toy for heavy chewers like our Labrador Retrievers.
- BEST DOG TREATS
We Like: Zukes Mini Naturals - One of our favorite treats for training our service dog puppies.
- BEST FRESH DOG FOOD
We Like: The Farmer's Dog - A couple months ago we started feeding Raven fresh dog food and she loves it! Get 50% off your first order of The Farmer's Dog.
For a list of all the supplies we get for our new service dog puppies check out our New Puppy Checklist on the PuppyInTraining.com blog.