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Sickness warning signs to talk to your vet about

Alicia is a freelance writer who covers everything from pets to cocktails, with cocktails being her favorite. Her loves in life include cheap wine, overpriced lattes, and avoiding exercise at all costs, all while trying to stay slim. She...

Listen to what your pet is trying to tell you

Life would be much easier if our pets could talk, especially when something is wrong.
Playful cat and dog together

They can't tell us what they ate, where it hurts or what will make them feel better, which can often cause a little anxiety for worried owners. Being proactive about your pet's health is the best way to ensure they stay healthy and you can stay stress-free.

Being in tune with your pet's behavior is the first step in realizing something is wrong. Just like humans, pets can be lethargic and grumpy and even lose their appetites when they aren't feeling well. Pets are typically much better about dealing with their symptoms than humans are, so it can be difficult to tell when something is wrong with your pet. We asked Dr. Jeff Werber, veterinarian and developer of Pro-Sense pet products, to give us some tips on how you can tell when something is really wrong.

The obvious and not-so-obvious signs

The most common signs of illness are a change in your pet's behavior. Dr. Werber says diminished activity, lethargy and gastrointestinal signs, like loss of appetite, vomiting or diarrhea, are all indications that something is wrong. Less common signs may include skin problems, like a dry or dull coat, excessive scratching, red or inflamed skin or a cat who stops grooming. You know your pet the best, so if you ever feel like anything is off with their personality or they seem irritated, pay attention, and be sure to track how long symptoms last.

Other issues and what they may mean:

  • "Diarrhea that is simply soft, mushy stool with mucus or red blood often indicates a large intestinal problem, which looks ugly but is not as serious. Before panicking, add fiber (bran, oatmeal, canned pumpkin or psyllium) to a bland diet and see if it improves within a day or so," Dr. Werber said.
  • “Diarrhea that is really watery, liquidy or projectile usually indicates a small intestinal problem, which could be more serious. This should not wait more than one day before contacting your veterinarian," he said.
  • "Bloat is potentially fatal. If you notice that your dog's belly (especially a large or giant breed) seems bloated, very full, almost pregnant-like, it is potentially a medical emergency, especially if it is associated with dry heaving. Get your pet to a veterinarian right away," Dr. Werber said.
  • "If you have a cat who makes frequent attempts to urinate/defecate and cannot for more than a few hours, this is a potential medical emergency and requires immediate veterinary attention. The cat's bladder may be blocked by crystals or urethral plugs which can be fatal if not unblocked," Dr. Werber said.
  • "If you notice your pet squinting, pawing at his or her eyes or experiencing excessive tearing, this could indicate an eye problem such as a corneal ulcer, an allergic or traumatic irritation or even early glaucoma, and he or she should be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible," he said.
  • "If your dog comes up lame suddenly and is using the leg, but seems to favor it, let him or her rest for a day or two. It could be a soft tissue issue that will resolve. If, on the other hand, the pet is totally non-weight bearing on that leg and won't put it down, or cries in pain when touched or appears not aligned, this is reason to take him or her right in to your veterinarian, as it could be a broken bone," Dr. Werber said.
  • "If your pet has back pain, is stiff or hesitant to get up on furniture, cries when you pick him/her up and seems drunk or wobbly on his/her back legs, it could indicate a back or disk problem that should be checked out by your veterinarian," he said.

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When to call the vet

Much like people, dogs and cats can get an upset stomach or various other issues that will resolve on their own. However, not all issues will go away, and many can be life-threatening without proper care. In many cases, problems that persist for more than 12 hours should be evaluated, but, as mentioned above, some issues shouldn't even wait that long. "Veterinarians give great credibility to and have the utmost respect for the pet parent who brings in their pet with the preliminary diagnosis of A.D.R., 'ain't doin' right.' Partner with your veterinarian to insure your pet's good health!” Dr. Werber said.

Vet Tip

From Dr. Jeff Werber: "Just like with raising a child, a new pet is a lot of 'on-the-job' training. As you play with, train and bond with your new pet, you will get to know their baseline, and you will develop a sense of when they are off."

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