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With a litter or two on the ground, a breeder’s hands are full of cleaning, weighing, handling, and much more. Having so much to do, it can be hard to catch the beginning stages of a sick puppy. Despite extensive research, firsttime owners may not know the warning signs of certain illnesses and how a sick puppy might look or behave. Recognizing the signs of a sick puppy can help ensure action is taken before any illness becomes worse. Here’s our tips to help breeders and their new puppy owners catch the signs of illness early. 


While puppies do need a significant amount of sleep, doing nothing but sleeping is a concern. After the first few weeks, if a puppy isn’t engaging in play with littermates or curious about exploring the world, they may not be feeling their best. A puppy who just lounges around and lacks enthusiasm should be examined further to ensure they aren’t starting to show symptoms of being sick. 

Coat & Skin 

Check puppies daily by running your hands over their bodies to confirm there are no ticks, fleas, insects, or wounds. Puppies can be clumsy and are still learning how to play safely with others. Accidents such as scratches and scrapes can occur that may need attention. If a puppy’s coat loses its luster or becomes patchy, a visit to the veterinarian is in order. 

Beagle puppies being held in a woman's arms.
©Pixel-Shot -


Puppies eat a lot! Big life changes, such as a puppy moving to their new home, may cause a temporary lapse in appetite. But once they’re settled, they should be happy to chow downWhile the amount and type of food that a puppy should eat changes based on age, if a puppy isn’t eating as much as usual or is vomiting, it’s time to visit your veterinarian.  


If a puppy is scratching or rubbing their ears, shaking their head, or you notice a foul odor coming from their ears, he may have an ear infection. While adult dogs generally experience ear infections due to bacteria and yeast growth, ear infections in puppies are typically due to mites. If you suspect an ear infection in a puppy, visit your vet. They’ll do an examination, clean out your puppy’s ears, and recommend a medicated ear cleaning solution for your use at home.  


A puppy’s eyes should be clear and free of goop. There are several eye conditions that can cause issues, such as pink eye and dry eye. If a puppy is squinting, excessively blinking, pawing at their eyes, or has discharge, you should visit the vet right away.  

Golden Retriever puppy laying indoors on a wood floor.
IuriiSokolov/Getty Images Plus


Since puppies are known for eating things they shouldn’tpuppy diarrhea is, unfortunately, a common symptom of varying issues. Reasons a puppy may have diarrhea include diet change, bacterial infection, viral infection, ingestion of foreign bodies, parasites, or stress. A puppy with diarrhea should be observed, and the vet should be called. You can explain any additional symptoms to the vet, and he can tell you if the puppy should be brought in for a visit.  


Many breeders track the weight of puppies at minimum through the first two weeks of life. Ensure that puppies are steadily gaining weight and receiving proper nourishment. This is the best way to help them become strong enough to fight off illness. Once a puppy heads home, new owners can track weight by teaching their puppy to sit or stand on a scale or by understanding body condition scoring. Losing weight and reduced interest in eating is another concern. In this case, the puppy may be sick and should be taken to the vet right away.  


As the caretaker of a litter or an individual puppy, you should know the routines of your dogs. Be aware when behavior deviates from normal. A puppy who usually is bright and active when handled might suddenly become quiet and nonreactive if they’re feeling sick. If a puppy suddenly becomes more vocal, with increased whining or whimpering, they may be trying to let you know that something is wrong.

This article is intended solely as general guidance, and does not constitute health or other professional advice. Individual situations and applicable laws vary by jurisdiction, and you are encouraged to obtain appropriate advice from qualified professionals in the applicable jurisdictions. We make no representations or warranties concerning any course of action taken by any person following or otherwise using the information offered or provided in this article, including any such information associated with and provided in connection with third-party products, and we will not be liable for any direct, indirect, consequential, special, exemplary or other damages that may result, including but not limited to economic loss, injury, illness or death.

Related article: Transitioning from Puppy to Adult Food Based on Breed Size
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