Pet Boarding & Daycare

Sick or Not Sick? Identifying Dangerous Canine Health Conditions

Sick or Not Sick? Identifying Dangerous Canine Health Conditions

By Madison Warner

Catching a pet health emergency early gives the best chance for a good outcome, but it can be difficult to know when to be concerned. In a dynamic environment such as daycare or boarding, a high volume of dogs and staff can make it even more challenging to track a dog that may be experiencing a health issue that requires veterinary care. This article will discuss ways to manage the risk of serious health emergencies in a daycare/boarding setting. 

Sick or Not Sick

Since our pets cannot simply tell us when they’re not feeling well, we have to pay close attention to their body language and any symptoms they display. Businesses should have a procedure for tracking this. Staff could make notes in your booking software, keep a note in their phone, or write it down in a dedicated notebook or on a whiteboard. The notes should include the pet’s name, owner’s name and contact info, what symptoms or body language occurred, and at what time. If the dog is staying overnight, add dates so it can be tracked over the pet’s full stay. Staff members should also notify management and other staff so that the whole team can be aware of what is happening and help with observation.

Animals should be observed using the “Rule of Five.” If a dog displays any of the symptoms described in this article, put them on direct observation for five minutes. If they improve during that time, check back in on them within the next hour to be sure the condition hasn’t returned. If they stay the same or worsen within five minutes, they should be removed from the playgroup and put on kennel rest. If after five minutes of kennel rest they are still worsening, you should call a vet. If an animal placed on kennel rest improves after a few hours, they can be permitted back into the playgroup area as normal. 

Any dog that is showing the signs listed below or has a seizure, begins limping, is showing extremely unusual behavior, seems “off,” is whimpering or whining, or refuses to eat or drink should be evaluated and treated right away. 

Stress Colitis & GI Emergencies

One of the most common ailments that is seen in daycare and boarding is stress colitis. While not unique to daycare, this potentially serious condition creates one of the largest gray areas of care for pet pros. So, when should you be concerned about stress colitis? The million dollar answer is, it depends! 

Generally, a dog that has two to three bouts of diarrhea due to stress colitis should be OK as long as they are monitored for the next few hours. A small amount of bright red blood (a few drops or streaks) within those two to three bouts may not be cause for panic; that blood can be due to the irritation of the rectum and anus. However, if ANY of the following occur, the dog should be taken to the nearest vet immediately: vomiting & diarrhea together, any evidence that a pet ingested a foreign body, excessive drooling, extreme agitation, stress or lethargy, refusal to drink water, more than a teaspoon of blood in the stool, a bloated or tender abdomen, restlessness, or retching without vomit.

These symptoms could indicate they are experiencing bloat (gastric torsion), poisoning, foreign-body ingestion or intestinal blockage, or a more severe form of stress colitis that needs treatment. If you are unsure about any symptoms, it never hurts to call a vet for their opinion.

Heat Stress/Stroke

Another challenging condition that is important to identify early on is heatstroke (hyperthermia). Clinically, this is when a dog’s internal body temperature reaches and stays above 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Learning to take temperatures with a thermometer can be useful, but is not essential for all pet care staff. Dogs will give us body language signs that can tell us they are getting too warm. This can include, they stop playing or engaging because they are panting too hard, very bright red or purplish gums, restlessness, anxiously seeking shade or water, vomiting and/or diarrhea.

A dog that is showing these signs should be removed from the playgroup, cooled down in the air-conditioning and given cool water or broth to drink. Getting the dog wet will help with evaporative cooling. Staff can also place ice/cool packs wrapped in towels in the dog’s armpits.

Any dog that has been displaying these symptoms and has started to vomit, has a seizure or collapse should be immediately cooled by any and every means possible and taken to the nearest vet. These are considered late-stage signs of heatstroke.

If a dog seems to be returning to their normal behavior, their panting slows down and their general impression improves, staff can stop cooling the dog but still keep it on kennel rest for at least two hours to allow it to recover fully. If a dog starts to shiver, immediately stop cooling it and dry it off. 

Dogs in a daycare setting should always be given the option to get out of the outdoor heat and into an air-conditioned area, and have plenty of fresh water to drink. 

Proactive Procedures

It’s important to develop a good working relationship with your nearest veterinarian, and it never hurts to give them a call if you are unsure about a dog’s condition. It is also wise to include health-related questions as part of your business’s new-client paperwork. This should list any health conditions the pet has, medications, surgeries and any other related health info. Also have pet parents specify the care they would like for their pet in the event they cannot be reached by phone. This could be a dollar amount or option that gives the veterinarian authority to decide. This could also include DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) orders. 

At check-in, staff should perform a quick exam and ask the pet parent about any recent vomiting or diarrhea, injuries, or other health concerns. This can help staff keep an eye on pets of concern and protect your business. This method has found lacerations, surgery staples, ticks, foxtails and evidence of foreign-body ingestion, all of which resulted in the business not accepting the dog and it getting the veterinary care it needed. 

Keeping a trained eye out for clues of a pet health emergency allows pet businesses to catch a problem and intervene early. Also train your staff to recognize symptoms and behavior of the most common and serious pet health emergencies to reduce risk. This is training we all hope we will never need to use, but can be lifesaving! 

The information contained in this article is for informational purposes and does not substitute veterinary care or advice. Please consult a veterinarian immediately if you think an animal is suffering a medical emergency.

Madison Warner is owner of Ready Pet Education and teaches pet first aid & CPR to pet professionals all over the United States. Madison has experience as a vet tech, EMT/firefighter, and FEMA search & rescue K9 handler. Ready Pet Education has been teaching veterinary-supervised, comprehensive pet first aid courses since 2018. Ready Pet Education offers classes for all types of pet pros. They offer online or in-person learning and bulk discounts for 15+ students, as well as emergency and disaster preparedness consulting for all types of pet businesses!