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 signs that your pet is sick.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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,
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.
- 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.
- 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
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.