Deciding whether or not your dog or cat needs to see the vet can be stressful for a number of reasons. For one thing, veterinary bills are expensive, especially when you don’t have pet health insurance. On top of that, dragging your unwilling fur-babies to places they don’t want to go is challenging, to say the least! Vet visits take time and money, not to mention the added anxiety for both you and your animal.
So, when should you take your pet to the vet? The number one thing you should know as a pet parent is that, if ever you are in doubt, always err on the side of caution and take him or her to the vet. We are not medical professionals and will never advise pet parents to skip the vet when they shouldn’t! However, we do think it’s important to recognize the signs and be able to act accordingly.
What’s normal pet behavior, and what isn’t?
Changes in Appetite
Dogs love to eat. It seems like they’ll eat pretty much anything! So of course, the first time you see your dog not eating his meal, you might panic and think, Something’s wrong!
Actually, skipping one meal (or even going the day without eating much) is not that uncommon for dogs or cats. When it’s a particularly hot day or there is a change in the household that they are adjusting to (new family members, new animals, a move)—it’s pretty normal to skip a meal. It’s when they have gone 2 days without eating that you should act immediately and give the vet a call.
Changes in Drinking Behaviors
Do you find yourself refilling the water bowl frequently? Obviously, hot weather and exercise will contribute to your dog’s increased thirst! But if the excessive thirst lasts longer than a day, you should check with your vet. Excessive thirst can be due to diabetes, kidney disease, and other underlying issues.
Likewise, if your pet doesn’t seem interested in water for the entire day, that can be a sign of dehydration and they should be seen by the vet as soon as possible.
Vomiting and Diarrhea
You’ve probably never heard of a cat that doesn’t vomit, and that’s where it can get tricky: some cats just naturally spit up more than other cats. If your dog or cat vomits and there’s nothing else unusual going on in their behavior, it’s probably just a temporary digestive issue that they’ve just resolved on their own.
Excessive vomiting means vomiting multiple times a day for days in a row. Trust your gut on that one and seek veterinary attention, especially since there’s the risk of dehydration. The same goes for diarrhea. One particularly wet poop for a dog is maybe not that big of a deal. Multiple loose stools should be addressed immediately, especially in cats, as it can be due to a number of underlying illnesses.
We all have our sleepy days! Even our pets. But lethargy in pets can look like a couple different things, not just napping. Maybe your dog isn’t that interested in playing or going for walks. Maybe he doesn’t respond to you in the same way and has lost his spark. If this goes on for 2 days in a row, it’s best to get your pet checked.
Cats can be naturally lazy creatures, especially indoor cats who are no longer kittens. They also tend to be nocturnal, so unless they’re waking you up in the night with their activity, it’s hard to tell how much sleeping is too much sleeping. Problematic lethargy in cats usually comes with other tell-tale signs of issues: fever, hot paws, changes in appetite and thirst, sneezing, vomiting… the list goes on.
Itching and Scratching
Does your stinky, itchy dog just need a bath, or should you take him to the vet? The unfortunate thing about even a “normal” itch is that it doesn’t take long to start a vicious cycle and become a problem: dogs will frequently break the skin getting that one itch, or will irritate the area, making it even itchier. What you don’t want is for an infection to develop from frequent scratching.
Hair loss, bald spots, and inflammation are good reasons to take your pet to the vet. Even if it’s not due to a serious issue, they may provide relief with topical ointments. But the common cause of excessive scratching is allergies, whether it’s related to fleas, food, or environment.
At the end of the day, you know your fur-baby better than anyone. It might be hard to differentiate between normal and abnormal, but emergencies look like emergencies. Always take your pet to the vet immediately when they demonstrate signs of severe pain, have difficulty breathing, have stopped passing urine, etc.
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