You definitely are the person who knows your cat or dog the most in the whole world, but that doesn’t mean that it’s easy to know when they have health issues. Their eyes might be very expressive and their body language eloquent, but you still have to know what you’re looking for to realize something’s wrong.
This list is a good start on how to know if your pet is sick. Be advised that this is not an exhaustive list and should never serve as a substitute for the diagnostic of a veterinary. The real purpose of this list is to help you detect early warnings that your pets need medical attention or emergency care. And when in doubt, consult your vet!
Changes in their behavior
It goes without saying that each animal has a very distinct personality, and you probably know your dog better than anyone else. Just like with people, a sudden change in a dog’s temperament or behavior could mean that there’s trouble brewing, and it’s important to notice this because it can help with early detection of a number of diseases. Be on the lookout for lethargy, irritability, agitation, withdrawal, or an increase of needy and clingy attitudes.
Signs of neurological problems
Sadly, pets can’t just vocalize their issues the way we do. They will never say “I feel funny, something’s wrong”, so it can be hard to detect if they’re having trouble with their nervous system. If your dog or cat has seizures, constant twitches, circles repeatedly for no reason, has a weak or wobbly gait, tilts its head, gets disoriented or loses consciousness, take them for immediate veterinary care, if only to discard any major neurological issues.
Serious digestive issues
Cats cough up the occasional hairball and dogs aren’t picky eaters, so it’s common for them to vomit now and then, while dogs can also have a mild case of diarrhea for the same reason. However, there are a few signs that your pet might be dealing with something more serious. A prolonged loss of appetite, constant vomiting, or profuse diarrhea lasting over 24 hours, and blood in their stool means that they need a trip to the veterinary.
If your dog dry heaves repeatedly, is restless and have an overly distended tummy, that could mean that it’s dealing with “bloat,” which is life-threatening and requires emergency treatment, so don’t delay if you find these symptoms together. For cats, a repeated failure to use their litter box might also mean that they have digestive or urinary problems.
Their appearance changes
As we said, pets can’t vocalize their pain, but most of their diseases caus very noticeable changes in their appearance that you can pay attention to. Lumps and bumps on their own are not usually a sign of anything wrong, but their unexplained appearance (or disappearance) can mean trouble. Others are a little more obvious, like open or oozing sores, sudden weight loss or gain, rashes and hair loss, and constant itching can be a sign of skin problems or something that runs deeper.
There’s nothing more stressful than not being able to breathe properly, so don’t let your pet stay like that if you notice any sign of respiratory problems, from the most obvious to the subtler ones. As with humans, a few coughs and sneezes here and there are very common and almost never a sign for alarm, depending on the environment. On the other hand, things such as persistent coughing or gagging, a wheezing or labored breathing, a honking cough, or a large amount of mucus (especially if it’s bloody) all mean trouble.
A good thing to remember is that, if you notice that your dog is having trouble breathing, check their gums. They should be pink, so any bluish coloring to them means that you have to seek emergency care quickly.
Remember to seek urgent care for your furry friend if you think something is wrong with them. Again, while this is not a replacement for an actual veterinary’s diagnostic, it will prevent you from thinking “what is wrong with my dog?” without knowing where to look at. And if your only problem with your pets is how much of a mess they make, that’s something we can take care of.