Lady, the brindled greyhound adopted by Jane Williamson

Caring for your sick dog

Caring for your sick dog or puppy top tips

  • If your dog or puppy is being sick or has diarrhoea these are common problems which can arise from infections, scavenging or feeding on leftovers. 
  • Avoid giving “leftovers” – this can trigger serious problems, such as pancreatitis (inflamed digestive gland).
  • Pets with arthritis need a soft bed and assistance up and downstairs. Massaging muscles at the start of the day may be helpful.

The following information is intended only as a general guideline for the care of a sick dog already under veterinary treatment. If your dog is ill, you should always contact your vet first.

Dog or puppy being sick (vomiting) and diarrhoea

If your dog or puppy is being sick or has diarrhoea these are common problems which can arise from infections, scavenging or feeding on leftovers. Changing to food different from the usual diet can also cause stomach upsets. It’s best to make diet changes gradually. Take at least three days and start by adding small amounts of the new diet to the current one. Avoid giving “leftovers” – this can trigger serious problems, such as pancreatitis (inflamed digestive gland).

Try to prevent your dog from scavenging by keeping your rubbish secure and, if necessary, by using a muzzle when your dog is in the park. Bones should never be given. Bowel irritation from chewed up bone fragments can cause gastrointestinal upsets and blockages.

Vomiting usually means a tummy upset but it can also be a sign of other illnesses. If your dog has been vomiting frequently or seems weak and lethargic, always contact your vet. For adult pets that remain bright and keen to eat, you can follow the advice below. However, if vomiting persists for more than a day or if your dog seems unwell, contact the vet.

Do not let your dog drink too much at once. Drinking lots of water tends to result in further vomiting with the risk of dehydration. Give cooled, boiled water little and often.

If your pet is vomiting and unable to keep food down, you can try missing one meal, although still allow access to water. Then, offer small amounts of a white meat diet such as boiled chicken or boiled fish (cod or coley), with white rice. Provided there is no further vomiting, offer small amounts every two hours for the first day and then larger quantities less often for the next couple of days. If all remains well, start to mix in the usual diet.

Diarrhoea – continue to feed your pet, but switch to a bland diet, as described above for vomiting. If diarrhoea persists for more than one to two days (depending on the severity), your vet should be consulted.

Important – always consult your vet if you have a puppy with vomiting or diarrhoea.

Dogs with longstanding conditions

Many elderly dogs develop longstanding conditions, which, at times, may need home nursing. Monitor carefully and, if the bad times are beginning to outweigh the good, consider the options carefully. Discuss with your vet or contact our Pet Bereavement Support Service (see Time to say goodbye). Always notify the vet of any changes in the condition of a pet with a longstanding illness.

Think ahead – have enough medication for holidays and weekends and ask the vet if you do not understand the instructions. “Give twice a day”, means (roughly) 12 hours apart! If you stop any medication or if there are problems, tell the vet right away. Suddenly stopping medication can be dangerous so check with your vet.

Do not expect too much of invalids – changes can be stressful for them. Generally, they are less capable of exercise than healthy dogs. If they have friends (human or animal) to visit, do not allow them to overdo things!

It is particularly important for elderly animals to have access to water, so if your pet is having difficulty walking or standing, ensure that the water bowl is positioned for easy access.

If your pet is not eating, do not leave uneaten food around. Pick it up and offer a small quantity of something different later. Appealing foods include fresh chicken and gravy, ham, pilchards and cat food. Or you can get appetising invalid foods from the vet. Try serving food warm.

Provide thick bedding in a warm place for any animal that is lying down a lot. If you provide a heater pad, always cover it to prevent burns. Turn animals that cannot move every two hours. Animals on a heater pad should be turned more often and checked frequently for overheating. If your pet is unable to move for more than 24 hours, discuss the long-term outlook and future quality of life with your vet.

Dogs that cannot stand should be taken out to relieve themselves regularly. You may need to support them – pass a towel or blanket from one side to the other under the tummy and hold both ends over the back like a sling. Check the bottom and belly carefully for soiling from faeces or urine, which can be washed off using a baby shampoo. Rinse and dry – beware of burning if using a hairdryer. Use the lowest setting and do not hold it too close. It may be easier to clip long-haired dogs, but mind you do not cut the skin. Areas of hairless skin can be protected from irritation by urine with a layer of Vaseline.

