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How Do I Care For A Sick Dog?

Susana Bradford
January 12, 2024
April 19, 2023
8 minute read
Updated By
Expert Reviewed By:
April 19, 2023
August 29, 2023
8 minute read
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 Ease your worries when your family pet is sick. Discover ways to provide comfort and support during their recovery journey at home.

Dogs, including emotional support animals, are susceptible to various illnesses, and different conditions necessitate different care methods. Therefore, before trying to help your dog, you may need to take it to the veterinarian to determine the exact nature of the animal's health problem. Ruling out serious causes can lead to quicker and better recovery for your dog. Keeping your dog hydrated and offering food round-the-clock constantly are essential steps to ensuring your dog receives the best care possible.

What to do When a Dog is Sick

Take your dog to the vet if they're showing symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, or lethargy. Follow your vet's instructions for treatment and medication. Make sure your dog stays hydrated and rested, and consider feeding them a bland diet to help soothe their stomach.

How to Care for Dogs With Certain Symptoms or Conditions

When your dog is ill, you'll want to do anything to make it feel better. However, it's not always easy to tell if you're on the right track. When dogs are sick, sometimes it can be a touch of the flu, or they are experiencing allergies. However, there can be more concerning symptoms that may require more attention.

sick dog

Coughing and Breathing Difficulties

If the dog has been coughing or has difficulty breathing, it could be a sign of a respiratory problem. A humidifier placed near the sick dog may help the animal breathe easier. However, if the animal develops severe breathing problems, it could be a sign of a respiratory infection, and you should take it to the veterinarian right away.

Keeping your sick dog in a warm, dry area would be best. Maintain a clean environment and make the dog comfortable. While the dog is recovering, try not to disturb it too much by keeping its surroundings calm and peaceful. Give the dog as much attention as the situation requires.

Diarrhea or Vomiting

Often, a dog may vomit as a reaction to a minor stomach upset. During such times, it is best to avoid feeding the animal for several hours while keeping it hydrated.

If your dog vomits once and then seems fine, you can feed it as usual in six to twelve hours or when the next meal is due.

Talk to your vet if your dog keeps throwing up or having diarrhea and its condition doesn't get better. You should also contact your veterinarian if the dog refuses to eat for two consecutive days after the vomiting has stopped.

Long-Term Illnesses

Chronic illnesses are a real possibility for dogs, especially as they age. You will need to consider in-home care for ESA-certified dogs. Ensure you have sufficient medication for holidays and weekends when your veterinarian is unavailable.

Excessive activity may cause stress in older, ailing dogs, so limiting exercise and interaction with other dogs is essential.

You should also ensure that the dog relieves itself regularly. A dog's strength may deteriorate due to a long-term illness; thus, you might need to offer support while it reduces itself and cleans up feces or urine. Trim long hairs to prevent waste from sticking to the dog, taking care not to tear the dog's skin.


Arthritic dogs require a great deal of quality rest. Massage their muscles to alleviate any tension or discomfort they may be experiencing. Providing a soft place to lie down will aid in relieving their pain. Remember that you should never give your dog human arthritis medication; instead, consult your veterinarian for the proper remedy.

Sore Skin

Sore skin may get worse if the dog licks the wounds. It will help if you devise strategies to prevent your dog from licking or scratching its wounds. You can, for example, put socks on its feet to keep it from scratching. Bathe your dog in saltwater or apply an ice pack to the affected areas to relieve itching.

Consult Your Vet

The most important thing you can do for a sick dog is to take them to a veterinarian. A veterinarian can diagnose a dog's condition, prescribe medication if necessary, and tell you what you need to do to make your dog feel better. 

Make sure to inform the veterinarian of every symptom you've observed. You may want to write down or mentally record the signs in the order in which they appeared. Having the symptoms on record when they happened can aid the veterinarian in better diagnosing the problem.

For example, if your dog vomited in the morning after eating food, record the time the sickness started happening and that it happened after eating food, as well as the specific brand of food. Or, if your dog is showing signs of dehydration, but has drunk water within the last few hours, record that information.

Any information you can provide your veterinarian can aid in the care of your dog.

Keep Your Dog Hydrated and Nourished

Keeping the dog hydrated is very important. Without adequate hydration, the animal may become dehydrated, worsening its condition. If a dog becomes dehydrated, its mouth will become dry. Take your dog to a veterinarian if it stops drinking liquids for an extended period. Dehydrated dogs may appear lethargic or not lick their nose as often as they should.

