If You’re Sicker Than A Dog, Just How Sick Does A Dog Get?

There are very few positive things about being sick — especially once youre an adult, and the days of PlayStation 2 and a constant stream of hand-delivered ginger ales are long gone. 

One very small bright spot, however, is that you get the distinct etymological pleasure of describing yourself as “sick as a dog.” Its an incredible turn of phrase. A high point in slang. Just old-timey enough to feel smart, but not so old-fashioned that you sound like a Redditor engaged in a “battle of wits.” As the kids say, it just hits. Its the perfect, shimmering jewel to base an email to someone canceling plans around. “I would love to attend your destination gender reveal party, but Im sick as a dog.”

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Beauteous stuff.

The question is, of course, why is saying that youre as sick as a dog somehow inherently another level from being as sick as, say, a human? After all, both dogs and humans possess the same ultimate height of sickness, which is to say: dead. Is it a matter of performance? Sick humans can be plenty woe-is-me, but they never go to the theatrical heights of dragging themselves under a porch. 

I will say that, just in terms of pure production, dogs can do an immense amount of damage when their guts go haywire. Though thats mostly just because they dont understand what a toilet is, or the ramifications of puking on a hard floor versus a shag carpet. Id explain it to them, but they look guilty enough. Similarly, dogs dont even have to be sick to throw up. Some of them seem to do it just because theyre bored. 

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So again, what exactly drove the phrase? Was there some sort of widespread dog disease that left the worlds canines looking particularly haggard at some time in history? 

As far as I can tell, it wasnt how dogs of history looked at the moment, but instead how they were perceived.

Pixabay

And this was before the French bulldog, a dog bred specifically to get as sick as possible.

Namely, that they werent always the perfect little princesses of apartment dwellers. When a dog enters a bar these days, its a royal reception. Theyre immediately received with excitement befitting a celebrity, or the Kool-Aid Man. But for a lot of history, stray dogs in particular were considered to be large vermin. It probably didnt help that back in medieval times, like rats, dogs were carriers of disease — in those days then, they were probably pretty close to their representation in Resident Evil. In fact, there was even a job known as a hontslager, or “dog slayer,” that was tasked with, um, “culling” a citys dog population.

And so, when the term “sick as a dog” originated at the end of the 16th century, it was because dogs were a dirty, often diseased animal. Other animals like rats, cats and horses were occasionally swapped in the same phrase, but dog simply sounded the best. And hey, no argument here.