Try to groom your invalid pet daily as it cheers them up.

For further information, see Caring for the older dog

Arthritis in dogs

Pets with arthritis need a soft bed and assistance up and downstairs. Massaging muscles at the start of the day may be helpful. Rest your pet if they’re having a bad day. Only allow your dog outside for a few minutes to go to the toilet. Consider getting a heater pad for use in the winter. Never give your pet human painkillers or arthritis medication – some are dangerous for dogs. Only use medicines prescribed by your vet. “Alternative” health products are unlikely to help alone and you should discuss the use of these with your vet.

Dogs with sore skin

Licking is not good for wounds or sores – it just makes them worse. Prevent licking by using a buster or Elizabethan collar. Prevent scratching by putting socks on the feet, or if the itchy area is on the body, by putting a T-shirt on the dog. Bathing in cool salt water (a teaspoon of salt to a pint of water) or applying an ice pack, witch hazel or camomile lotion may soothe until you can get to the vet. Remember that the most effective flea control products come from the vet.

Giving medicines to dogs

Preparation is everything. Get everything you need quietly beforehand so you do not end up chasing your dog around the house. It is helpful to have someone to hold the front legs to prevent your dog pawing your hand while you are giving treatments. Small dogs can be wrapped in a towel. Have your pet sitting, preferably with his bottom tucked into a corner of the room (then he cannot keep backing away).

Giving tablets to dogs

It is easiest to hide the tablet in food, although check that the medication doesn’t need to be given on an empty stomach. Choose something strong tasting, which will stick to the tablet without falling off – such as cheese, pâté, or cat food. Put the tablet in a small quantity of food and make sure your pet is hungry at medicine time.

Many medicines now come in a palatable form – ask your vet, but remember to keep these tablets somewhere safe so your pet cannot steal them and accidentally overdose. There are also special soft treats in which tablets can be hidden, again available from the vet. It sometimes helps to fool your dog if you give one or two treats – without the tablet of course – before and after. But vary the number, or your dog may learn that the second treat is always “booby trapped”.

If you are right handed:

  • Take the muzzle gently with your left hand. Have your hand on top of the muzzle, with fingers on one side and thumb on the other.
  • Draw the head back until the nose points at the ceiling. Push on the lips just behind the big fang-like teeth (the canines) and the mouth should open.
  • Hold the tablet between your first finger and thumb of your right hand. Push down on the lower jaw between the canine teeth with the other fingers of this hand to fully open the mouth, and put the pill as far back on the tongue as you can. Keep hold of the upper jaw throughout so that the mouth cannot close.
  • Then hold the mouth closed and stroke the throat or rub the nose to encourage swallowing. Do not release until after swallowing, then praise and give a treat.

Giving eye drops and ointments to dogs

  • Bathe any discharge from the eye. If you are right handed, use the finger and thumb of your left hand to hold the eyelids open. Animals have strong eyelid muscles so you will need to be firm.
  • Hold the medication in your right hand, and bring it towards the eye from the side
  • If you are putting in drops, then put one drop right into the eye, being careful not to touch the eye itself
  • With an ointment, squeeze a little out of the nozzle to start with, position over the eye, and squeeze again to lay a trail of ointment over the actual surface of the eye. Be careful not to touch the eye with the nozzle.
  • Do not let your pet rub the eye (use an Elizabethan collar if necessary) – but do give a treat!

Giving ear medication to dogs

The earflap is only part of your dog’s ear. The hearing apparatus is inside the head, at the end of an L-shaped tube (the “ear canal”), which connects it to the outside. This tube starts at the base of the flap where it attaches to the head, runs vertically down the side of the head, and then turns sharply inwards.

When cleaning the ears or applying medication it can be helpful to have an assistant who can hold a treat in a closed hand so that your dog can sniff or lick at it whilst you are doing the treatment. This can then be given to your pet as a reward for staying still for the treatment.

  • Have the cotton wool or tissue and the medication ready with the lid off
  • Lift the earflap with your left hand if you are right handed and find the opening of the ear canal
  • With your right hand put the quantity directed on the label into this opening. Put down the bottle but keep hold of the flap.
  • Feel for the ear tube running down the side of the head and use your finger and thumb to gently massage the medication down the tube. Wipe away any wax or excess medication that emerges.
  • Release the earflap – your pet will shake his head
  • Remember to give a reward!
— Page last updated 22/05/2023