You love your pet and would do anything for them, but sometimes when they are not well, making the decision whether their clinical signs warrant visiting Wales Animal Hospital or if their behavior is actually normal, albeit weird, can be difficult.

Our team understands that sometimes you have to make a tough call, but you don’t have to make it alone. We’ve created the following guide to help you understand the common signs that merit a veterinary appointment, but please take noteimmediately call us or the nearest veterinary emergency center if you suspect your pet is experiencing an emergency situation.

The following list is not comprehensive, but should be used as a starting point for the most common clinical signs. Special considerations should be taken for puppies, kittens, chronically ill pets, and senior pets whose weakened immune systems make them more vulnerable to serious or rapid illness.

#1: Persistent vomiting or diarrhea in pets

Although an isolated vomiting or diarrhea episode is typically nothing to worry about, persistent  vomiting or diarrhea (i.e., lasting longer than 24 hours) or vomiting and diarrhea accompanied by other clinical signs (e.g., appetite loss, blood, lethargy, seizures) can indicate a serious underlying health issue, such as viral infection, intestinal blockage, pancreatitis, or gastroenteritis. Continuous vomiting or diarrhea can lead to rapid dehydration and compromise organ function. Puppies and kittens who are weak or lethargic for no obvious reason should receive immediate veterinary attention.

#2: Pets who are lethargic or try to hide

Pets are social creatures who generally enjoy interacting with their two- and four-legged family members. If your previously affectionate or energetic pet suddenly becomes withdrawn or loses interest in their favorite activities, such as walking, toy playing, or begging at the dinner table, they may be feeling hidden pain, illness, or stress.

Significant weakness or inactivity can also signal more sinister conditions, such as anemia (i.e., low red blood cells), cancer, kidney or liver disease, or a ruptured intervertebral disc pressing on the spine. Sadly, lethargy is often dismissed as an age-related change in senior pets and results in missed diagnoses.

#3: Itching in pets

Occasional itching and scratching are normal pet behaviors, but persistent, aggressive, or obsessive scratching, chewing, and licking can lead to stress, sleep disruptions, self-injury, excessive grooming, and secondary infections or irritation.

Persistent itchiness (i.e., pruritus) can be attributed to many causes, including parasites (e.g., fleas, mites), flea allergy dermatitis (FAD), inhaled allergies (i.e., atopy, or allergic dermatitis), bacterial infections, and food allergies. Itching may be generalized all over your pet’s body or limited to their paws, abdomen, or ears.

#4: Appetite changes in pets  

Although some pets normally experience seasonal appetite changes or display finicky behavior, sudden appetite changes or weight fluctuations can be cause for concern.

Increased appetite may indicate that your pet’s nutrition is being robbed, while decreased appetite can suggest gastrointestinal upset, nausea, or pain. Endocrine (i.e., hormone) disorders, including thyroid disease or adrenal gland dysfunction, can also disrupt your pet’s normal appetite. 

#5: Increased thirst in pets

Increased thirst can be associated with warm weather, increased physical activity, or a diet change that includes higher sodium or decreased moisture (e.g., dehydrated or freeze-dried diets or treats). However, if your pet is suddenly constantly hanging around the faucet or water bowl, they may be suffering from an internal issue, such as urinary tract infection, kidney disease, diabetes, Cushing’s disease (i.e., overactive adrenal gland), pituitary gland changes, or in response to other clinical signs, such as vomiting or diarrhea. 

#6: House soiling in pets

House soiling (i.e., urinary or fecal accidents) in previously well-trained pets is not an act of defiance or spite, but likely an underlying health issue, such as stress or anxiety, urinary tract infections, urinary stones, diabetes, inability to reach the litter box or go outside or, in senior pets, cognitive dysfunction syndrome (i.e., dementia). 

Do not punish or scold your pet for house soiling, which leads to additional stress and can damage the pet-owner bond.

#7: Mobility changes in pets

Arthritis, soft tissue injuries, orthopedic disease, and neurological conditions can alter how your pet stands, walks, runs, and plays. Changes may be obvious (e.g., limping, “bunny hopping”) or subtle (e.g., walking with a lowered head, avoiding slick floors).

Depending on their cause, untreated mobility issues can progress and result in chronic pain and stiffness, reduced joint motion, weakness, muscle atrophy, or paralysis. 

#8: Unusual behavior or personality changes in pets

Uncharacteristic behavior (e.g., destructiveness, or reactivity) or personality changes (e.g., sudden shyness, attention-seeking, or aggression) that you cannot link to a negative experience can have an underlying medical cause. Pets may change their behavior or their response to their surroundings because of pain, fear, illness, neurological changes, vision or hearing loss, or senility.

Life would be easier if our pets could simply tell us where they hurt, but until that day comes, pet owners must use their good judgment—and a little help from the Wales Animal Clinic team—to make the best decisions for their beloved companions.

 If your pet needs veterinary care, or to discuss your pet’s clinical signs with our veterinary triage team, contact the caring professionals at Wales Animal Clinic.