Diarrhea Solutions, Puppy and Kitten Care, Vet Minute

Vet Minute: Is It Normal for a Puppy to be Sick?

Marty Greer, DVM

December 6, 2022

Dr. Greer

What sick puppy symptoms should you watch for? In this Vet Minute, Revival’s Director of Veterinary Services, Dr. Marty Greer, talks about signs your puppy is sick, along with possible causes, including puppy car sickness.

Is It Normal for a Puppy to be Sick?

The most common thing that we see people calling us about is diarrhea. Lots of puppies get diarrhea. It’s very common, and it’s usually not serious. But it’s pretty disconcerting because it’s messy. It’s hard on the puppy. Puppies don’t like to have diarrhea. People don’t like their puppies to have diarrhea. So I think diarrhea is probably the most common thing that we see.

Although diarrhea is common and concerning, it’s not nearly as concerning as a puppy that’s vomiting and not having any stool. Because to me, that’s more likely to indicate a possible obstruction, foreign body, something much more serious going on than your garden variety loose stool in the puppy.

At What Age Should Puppy Diarrhea Be a Concern?

Puppy diarrhea is primarily a concern after puppies have already left their breeder or their rescue group and are moving into people’s homes. Breeders have a whole different set of circumstances and a whole different way of managing their puppies, because it’s usually a group of puppies that are sick in those situations, not one individual puppy that may have eaten something that they shouldn’t have.

Viruses Can Cause a Puppy to get Sick. What Other Causes of Common Puppy Sickness are There? Does Age Matter?

Yes, the younger the puppy, the less likely they are to have the resources to bounce back from an illness. So the younger the puppy, the more seriously we take it. A little bit of diarrhea is reason for concern, but not necessarily reason to panic. Vomiting, no stool, running a fever are serious symptoms. Take a temperature rectally on a puppy. Anything over 102.5° F would be concerning. Normal on a puppy should be 100° to 101° – 102.5° F. So if they get above 103°, your vet needs to see them. If they develop respiratory signs, coughing, sneezing, runny eyes, runny nose, any of those things, we also see as a reason for concern. Sometimes they’re not really specifically ill. They’re just lethargic and not eating. But even that, if they’re not eating and not drinking, those are even reasons for concern, especially if it goes on for more than a few hours.

What do You Recommend to Help When a Puppy gets Car Sick? Is there a Puppy Motion Sickness Medication?

Yes, there is. The best thing for puppy motion sickness is to get them used to riding in the car, short trips, when they’re very young. My puppies go in the car every single day from the time that they’re born until the time that they leave my house, so my puppies don’t have problems with motion sickness. And if you’re working with a breeder that’s able and willing to do that social kind of care, that’s going to make a huge difference.

Other things you can do for motion sickness is to feed ginger snaps, like the human ginger snap cookies, an hour or two before you travel. Don’t feed anything else, so the puppy travels with a relatively empty stomach other than the ginger snaps. Make sure that the puppy doesn’t look outside the side window as you’re driving. Cover the crate or window because it’s that outside movement of things going past that can really make the puppies feel disturbed and upset. And then the final thing would be to put the puppy on Cerenia, a prescription medication that we can prescribe for the puppy if the ginger snaps and the short trips practices don’t work. Anti-anxiety medications aren’t really a solution, Acepromazine is definitely not a solution. So don’t reach for ACE. Don’t reach for the human products like Bonine or Meclizine. Make sure you’re using a veterinary product. Cerenia is a tremendous drug, a great product for our puppies. It makes your travel so much more comfortable, especially if you’re taking the puppy camping for the weekend or you’re going someplace on a longer trip. So plan ahead. Get the puppy in the car a few days, a few times before you travel, just to make sure that you’re not going to get halfway down the road and realize that you’re in trouble when your veterinary clinic isn’t able to accommodate a prescription for you.

What are the Symptoms of Puppy Motion Sickness? Is it Similar to Humans?

The extreme motion sickness cases vomit. But we’ll see a lot of puppies come to the practice that are very, very wet mouth. They’ve been drooling; they’ve been nauseous, and their lips and tongue are wet.We take a look at them and their whole front end is wet. You’re like, “Oh yeah, we had a little problem in the car,” and a lot of times owners aren’t even aware of it.

Now, if you have more than one puppy, probably somebody has vomited. But if it’s just one puppy, that early sign of drooling and salivation is your first clue that you need to pull over. Go find some ginger snaps, slow down your trip and plan for a different day to go traveling. If you if you have time to go, get some Cerenia for the puppy before you leave the next time.

Written by: Marty Greer, DVM

Director of Veterinary Services

Marty Greer, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, has 35+ years’ experience in veterinary medicine, with special interests in canine reproduction and pediatrics. She received her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Iowa State University in 1981. She’s served as Revival’s Director of Veterinary Services since 2019.

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