Sound the Alarm!- 10 signs your pet is sick and needs care
On the surface, dogs and cats are mostly quiet and unassuming when pain or illness strikes. This is especially true in older dogs and cats and we often chalk up changes to “just getting older.” Because they can’t talk like we do, learning to read their language and acting as their interpreters for your veterinarian is key to catching and managing things early. YOU are the best advocate for your pet because you know your pet’s language. Jake whines to tell you to play ball and barks when there is danger, but Missy barks when playing ball and hides when danger is near. YOU know your pet better than anyone because you know their routine. Shiloh gets you up out of bed every morning to eat, but Sammy will sleep right on through with you, and even skips meals every now and again. Pearl sits at the door every day at 5pm for her walk while Princess can’t be bothered with exercise, but you better have her treat ready at 2pm! Because of this daily, intimate relationship that only you have with your pet, YOU are the key to sounding the alarm when something isn’t right.
As a veterinarian, I find that I am the one who is, too often, sounding the alarm. A kitty is scheduled for euthanasia for sudden blindness. On further questioning, we find out that he has been drinking a lot of water and having urinary accidents outside the litterbox for the last month, and eating a lot but losing weight for the last 6 months. Hyperthyroidism is to blame and could still be managed but now he is blind and hypertensive and likely has heart complications from his thyroid disease. A dog is seen in the home for an unwillingness to get up and walk. History-taking reveals that for the last 2 months she has also had progressive weakness, not eating as much and her abdomen has slowly gotten bigger. A tumor is felt in her belly and her pale gums tell me it is a bleeding mass that will require surgery. An exam and x-ray or ultrasound could have picked that up earlier when things were not in a state of crisis. I am being called in to help end a pet’s suffering but sometimes, there are things that can be done to improve that pet’s quality of life if caught sooner.
Let’s catch these problems right when they start or are noticed, rather than waiting until further complications make treatment or care difficult, or even worse, put us in a position of deciding that euthanasia is best. Here are some abnormal behaviors to take notice of, early in the process, so that you can take back control of your pet’s health! With the help of your veterinarian, and working as a team, you may find that one of these symptoms requires little intervention and may even resolve on its own, or you may be catching something early so that treatment is less invasive and less costly. Here are a few “abnormal behaviors” to monitor! If you see any of these...sound the alarm!
Increased drinking - diabetes, kidney disease, Cushing’s disease in dogs or hyperthyroidism in cats, cancer
Increased frequency of urination - result of drinking too much water from all of the above, prostatic disease in dogs, urinary blockage, infection or inflammation
Vomiting - Upset stomach/indiscretion, metabolic disease like diabetes, kidney, liver, pancreatic or thyroid disease, toxin, intestinal obstruction with a foreign body, inflammation, cancer
Diarrhea - Inflammation (diet, stress, heat), parasites, metabolic disease like diabetes, kidney, liver or thyroid disease, intestinal obstruction with a foreign body, cancer
Collapse - heat stroke, internal bleeding, heart disease, neurologic or joint disease, weakness from chronic arthritis resulting in muscle atrophy
Limping - this means pain, even if they don’t make a sound! Soft tissue injury (e.g., ligament tear), cancer (e.g., osteosarcoma), wound or mass on paw or limb, swelling of limb from other disease, infectious, inflammatory (arthritis) or immune-mediated disease, nails too long
Increased breathing rate or effort - pain, lung disease, heart disease, disease in the chest cavity, anemia, cancer
Abdominal distension - enlargement of the abdomen could mean fluid accumulation, a large tumor, gas in the stomach from increased breathing effort, Cushing’s disease, or a full bladder from being down and not being able to urinate and empty the bladder properly
Not jumping up as high - in cats, this is a strong indicator of pain and likely arthritis. If your cat used to jump up on the couch or table and now doesn’t, this is likely due to pain!
Decreased or no appetite - dental disease, metabolic disease like diabetes, kidney, liver, or pancreatic disease. Not eating does not mean your pet is dying, but for most dying animals it is normal for them to not eat.
These are only a few of the common symptoms that we can see in our pets, especially as they age or decline. Sometimes we “monitor” behaviors for too long due to denial, limited finances, limited time, and lack of knowledge, but never for lack of love. Sound the alarm early and you will find that there are options to treating or curing your pet, or if that is not possible due to the limitations noted above, many options exist to simply bring more comfort and improved quality to your pet’s life.