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7 Telling Signs that Your Pet Is Sick

Pet health can be complicated. Even the best of pet owners may not necessarily realize when their pets need to see a veterinarian. But you, as the pet owner, know your pet best and are thus are the best person to identify when your might not be feeling 100%. Here are some of the more common .

  1. Behavioral changes. Any time your pet starts behaving out of character, it's time for a second look. This can include things like not wanting to do his favorite activities (like going for a walk, or playing ball); avoiding contact with family members when he's normally an attention-hound; seeking out a lot of attention when he's normally more independent; or appearing scared or worried in a normally confident and outgoing pet.

  2. Vomiting or diarrhea. Every pet will vomit or experience a bout of diarrhea once in a while. Persistent or chronic vomiting or diarrhea, however, is cause for concern - not only can pets easily dehydrate, but these could be symptoms of a more serious medical issue. Sometimes it can be something as simple as an upset stomach (such as due to a sudden change in food), but it can also be a sign of a health problem that needs to be addressed like parasites or liver disease.

    Any time there is blood in the vomit or diarrhea, get to a vet right away. A common cause is when a pet swallows something he shouldn't. It's even more concerning if your pet is experiencing chronic or persistent vomiting or diarrhea alongside other signs of illness.

  3. Sudden changes in appetite. Whether it's a loss of appetite or increased appetite, any persistent change should put pet owners on alert that something might be wrong. Pets sometimes don't want to eat because they're stressed over something, because they're in pain, or simply because they have an upset tummy; these aren't necessarily anything to worry about if the pet resumes eating normally shortly.

    Cat owners need to be extra-careful; cats should not go more than a couple of days without eating because it can cause fatty liver, a condition that needs to be treated immediately by a veterinarian.

  4. Unexplained or sudden weight gain or loss. Is your pet eating normally, getting the same exercise as usual, and yet seems to be getting either too heavy or too thin? Unintentional changes in weight can be the result of something benign, like feeding a new food - tastier food might cause a pet to eat more and thus gain weight; food that's less appealing may cause a pet to eat less and thus lose weight. More exercise or less exercise can also explain weight loss or gain. For example, an older pet who is experiencing progressive arthritis pain may no longer be as active. Older pets often lose a bit of weight as they age as well.

    Sometimes, though, changes in weight can signal that something else is going on. Liver or kidney disease, cancer, dental disease, thyroid problems, and diabetes are all examples of health issues that can cause weight changes.

  5. Increase in drinking or urination. If you notice that your pet has been urinating a lot more, either in volume or in frequency or both, it's time to take him to the vet to get checked out. Likely the vet will run some bloodwork on your pet and may suggest other tests as well.

    It isn't always easy to tell if your pet is drinking or urinating more than usual, especially if you have a multi-pet household. Some things that can help to alert you that something might be wrong include: re-filling water bowls more often, cleaning the litter box more often, or pets having accidents in the house or overnight (when they're not able to 'hold it' until they're let out in the morning). If you notice any of these signs, you can try to separate your pets for a day or two to see if you can isolate which one of them is having an issue. Give them separate water bowls, litter boxes (or bathroom breaks), and beds, so that you can monitor water intake, urination, and accidents.

    On the flip side, a decrease in the amount of urine is also of concern, as is straining to urinate. This might indicate a urinary tract issue or a blockage of some sort. The inability to urinate is an emergency - get your pet to the vet immediately.

  6. Respiratory problems or persistent coughing. Pets who are struggling for breath, tire easily, or are breathing too rapidly should be seen by a vet. Chronic coughing is another sign something could be wrong; it might be as mild as kennel cough, which is like the common cold and will resolve in most adult dogs in 2-3 weeks (in puppies, and in breeds with pushed-in faces, it can become more serious). But coughing can also be a warning that the pet may have heart or lung problems too.

  7. Inability to get comfortable, even though the pet keeps trying. You might notice your pet changing positions often without being able to get comfortable. This could indicate a number of things, including: they aren't able to breathe easily (which may be congestive heart failure); their joints are stiff or painful (such as with arthritis); or in the case of dogs, it could be a life-threatening condition called bloat (gastric volvulus). Signs of bloat include pacing, restlessness, distressed panting, retching (without actually vomiting up anything), and later, weakness and even collapse. Bloat is a serious condition that needs immediate treatment.

These are just a few signs that your pet may be sick. You know your pet best, and if they just don't seem like themselves, then it may warrant a trip to the vet. Keep the name and number of the closest emergency vet clinic (for after-hours pet care), as well as those of your regular vet, close to the telephone.