How to Recognize Possible Health Problems in Your Pet

List: Posted: 01/09/12

All animals are susceptible to disease, infection, viruses, and injury.  Sometimes these things are silent and insidious and altogether difficult to pin down.


Pets, much like children, have certain signs of health issues that will tip you off.  When you feel something is wrong with your pet, you should start checking symptoms things off to find a reason for what isn’t adding up.


How Should Pets Look and Behave?


Pets should have bright, clear eyes.  Their coats should be soft, well groomed, shiny, and clean.  Obviously there are some exceptions if they are wire haired, hairless, feathered, or scaled.  Pets should have good appetites, drink water regularly, and be active to some degree.


Signs of Illness


If your pet's eyes are dull, glassy, leaky, or dim, you should keep an eye on them.  If their coats or feathers become raggedy, greasy, seem as though they haven’t been groomed in a while, too thin, or if feathers or tufts of hair are coming out, then something isn’t right.  In a reptile, if their scales are flaking, dull, dry, there are blemishes on them, shedding abnormally, and it clearly isn’t a routine shed or moult, then you also need to worry.


If they aren’t eating normally, or drinking normally, something is definitely not right.  Animals will not willingly starve themselves unless they are ill, dying, or hibernating.


If they hide and withdraw where normally they are active, interactive, and friendly, that is a sign.  If they are normally talkative or musical, and instead seem abnormally silent, that could be worrisome.


Many animals hide pain.  It’s an instinctual survival method to prevent them from being picked out by predators as an easy target, so know the signs.  If a cat is abnormally inactive, stays in one spot, usually a hidey hole, or favorite sleeping area, for an unusually long period of time, or acts out uncommonly, there could be pain involved.  If the pain is acute, they will hiss for no apparent reason, growl and snarl, especially if you touch or move them.


If your dog is panting excessively, or has found somewhere strange to hide, is unusually still and inactive, he or she could be in pain.  If the pain is acute, they will whine, or growl, or cry on occasion.


Also, for all mammals, fever is a sure sign that something is wrong.  You can check this with a rectal thermometer (for cats and dogs), or by just knowing their usually healthy temperature and judging by touch.  Sometimes holding the ears between your fingers can help with that as many animals release heat through their ears and tongues instead of sweating.


Old Age


Like us, old age has its tell-tale signs, and also leaves animals more vulnerable to illness.  In dogs and cats, they may begin to move stiffly, or their eyes will seem cloudy, or they may have difficulty climbing steps.  Animals can have arthritis, joint afflictions, whether they are old or not, though generally age is involved.  This can cause them acute pain, so always take your pet to the vet if they seem in pain or have stiff joints.


Rodents usually live up to a certain point, and then seem to age literally over night, leading shortly to death.  One day they will seem vibrant and normal, the next their pelt is rough and messy, their spine is sticking out, and they seem loose in their skin.  A sunken eye, immobility and a refusal to eat or drink is usually a sign your pet has reached the end of the road in older animals.  If your pet is obviously in pain, consider euthanization as a final kindness to the animal you have loved.


Keep informed


If you have pets, always maintain your knowledge of their basic medical care, for all ages.  In serious cases, where extreme pain, or a severe wound, or obvious broken bones are concerned, don’t hesitate to take them to the vet.  Waiting can cost their lives.


Remember - a healthy pet is a happy pet!


Article by:


Mandarin MacLeod

Cat & Dog Behaviorist

Pet Consultant

Rescue Volunteer




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