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know when to visit your veterinarian

By Dr. Bruce Little

All dogs and cats are individuals and require specific care and attention. Many times, pet owners fail to recognize aggression and/or health problems until it is too late to correct the issue and the pet suffers or may even die. No one knows your pet like you and the members of your family, as you observe them on a day-to-day basis. Visiting the veterinarian at the first sign of trouble can mean the problem could be corrected at the earliest date possible.  This not only protects the pet from pain and suffering, but it usually costs much less than if the problem were allowed to advance to a more complex condition.

Here are a few signs to watch out for that indicate your pet needs professional veterinary help:

  • Changes in eating habits. Observe to see if your pet is eating all its food daily. If your pet fails to eat their food when you place it in the bowl, check their mouth and surrounding area for loose teeth, cuts or bruises on the tongue and cheeks, infected gums, lumps or bumps on the gums or under the tongue and tartar on his teeth. Be aware if your pet has excessive drooling of saliva while eating. If you cannot find the cause, call your veterinarian for an appointment.
  • Concerning bathroom habits. Be aware if your dog’s bathroom habits, whether they are walked on a leash or allowed to run loose. Bowel movements should be formed and moist. Check your cat’s litter box to ensure they have normal moist and formed stools. There should be no blood in the stool. Diarrhea or constipation should be addressed after one or two days by a veterinarian.
  • Weight gain or loss. Research has discovered that 59% of cats and 54% of dogs in the United States are either overweight or obese. Evaluate your pet to make sure you feed them the proper amount of food and treats to keep them in control of their weight for their breed, age and life stage.
  • Scratching, biting and rubbing areas on the body, especially around the head and ears. The thump, thump, thump of scratching may indicate external parasites such as fleas, ticks or ear mites. Skin irritations due to allergic reactions to parasites are common in all areas of the country. Allergic dermatitis caused by pollens or food allergies is a frequent diagnosis in the presence of scratching and biting at various areas of the body. A frequent finding with allergic dermatitis is a very distinct odor emanating from the skin.
  • Lack of interest in walks or playing. If your pet is reluctant to go for a walk or play with family members, it might indicate arthritis has invaded one or more of their joints. Because dogs and cats age much quicker than humans, this condition may come earlier than pet owners might expect. Dogs and cats walk on all four of their legs and this anatomical truth predisposes many breeds and sizes of dogs to develop arthritis in any joint; however, it is more prevalent in the hip joints. If your dog or cat has trouble rising from a prone or sleeping position, take them to the animal hospital for X-rays to determine the level of arthritis and get a prescription for pain relief. Reluctance to rise from a sleeping or sitting position may indicate arthritis; however, it may also mean there is a cut or wound to one of the feet or legs. Check between the toes to see if there are rocks or other debris caught up in the hair between the toes. Limping on one foot will sometimes indicate a broken toe nail or a nail that is growing into the pad.  Licking or chewing on certain spots on any of the legs may indicate a hot spot or lick granuloma if the dog or cat persists in licking it. If your dog or cat suddenly shows a lack of interest in playing or even moving around, it also might be an indication of an internal problem, such as kidney or bladder infection or kidney stones, liver swelling or breathing problems.
  • Behavior changes or visible signs of pain, disorientation, aggression, anxiety, biting, destructive behavior, hiding, vocalization, pacing and urinating in the house. All these signs and more may be indicators of pain or abnormal conditions regarding your pet’s health.  A visit to the animal hospital is in order if these signs persist for more than a day or two.
  • Problems urinating. Many dogs and cats are prone to urinary tract and bladder infections. Look for straining or reluctance to urinate with frequent attempts to urinate. Straining or dribbling urine can be a sign of a blockage or an infection.
  • Abdominal distension, abdominal mass, pain, poor appetite, regurgitation and vomiting. This can be a first signal of stomach torsion or volvulus especially in large breed dogs. This represents an emergency and you should contact a veterinarian or an emergency animal hospital immediately.  Stomach torsion can lead to death in a short period of time.

Cogs and cats can and do develop many health conditions spontaneously without notice. Responsible pet owners observe their pets on a daily basis and learn the habits and idiosyncrasies of each individual pet. Better to consult with your veterinarian and be safe than wait and be sorry. Your pets will appreciate it!