It saddens us to think that our pets could be struggling with health issues, be it pain, weakness, or general discomfort, yet they are unable to communicate it to us. Plus, they are experts at masking any signs of illness or weakness due to their natural survival instincts. It’s up to us to be alert to any subtle changes or signs that something could be wrong.
Early detection of major illnesses in our pet can make a real difference towards the favorable treatment thereof. Some illnesses or symptoms may be even be reversed if detected early on. Early stage cancers that have not had the chance to grow large or spread can be treated more successfully. Once they spread, they are more difficult to treat.
Cat and Dog Illness Symptoms
Health warning signs vary greatly depending on the type of illness, where it is located, and, of course, the patient itself. Here are some common signs we should be aware of that could indicate our pet is suffering the onset of a major illness:
• Unexplained changes in weight: If your pet is eating normally but seems unable to maintain a healthy weight, it could be an indication of a variety of illnesses and disorders including metabolic or nutritional disorders, liver disease, periodontal disease, kidney failure, diabetes or even cancer. Likewise, weight gain or bloating is also an indication that something is awry.
• Loss of Appetite: Don’t hit the panic button if your dog or cat skips a meal now and then. It only indicates a problem if they persistently have a poor appetite. We are not talking about the “picky” eater. We are talking about the enthusiastic eater that suddenly loses interest in their food. This is a sign of any number of illnesses or disorders.
• Sores that don’t heal: If your dog or cat gets a cut or scratch, they will normally heal within a couple of weeks. Signs that the wound is healing properly include scabbing, tissue regrowth and hair growth. Sores that do not heal or show no signs of healing should be looked at by your veterinarian. They could be a clue to an infection, or possibly even some type of cancer.
• Bad odors, particularly of the mouth or perhaps from a wound, is a red flag. Sudden bad breath could indicate infection, kidney disease, or diabetes. Wounds that smell could be because of an infection, abscess, or could be cancerous.
• Increase in drinking and urinating: There are a number of diseases that result in excessive water intake and urination. The most common of these include kidney failure, liver disease, infections, diabetes, and Cushing’s disease.
• Strange swelling: General swelling due to injuries will usually go away after about two weeks. If it persists, it should be evaluated. And, of course, if your pet is showing signs of pain, don’t wait. Your vet will probably do a fine needle aspiration to help determine if the swelling is an infection, perhaps cancerous, or inflammatory.
• Lumps and bumps are not always cancerous. In fact, as your pet ages, it is not unusual for him/her to develop lumps and bumps. Most are nothing more than fatty deposits and are generally benign however, any lump should be examined by a veterinarian.
• Stiffness: Your pet’s gait may suddenly appear “awkward”, their limbs could appear rigid, or they could be hesitant to stand or walk. There are many muscular and skeletal reasons a dog or cat could become stiff. Arthritis is the most common, however it could be nothing more than a simple muscle strain. At its worse, stiffness can be caused by inflammation of the brain and nerves.
• Limping can be a temporary symptom of an injury, but sudden, unrelenting limping can be caused by an underlying condition like arthritis, hip dysplasia or another type of joint disease, spinal injury and certain cancers.
• Difficulty breathing can quickly become life-threatening. Whether it be labored breathing, rapid breathing or excessive panting, don’t wait to take your dog to the vet. Breathing problems can be caused by anything from a foreign object in the nose, to bloat, to heart failure.
• Difficulty urinating can be exceptionally uncomfortable for your pet and should be considered a medical emergency. The cause may be a bladder obstruction, urinary tract infection, neurological conditions, or cancer of the urinary tract.
• Difficulty defecating. If your dog is straining to defecate, or has ceased to have bowel movements, see your vet immediately. There could be many reasons for it. Obstruction, constipation, colitis, or infected anal sacs. More serious conditions such as hernias or cancer is also possible. Likewise, a change in your dog’s feces can also be a sign. Persistently hard stools or diarrhea can be a symptom of an illness.
• Bleeding or any abnormal discharge from mouth, eyes, ears, nose, urine or stool can be the symptom of an underlying problem such as a tumor or brain injury. See your vet at the first sign of blood.
• Lethargy is a typical symptom of a wide variety of illness. How can you tell the difference between usual “tiredness” and problematic lethargy? Lethargy from an illness will change your dog’s interest and enthusiasm of life. They may sleep too much and react to stimuli more slowly. They probably will not be as excited about things that they normally are, like their favorite toy or game.
Baseline screening for young pets is a great idea. Your vet can learn your pet’s “normal” with annual urine, blood and fecal screenings. Knowing this helps them to detect any abnormalities before they become problematic.
Remember that there are many possible explanations for these types of signs in pets. It does not necessarily mean that your pet has cancer or an incurable disease of some sort. But it’s best to find out so that if there is a significant problem, you can get a jump-start on seeking treatment or medication.