When sick, a dog may lose its appetite. If the dog refuses its regular food, you can try to give it a special treat or food that it usually does not eat. Getting a sick dog to eat may help them feel better and aid in their recovery.

Get the Right Medication for Your Dog

You should not administer medication to a dog without first consulting a veterinarian or other canine expert. If a veterinarian prescribes medication for your sick dog, be sure to adhere to all of the instructions strictly.

Giving your pet too much or too little could worsen its condition. Herbal remedies and other over-the-counter medications may be beneficial, but only a veterinarian can determine if they are appropriate for your dog.

How Do I Administer Medication To My Dog?

The most crucial step in caring for a sick dog is administering the proper medication. You should set aside all of the necessary medicines in advance. If your dog paws at your hands during the procedure, ask for help by having someone hold the dog's front legs.

Administering Tablet Medication

One clever way of administering tablet medication is by hiding it in the dog's food. Put the tablet in a small amount of food, preferably with a strong flavor. Make sure the medicine is not given to the dog on an empty stomach.

You could also gently separate your dog's muzzle and place the tablet on the dog's tongue. Holding its mouth shut and massaging its throat while blowing its nose will encourage it to swallow.

Administering Eye or Ear Drops

Using one hand to hold the eye drops, raise the dog's chin, so it faces you. Then, gently lift the eyelid of the affected eye and place the eyedrop inside. Next, move the eyelid in a blinking motion, and then repeat with the other eye. Sometimes it can be helpful to have someone to help you keep the dog still.

When administering ear drops, it is best to hold the dog's ear out straight if it has floppy ears or make sure no creases are in the ear canal and administer the drops. Your dog may shake its head a few times after administering the drops; however, it can help the drops be distributed better.

How Can I Improve My House to Care for a Sick Dog?

Adjusting your home to accommodate your sick dog's needs is very important. For instance, if the dog has trouble moving, you can install pet stairs or an outdoor ramp.

Creating a Warm Environment

Install a carpet to ensure your dog stays warm. You can also create a warm bed for your dog with soft pillows and blankets. If your dog does not already reside in the main house, it may be time to make the transition. For example, an exterior garage or doghouse temperature may not suit a sick dog.

Maintaining a Clean and Hygienic Environment

When a dog is ill, it often has digestive issues like vomiting and diarrhea that can make its sleeping area unpleasant and unsanitary. So make sure to clean the dog area regularly. 

Create a Noise-Free Atmosphere

Keep the lights low and the volume down while your dog is sick. Like a sick human, an ill dog requires a tranquil place to rest and recover.

Ensure Easy Access to Food and Water 

Ensure that food and water are in multiple locations to facilitate accessibility.

Isolate the Dog

You must isolate your sick dog as certain diseases are easily transmitted. Isolation also helps to ensure that your dog gets enough rest. Isolation can also aid in the dog's peacefulness and recovery. When sick, dogs prefer to be alone and do not wish to be around their owners, similar to wild dogs or wolves in a pack. Isolating your dog from other animals may be the best option, but constantly check on the dog to ensure they are still comfortable and taken care of.

Why Do I Need to Monitor My Dog?

It can be challenging to deal with a sick dog or emotional support animal unable to express emotions. However, a sick ESA dog should never be left alone, as the condition can quickly deteriorate.

Keeping track of the dog's response to treatment will help you determine what needs to be done. For example, did the medication provide any symptomatic relief?

If the answer is no, you should consult your veterinarian for advice on the next steps.

Final Thoughts

Taking care of a sick dog can be a tiresome and challenging task, but ensuring proper medication (if needed) and comfortable areas where the dog can relax and be calm can lead to faster recovery. If any severe symptoms occur, it is best to take your dog to the vet as soon as possible, as a vet can better diagnose your ESA.

Visit Pettable's blog to get helpful pet care information and other helpful resources.

Meet the author:
Susana Bradford

Susana is an avid animal lover and has been around animals her entire life, and has volunteered at several different animal shelters in Southern California. She has a loving family at home that consists of her husband, son, two dogs, and one cat. She enjoys trying new Italian recipes, playing piano, making pottery, and outdoor hiking with her family and dogs in her spare time.

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