From kennel cough to intestinal worms, ear mites and kidney disease, dogs and cats can fall ill in a variety of ways, just like humans – and it’s not always easy to determine whether or not to take your fluffy friend to the vet. Some ailments go away on their own, but some require medical attention. If your pet doesn't seem like him or herself, you are probably worried. Use the following steps to learn what to do when your pet is ill.
Pay attention to your pet’s daily activities, including eating, eliminating, sleeping and playing. You know your pet best, and will be able to determine if the behavior is normal, a little weird or totally wrong.
You need to be able to ascertain whether your pet is truly ill. Like small children, pets can’t verbalize how they feel or what is wrong with them – it’s up to you to figure it out. The following signs are pretty good indicators that your dog or cat is truly sick. If you observe any of the following red flags, it’s a good idea to call your veterinarian immediately:
- Vomiting. Although a pet (especially puppies) can eat something weird, puke it up and go back to licking himself like nothing happened, if your pet vomits several times in one day, acts lethargic or vomits blood, then head to the vet.
- Diarrhea. One runny stool isn’t much to worry about, but if the diarrhea continues or if you see any blood, your pet might have parasites or some other form of gastrointestinal distress.
- Loss of Appetite. Cats and dogs love to eat, and refusing to eat food or treats is a big sign that something is wrong. All animals experience temporary upset stomachs, but if your pet hasn’t eaten in 24 hours, have it checked out.
- Lethargy or Lameness. Ongoing lethargy in a normally active pet can mean that something isn’t quite right. Some dogs and cats are just lazy balls of fur in general, but if your normally perky puppy is suddenly sleeping for days, you probably want to see the vet. An animal’s ears can tell you a lot about how they are feeling – ears held low mean that there might be something wrong.
- Coughing. A persistent cough in a dog or cat could mean an infection (such as kennel cough) or an underlying ailment (such as heart disease, heartworms or lung disease). Coughs in smaller pets can sound like sneezing, so pay attention and go to the vet if it persists. Kennel cough often goes away on its own, but it is highly contagious and can be fatal in puppies.
- Urination Fluctuations. Are you suddenly filling the water bowl up for your pet much more often? Does your dog suddenly need to get up at night and go outside? Has your cat started to urinate outside the litter box, or does she just go to the litter box and sit with no results? Big changes in the frequency of urination – either more or less – can signal numerous ailments, including urinary tract infections, diabetes and liver or kidney disease.
- Fur Loss. All pets itch and scratch, but if you see any sort of fur loss, your pet might have mites – which are easily cured. Go to the vet.
If your dog or cat exhibits any of the signs listed above, haul them to the vet. Most vets charge more for late night or weekend visits, or you may have to go to an expensive emergency clinic during these times. Save money by scheduling an appointment during regular office hours – and don’t wait until late Friday afternoon to finally decide your pet is sick enough to warrant a visit to the vet.
Make sure that your pet is up to date on all vaccinations that are appropriate for its species. Just as with humans, staying healthy is much cheaper than getting sick. Many cities offer low-cost pet vaccination clinics, with vaccinations for $15 each or less – this makes it easy and inexpensive to keep your pet healthy and vaccinated. You KNOW that your dog or cat would do the same for you if the tables were turned.