Jul 26 2013

When to take your pet to the vet By: Lynn McCarron DVM, DABVP

Our pets are very special to us, and they become part of our family. So when they’re ill, we want to take care of them the best way we can. It can be difficult and worrisome to tell when they are in distress or trouble. Since our pets don’t talk (or because we are not smart enough to figure out what they are saying to us), we can often overlook signs and symptoms that indicate that we need to take them to the veterinarian. Cats, in particular, are wired to hide illness until they are really in trouble, so when an owner feels that something seems wrong with their kitty it’s surely worth investigating. To help you know when to schedule a visit to your veterinarian or when to jump in your car and get your pet to the veterinarian as quickly as possible, here are some thoughts.

Your pet quits eating. You know your pet and his/her normal appetite better than anyone else does. So, when they won’t eat normally for more than a few meals something is probably wrong. Cats in particular cannot go more than two days without food before they can become quite ill from liver disease, even without having an underlying problem. Refusing to eat is a cat’s favorite symptom for any disease, and it takes some investigation to find the underlying problem.

If your pet has diarrhea for more them 24 hours, especially if they don’t seem to be feeling quite normal. Ongoing diarrhea can cause dehydration. If your pet seems healthy and comfortable otherwise, with no vomiting, skipping one or two meals is often the most effective treatment for sudden diarrhea. If it does not resolve in a day or so, give your veterinarian a call.

If your pet is limping, is having difficulty going up and down stairs, has difficulty rising from a sleeping position, or seems painful, your veterinarian should be consulted. These symptoms may indicate a traumatic injury such as a fall, a degenerative type of disease affecting the joints or back such as arthritis, hip dysplasia or disc disease, or some other type of musculoskeletal problem.

Any display of pain whether crying or meowing in distress, or showing that something hurts in any way warrants a visit to your veterinarian. If vocalization is frequent or continuous, it may be an emergency situation.

Vomiting that lasts more than a day, or is accompanied by loss of appetite, pain, or lethargy should be evaluated by your veterinarian.

Many of us spend a lot of time petting our dogs and cats. Any lumps or bumps discovered on or beneath your pet’s skin should be discussed with your veterinarian at your earliest convenience, especially if what you’ve found is changing in size or color.


Weakness: especially sudden onset of stumbling or inability to walk

Bleeding: to any significant degree, especially if blood is spurting or pulsing

Trouble breathing: panting in a cat, labored or noisy breathing or inability to catch their breath in a cat or dog

Pale gums: especially accompanied by weakness or lethargy.

Overheating: being left in a car or exercised in the heat

Inability to urinate: male dogs and cats

Sudden blindness: bumping into objects or being afraid to walk

Seizures: loss of consciousness, involuntary muscles contractions or convulsions

Abdominal distension or unsuccessful attempts at vomiting: especially large breed dogs

Toxin exposure: rat poison, snail bait, antifreeze, prescription medications, OTC pain medications (such as aspirin, ibuprofen and especially Tylenol), raw yeast dough, xylitol (sugar free sweetener), raisins or grapes, macadamia nuts, chocolate, paint thinner, toxic plants (especially lilies), and many household chemicals. Don’t wait for symptoms!

A good rule of thumb would be to consult your pet’s doctor if you notice anything abnormal in their behavior, appearance or activities. As they say, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” and many illnesses are much easier to treat if diagnosed early in the course of the disease, as opposed to later. If in doubt, have your dog or cat examined by your veterinarian. You’ll sleep better.

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