Dog Health Symptoms Not To Be Ignored

By Dr. Ernest Ward

In these tough economic times, pet owners are looking for ways to save money on their pets. Unfortunately, this also leads people to delay seeking medical care because they’re uncertain if a visit to the vet is absolutely necessary. Most people know that if a pet has collapsed, had a seizure, is bleeding, bloated, unable to walk or has been injured they should see their veterinarian quickly. But what about other, more subtle symptoms? When should you absolutely, positively take your pet to the veterinarian? Here are examples of some common clinical signs that you should never ignore in your dog or cat.

Difficulty Breathing

Any changes in your dog’s or cat’s breathing needs to be addressed immediately. Because cats and small dogs have small respiratory tracts, even seemingly minor breathing issues can quickly lead to life-threatening situations. If your dog or cat is coughing, panting more than normal, fatigues easily or suddenly has loud or noisy breathing, it should be examined by your veterinarian immediately. Heart and lung disease, infections, obstructions and more can cause sudden breathing problems.


Diarrhea that persists for more than a day should always be addressed. Because dogs and cats are smaller than humans, they can become dehydrated more quickly than we do. Additionally, no one likes to clean soiled carpets and bedding! If your pet has loose stools that last longer than a day, do your pet (and yourself) a favor and have it checked out. Most pets can receive simple treatments that will leave them feeling better in no time.

Vomiting >Vomiting once after eating garbage is expected. Vomiting three or more times in a day is concerning and vomiting three or more times in an hour may be an emergency. Generally speaking, if your pet vomits more than three times in day, it should be seen by your veterinarian. There are numerous causes of vomiting in dogs and cats, fortunately most of them are non-life-threatening. Don’t take a chance that your pet is suffering from an intestinal obstruction, infection, pancreatitis, liver or kidney disease, hormonal imbalance or worse. The sooner your pet is diagnosed and treated, the better (and less costly) the treatment will be.

Sudden increase in water consumption or urination

Changes in thirst and urination can be challenging to identify in dogs and cats. If you suddenly observe your dog or cat constantly at their water bowl, asking to go out more frequently or you notice you are changing the litter box more often, take your pet to the vet. These clinical signs may be associated with diabetes, kidney or liver disease, kidney or bladder infections, poisoning, hormonal diseases and more.

Not eating for 48 hours

A pet’s appetite is preserved unless there is something seriously wrong. When a dog or cat doesn’t eat for two consecutive days, you should be worried. By delaying treatment, your pet experiences further nutritional deficiencies that may prolong or complicate their recovery. Cats, especially those that are overweight, that don’t eat may also develop acute life-threatening liver failure. Take your pet’s lack of appetite very seriously and seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Dark or bloody stools

Dark, black, or tar-like stools are often associated with digested blood in the feces. Bright red blood often accompanies colitis or anal gland conditions. Either way, you should have your pet checked out when you see changes in their feces. Bleeding ulcers, intestinal parasites, foreign objects and more can cause dark or bloody stools and should be treated as quickly as possible.

Unable to defecate or urinate

A pet that is straining or unable to urinate or defecate is in immediate danger. Besides the risk of bladder or urethral rupture, kidney failure, blood poisoning, seizures and even worse conditions is great, your pet should have medical attention immediately. Many dogs and cats start out straining to go to the bathroom only to suddenly develop complete blockage. Male dogs and cats are at particular risk for urethral or urinary obstructions.

While this is not a complete list of symptoms that require immediate medical condition, it is a “wish-list” that many veterinarians wish their clients would heed. Too many pets suffer needlessly or must endure more involved treatments due to delayed treatment. Use these seven symptoms as a guideline and always err on the side of caution when dealing with your pet. They can’t tell us what’s wrong or how they feel. It’s up to us to be their guardians and pay close attention to the subtle signs they give us.

Ernest E. Ward, Jr., DVM is the owner and chief-of-staff of Seaside Animal Care, a nationally recognized award-winning small animal practice. Dr. Ward is the current veterinarian for the Rachael Ray Show and is a spokesperson for Rachel’s Rescue. He has been featured on NBC Nightly News, Animal Planet, CNN, Animal Radio and numerous television and radio talk-shows around the country.

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