Pets cannot talk. But their body language can be very eloquent. It is good you understand your pet’s ‘default’ behaviour when it is in a good state of health so that you will easily detect it when things change. Changes in your pet’s habits, appearance, and behaviour may be apparent early signs of sickness, and illness. Acting promptly at the first signs of illness can help prevent suffering, save money, and even save a life.
Below are some common ways in which pets tell us they are sick. However, this list is not exhaustive, nor is it a substitute for professional veterinary advice. Please note that these symptoms are progressive. It begins gradually and becomes worse if not nipped in the bud.
One of the earliest ways to discover if your pet is sick is anorexia (loss of appetite). Anorexia may not begin in one day. It progresses gradually. This is why pet owners need to have an idea of the normal quantity of food their pet consumes per day, or even per meal viz a viz its favourite food.
You also need to have an idea of the duration your pet takes to consume all its meal. If you have these details, it will be easy for you to track the earliest signs of anorexia because it begins with an extended time of food consumption, progresses with a decline in interest for food, and it descends gradually until your pet may refuse food totally.
Excessive discharges, swelling, or redness of the eyes may be indicative of a localised eye infection or a systemic challenge.
A dry nose may be indicative of a fever, while a runny nose, coughing or sneezing may be indicative of a nasal or respiratory tract irritation or infection.
Early signs of an ear infection may be seen in the form of shaking or tilting of the head, intense scratching of the ear, and foul smelling mucous discharges from the ear. Bloody discharges from the ear canal may be indicative of a severe middle or inner ear injury.
Irregular breathing, gasping, prolonged or heavy panting that is not exercise induced may be a sign of cardiovascular health challenges.
Visible signs of illness affecting the nervous system include generalised body weakness, loss of balance, tilting of head to the side, seizures, repetitive twitches or muscle spasms, disorientation, stupor, loss of consciousness, temporary loss of sight, and more but to mention a few.
Sudden weight loss with or without changes in appetite, sudden weight gain, excessive shedding of the fur, persistent itching, sleeping more than usual, seeming indifferent to activities normally enjoyed, are all early signs of an underlying illness.
Vomiting is the forceful ejection of contents of the stomach or proximal small intestines. Pets may vomit if they ingest food or any other substances that irritate their stomach and upper intestines. However, repeated vomiting that lasts over 24 hours can be a sign of an illness.
Diarrhoea is a condition that involves the frequent passing of loose or watery stools. A pet may have mild diarrhoea if it ingests substances that its body rejects or if it consumes too much pepper or oily foods in the diet. However, repeated or profuse diarrhoea that lasts over 24 hours, diarrhoea accompanied by weakness and poor appetite, or bloody diarrhoea, may be a sign of an illness. Arching of the back may also be indicative of abdominal pain.
Other ways to know your pet is ill are through some noticeable changes in your pet’s ‘bathroom’ habits. An increase in the volume or frequency of urine, bloody urine, painful urination and painful defecation are also indicative of an underlying illness.
Fever often accompanies illness. Here are a few of the common domestic species and their normal temperatures: Dog – 37.5-39oC, Cat – 38-39.5oC, Cow – 38-38.5oC, Horse – 37.5-38.5oC, Pig – 38.5-39oC, Sheep – 38.4-39.5oC, Most birds – 40.5-42oC, Rabbits – about 39.5oC. Temperature changes above these values may be indicative of an underlying illness.
Pain is another sign that indicates that a pet may have a musculo-skeletal injury. However, most pets do not vocalise pain until you touch the injured area. Pet owners should never administer painkillers unless prescribed for your pet by a vet. This is because over-the counter-human painkillers can be very toxic to pets. Species differ greatly in how their bodies metabolise and excrete these painkillers.
Your pet may be experiencing pain if it is guarding a body part of its body, growling when you try to examine a limb, shows any signs of obvious bone or joint swelling that is warm to the touch, lameness or stiffness of any limb that lasts more than 24 hours, reluctance to move, jump or walk.
If you suspect your pet is sick, call a veterinary doctor for an appointment and if none of the above symptoms applies to your pet, but your instincts tell you something is not right, have our pet checked anyway.
The resulting peace of mind will make you feel better.
Have a blessed weekend.