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Is It Time To Call Our Veterinarian?

Updated on October 8, 2015
Bob Bamberg profile image

With 30 years in the pet supply industry, Bob's newspaper column deals with animal health, nutrition, behavior, regulation, and advocacy.


We Don't Want To Be Alarmists, But...

If you have children, you remember when they were newborns, you were rookies, and something didn't seem quite right.

The baby wasn't obviously sick, but his cry "just wasn't the same.” You agonized over whether or not to call the pediatrician. You didn't want to be alarmists, but if something was wrong you certainly didn't want it to get any worse.

We often feel the same way when it involves our pets. It's difficult enough for veterinarians to diagnose a sick animal, so how can we know if something is wrong when an illness or injury isn't obvious. We can't.

We need to pay attention to even slight changes in our pets' behavior, elimination habits, eating habits or routines, and we shouldn't feel silly about calling the vet office just to report something.

Domestication may have blunted some of out pets' instincts, but it hasn’t completely eliminated them.

When sick or injured, animals perceive themselves to be vulnerable, because in their world, if you're sick or injured, you usually get beat up or eaten.

For that reason, they'll often hide symptoms for as long as they can.

Dogs and cats tend to be creatures of habit; often disliking changes in their environment or routines. So when they stray from their routines it could be a signal that we should make note of.

Animals will often do things, sometimes in a very subtle manner, that mean all’s not right with the world.

Some may have significant meaning, some may not, and different animals may react differently to the same symptoms or circumstances.

For instance, a sick animal may become very affectionate, or he could just as easily become indifferent and distant.

And, to complicate matters a bit more, specific symptoms, when dealing with animals, could indicate any number of possible problems.

Most vets would rather you call to report any change you find suspicious instead of hesitating and perhaps delaying timely intervention that would make a big difference.

Here are some things that should make little alarms go off:



Most dogs vomit at the drop of a hat. They'll swallow something or we'll give them some human food that doesn't agree with them, and it comes right back up. Such isolated instances aren't usually cause for concern, but if the dog vomits persistently for a day or more, that could be a red flag and something to call the vet about.

Loss Of Appetite

Usually an early sign that something may be wrong, but then again, dogs will sometimes go off their feed for a day or so for no apparent reason. If he refuses meals, or special treats, for more than a day, I'd check with my vet.


Changes In Elimination

Of course the two extremes, diarrhea and constipation, may be obvious, but note subtle changes, such as in color, consistency, frequency, difficulty, or pain.

As repulsive as it may be, you should pay closer attention to your pets’ stools.

Behavioral Changes

  • uncharacteristic viciousness
  • uncharacteristic friendliness
  • depression
  • solitude, etc.

Visible Signs

persistent scratching anywhere on the body

● biting or licking one area continuously

● hair loss other than shedding, usually in clumps or patches

● sores and lumps

● changes in hair coat

● excessive drinking

● a red line along the gums

● swelling above or below an individual tooth

● bad breath

● teeth that are markedly discolored.

You should also investigate lameness, difficulty in getting up (or lying down), persistent shaking of the head, flaky skin, and discharges from anywhere on the body.

In many instances the veterinarian can ease your mind over the phone, but there are times that you’ll have to bring your pet in.

The pet owner's powers of observation can play a key role in the speed and efficacy with which an animal is treated. Try to note as much as you can about your pet...even the msst subtle of changes or departure from routines.

It’s most helpful if you’re able to establish time lines regarding the onset and progression of symptoms.

It's especially helpful if you’re able to recall anything that could have contributed to the symptoms.

Don’t overlook new food or treats, new cleaning products, or anything else that may seem routine or mundane.

It's also a good idea for all family members to be vigilant and alert to changes in your pet.

Kids are often very quick to pick up on things, so instill in them the importance of reporting to you any changes they happen to notice.

Your observations, and the accurate reporting of them, can do much to help the veterinarian reach a diagnosis and to start treatment before a problem develops into an emergency.


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    • Bob Bamberg profile image

      Bob Bamberg 5 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Hi becauseilive, thanks for stopping by. You were wise to question those little changes, and I'll bet your vet gave you a thumbs up for doing so.

      I can't tell you how many times I've heard vets, or their staff, say that most owners wait too long to seek treatment. I hope many others follow your example. Thanks for your comment. Regards, Bob

    • becauseilive profile image

      becauseilive 5 years ago from N.J.

      Thank you for this very helpful hub, Bob. I know when I first got my pug, I was calling the vet for every little change in his appetite and elimination routines. It's a good thing I did though, because he had a roundworm infection the first time, and a hookworm infection the second time, which luckily we were able to quickly and effectively treat!