How do we know when our pets don’t feel their best? Since they can’t communicate in words, they instead express their needs in subtle ways and with a variety of physical cues. If we’re paying attention to how they act and how they look, we can often determine if they are sick or injured and then take action to alleviate their discomfort.
Of course, prevention is always key, so be sure to take your pet to the veterinarian every 6 to 12 months for a full check-up, especially if they are more than 8 years old. Senior animals are at a higher risk for health concerns, so pay particular attention to their habits and any changes in behavior.
Below you’ll find a list of signs and what to do if your cat or dog is in need of veterinary care.
We can tell a lot about our pets from how they look. If you see any of these physical signs, contact your veterinarian for guidance.
- Unexplained weight loss or gain—This could indicate a larger health concern if it progresses for more than 2 to 4 weeks.
- Patches of missing fur/irritated or itchy skin—If your pet is scratching or rubbing so much that patches of fur are missing, it could suggest a skin allergy or reaction to insect bites.
- Runny nose or eyes—This may be a response to respiratory problems; pay special attention if they have any difficulty breathing.
- Red or swollen gums—An indication of gum disease, inflamed gums, when associated with a refusal to eat or particularly bad breath, should be taken seriously.
We can generally gauge our pets’ health and happiness by their appetite. So, it is a cause for concern if they opt out of a meal or snack. If your dog or cat refuses to eat for more than 24 hours, contact your veterinarian right away.
While coughing can be normal in some instances (such as a cat occasionally dislodging a hairball), if it is persistent, there may be cause for concern. For cats, coughing, gagging, or vomiting can be a sign of intestinal issues or liver or kidney disease. For dogs, coughing or vomiting can indicate an allergic reaction or it could be a sign of kennel cough, a common and potentially fatal illness. If you notice your pet displaying persistent hacking accompanied by a wheezing sound, contact your vet immediately. Also, make special note if your animal coughs up any blood, as this is an urgent indication of duress.
Excessive lethargy or depression can be a warning sign in pets. You may see that your dog or cat is choosing to sleep instead of taking opportunities to play or eat; if this persists, get in touch with your veterinarian.
On a typical day, your dog or cat will relieve itself easily and comfortably in the appropriate space (a litter box for cats, outside for dogs). But if your pet is displaying unusual behavior such as ongoing constipation or diarrhea, it may suggest that something isn’t right. If the feces is particularly dark or has blood or mucus, or if the behavior continues for more than 48 hours, it’s time to reach out to a professional.
The same 48-hour rule is true if your pet is going to the bathroom in inappropriate locations. While it could be an indication of stress (has something anxiety-provoking happened recently?), it could be also be a reaction to a physical ailment. Likewise, if you see that your pet is trying to relieve itself frequently but is unable to do so, this may indicate a urinary tract infection. This is especially important if you hear yelping or crying. If any unusual elimination behavior becomes a pattern for more than 48 hours, contact your veterinarian.
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