Your pet can’t tell you when they are in pain or aren’t feeling well. They rely on their guardians to recognize the signs of illness and get them help when they need it. But knowing when your pet is ill isn’t easy. They often hide their symptoms in the early stages of an illness and to make matters worse many signs of illness in your pet can be subtle and confusing.
“Animals instinctively hide signs of illness as a protective measure,” says Dr. Kyla Townsend, veterinarian with the BC SPCA. “Guardians need to pay close attention to their pet’s behaviour, note any changes and when necessary, get veterinary assistance as soon as possible.”
What signs of illness should you look for in your pet and when should you call the vet? Here are some signs that could signal serious illness and require veterinary assistance.
1. Loss of appetite
A loss of appetite needs to be monitored closely. If your pet has only skipped a meal or two and then returns to eating normally, they might just be experiencing temporary stress. However, a loss of appetite that lasts more than 24 hours could be a sign of serious illness including cancer, infection, liver problems and kidney failure. The loss of appetite may also be an indication that the pet is suffering from pain that could be the result of dental disease or another illness. Watch puppies and kittens closely for a combination of a loss of appetite and lethargy some of the first signs of parvovirus and panleukopenia, two highly contagious and potentially fatal viral diseases.
2. Lethargy or weakness
Lethargy or weakness are common symptoms of illness in dogs. The causes can range from infection and disease to pain or a reaction to medication. Some common causes include heart and liver disease and diabetes, along with infections like parvovirus, distemper, kennel cough and heartworm disease. Watch for inactivity and delayed or slower than usual responses to sounds, movement and touch, plus a lack of interest in exercise or play. In older animals, a slowing down or change in activity level can also be associated with arthritis.
3. Unproductive retching
Unproductive retching or dry heaving is the act of vomiting which typically produces a small amount of bile and mucous, but no vomit. In some animals (cats in particular) it can sometimes be tricky to determine retching from coughing. Retching can be a sign of irritation in the throat, but more seriously, it can be a sign of a life-threatening condition called gastric dilatation-volvulus or bloat. This is a condition where the stomach twists on itself, cutting off the openings to the esophagus and the intestine. Bloat can be deadly without immediate veterinary assistance. It occurs most often in large breed dogs and those with deep chests.
4. Bloody diarrhea and vomit
Blood in your dog’s stool or vomit is an emergency medical situation that requires immediate veterinary attention. The colour of the blood indicates which part of the stomach the blood may be coming from – bright red typically comes from lower in your dog’s intestine. Partially digested blood will often look like coffee grounds and may originate from the upper part of the small intestine or the dog’s stomach. Some of the most common causes for bloody vomit or diarrhea include hemorrhagic gastroenteritis, stomach ulcers, viral or bacterial infection, parasites and poisoning from toxins like plants.
5. Continuous coughing
Constant coughing typically indicates a health issue. Any signs of choking or difficulty breathing should get emergency attention. Coughing can be caused by inflammation in the airway, fluid formation or infection. It can also be a symptom of more severe conditions including heartworm disease, pneumonia and tumours of the lung. Kennel cough, a contagious form of bronchitis in dogs, is usually mild, but it can be dangerous for puppies and brachycephalic breeds like English and French bulldogs, bullmastiffs and pugs. Often the only symptoms in most dogs is a nagging dry or “honking” cough and a runny nose.
These are just some signs of serious illness in your pet. To help keep your pet healthy and happy, be on the lookout for any unusual behaviour and seek expert help.