When to Worry

By Diane Levitan, VMD

Since our pets can’t speak our language — how do we know they are having a problem?

Here are some tips meant to help you recognize subtle early warning signs that could indicate your pet is experiencing a problem. By no means is this list all inclusive.  I always say, “When in doubt, check it out!”

Realize that old age is not a disease- do not make it an excuse for problems you find as your pet ages.

I believe that the most under diagnosed problem is PAIN. As we all know, most pets are incredibly stoic and do not exhibit any obvious signs of pain. Most pets do not cry out with pain unless it is sudden or very severe.  Here are some other clues that may indicate your pet may be uncomfortable:
Pain can be as subtle as decrease in appetite or lethargy to crying out.
Excessive panting; elevated heart rate, restlessness, tiring easily, avoidance of usual routines…. Not jumping on the bed, slow on stairs or reluctance to use stairs…

- Lameness or LIMPING are not signs of age; rather, signs of pain and can be due to arthritis (joint disease), muscle or bone disease.
- Some signs of pain are not as obvious and can be manifest as strange behavior or crying out; laying in crouched positions (belly pain), unwillingness to climb stairs, biting at an area.
- Teeth grinding (oral pain or nausea)
- Excessive salivation (oral pain or nausea)
- Unwillingness to eat (belly ache, oral pain, nausea, pain anywhere)

Other signs indicating the need for veterinary attention in any furry pet (dog, cat, ferret, pocket pets):

- Weakness or decreased tolerance to exercise (tires easily, does not tolerate long walks, sits in the middle of a walk for no apparent reason, pants excessively or slows down considerably faster than used to)
o Could indicate:
? discomfort
? heart problem
? lung problem
? cancer

-    Voice change, loud panting- especially on inhalation (breathing in)
o Could indicate
o Laryngeal (upper airway/throat) disease
o Thyroid disease
o Heart disease
o Excessive panting (cats should not pant!)
o Could indicate
? Airway disease
? Heart disease

- Inappropriate urination
o large or small puddles of urine in the house or out of the litter box
o excessive urination
o Taking increased amounts of time to urinate or obvious difficult urination
o excessive time in litter box or straining in litter box
o excessive grooming or cleaning of the genital region
o Could indicate
? Urinary tract infection
? Kidney problem
? Prostate problem
? Bladder disease (stones, tumor, infection)

- Increased thirst (sometimes gradual and can go unnoticed… are you filling the bowl more often—are they finding new sources of water?)
o Could indicate
? Endocrine disease
• Cushing’s disease
• Diabetes mellitus
• Thyroid disease
? Kidney disease
? Cancer of any organ
? Liver disease

- Coughing: not normal- often confused with or accompanied by a gag or wretch. Sounds different then a human’s cough. Especially weird sounding in cats. 
o Could indicate
? Asthma in cats
? Lung disease (bronchitis, heart worm, infection, cancer)
? Tracheal disease (worms, collapsing trachea, infection)
? Heart disease
? Throat disease

- Excessive sneezing (fits of many at a time or sneezing regularly) with or without nasal discharge
o Could indicate
? Allergic nasal disease
? Infection of the nose (bacterial or fungal)
? Cancer
? Foreign material in the nose (grass awns, sticks, food particles)

- Bruising, bleeding or bloody nose
o Could indicate
? High blood pressure
? Bleeding problem
? Cancer in nose
? Rat poisoning
? Liver disease

- Very dark (tar colored) stools
o Could indicate
? Bleeding in the intestinal tract
? Cancer
? Intestinal or stomach or oral ulceration
? Liver or kidney disease

- Weight loss without decreasing quantity of food (can be subtle- watch and weigh your pets).
o Could indicate
? Intestinal disease
? Cancer
? Endocrine disease (thyroid, diabetes)
? Liver or kidney disease

- Excessive weight gain, rounding of the belly or distended belly without increasing food
o Could indicate
? Heart disease
? Endocrine disease (thyroid, Cushing’s syndrome)
? Liver disease

- Hair loss or change in hair patterns
o Could indicated
? Endocrine disease (thyroid or Cushing’s)
? Liver disease
? Allergic disease
? Skin mites or skin infection

- Increased hunger
o Could indicate
? Endocrine disease (thyroid, Cushing’s, diabetes)
? Cancer
? Intestinal disease
? Liver disease

- Bad breath: sudden or gradual or out of character for your pet
o Could indicate
? Dental disease (even without excessive tartar- an abscess or infection could be lurking)
? Kidney or liver disease
? Gastrointestinal disease

- Red, watery eyes with squinting and rubbing at eye
o Could indicate
? Cut or scratch on surface of eye
? Eye infection
? Glaucoma

A parent knows their child- so whenever you are concerned; bring your concerns to your veterinarian. All veterinarians know to LISTEN to what the pet owner is telling them and to investigate it. More often than not, the pet owners concerns are very valid- even when it is not initially obvious to the veterinarian.   Never assume something you feel is important is not.   We as veterinarians know your pets are family. Your vet will take you seriously when you come to them with a concern- if they do not, you may want to reconsider what vet you use!