Our pets are beloved family members, and we want them to be happy and healthy. Unlike your human family members, pets can’t simply tell you if they’re sick or hurt. Even when you know your pet well, it can be hard to tell if he or she is suffering from an illness or injury.
Animals are hardwired to hide signs of sickness or pain. This trait served their wild ancestors well, helping them to hide signs of weakness from predators. For a pet owner, this behavior can pose a challenge. If you’re on the lookout for subtle clues, however, you’ll know when it’s time to call your veterinarian or even take your pet to a 24/7 emergency vet center.
You know what’s “normal” for your pet, and any change in behavior that worries you or seems unusual—no matter how subtle—is worth a phone call to your veterinarian. You should always call your vet right away if you notice any of the following symptoms in your pet:
- Excessive vomiting or diarrhea: This could be a sign that your pet has ingested something they shouldn’t have: anything from a Lego to a household cleaner to a toxic plant in your garden. Vomiting can also be a sign of gastrointestinal illness or parasite infection. If you see what looks like coffee grounds in the vomit, this means your pet is vomiting blood, and it could be a sign that your pet has gastric ulcers or has swallowed a foreign object that’s irritating the stomach.
- Lack of appetite: If your pet’s not eating, it could mean he or she is stressed out or suffering from a wide variety of illnesses. Whatever the cause, it’s definitely a sign that something simply isn’t right. Not eating can make an animal even sicker on top of the underlying cause, so see your vet right away.
- Change in urination habits: If your pet suddenly begins urinating in the house or outside the litter box, needs to go more often, or is drinking more water, this could mean problems with the liver, kidneys, or adrenal glands. If your pet is unable to urinate, this could indicate a potentially life-threatening situation and you should bring him or her to our hospital as soon as possible for an evaluation.
- Coughing: A cough can signal anything from heart or lung disease to heartworms or even pneumonia.
- Hair loss and/or itching: An itchy pet can mean anything from a flea or tick infestation to a range of infections, allergies, or endocrine problems. Our board-certified dermatologist will be able to determine the root cause of your pet’s itching.
- Difficulty walking: Your pet could have arthritis, other disorders of the bones or joints, or even an infection.
Heat Stroke Awareness
In the hot summer months, it is especially important to be on the lookout for signs of heatstroke in your pet. Heatstroke is a veterinary emergency that requires you to act fast and seek medical treatment right away.
Heatstroke happens when your pet becomes overheated and his or her body can’t cool itself down. Animals don’t have as many sweat glands as humans, and they’re covered in fur, so their bodies don’t cool as efficiently as ours do in hot weather. Dogs rely mostly on panting to cool down, which simply isn’t enough in extreme heat.
It doesn’t take long for an animal to overheat, especially if they’re exerting themselves on a hot day or sitting in a hot car. A normal dog or cat body temperature is typically between 100.5 degrees and 102.5 degrees, so anything higher can cause serious issues such as brain damage, organ failure, and seizures in a matter of minutes.
This doesn’t mean you can’t take your dog for a romp in the park on a sunny day, but be sure to pack plenty of cool water and keep a close eye out for any signs that your pet may be overheating.
Symptoms to watch for include anxiety, vigorous panting, dark red and/or dry gums, lying down and not being able to get back up, collapse and/or loss of consciousness, dizziness, and disorientation. If you notice any of these signs, you’ll need to act fast.
First, remove your pet from the hot area immediately and call your veterinarian or 24/7 emergency vet center. Begin to lower your pet’s temperature by wetting him or her thoroughly with room-temperature water and increasing air movement with a fan. Never use very cold water, as this can cause your pet’s body temperature to become too low.
Of course, it is always best to prevent heatstroke in the first place. Never leave your pet alone in the car on a warm day, even if the windows are open. Though the weather might not seem hot, the inside of the car acts like an oven, and temperatures can rise to dangerously high levels within 10 minutes. Leaving the windows open doesn’t help the car cool down much. In fact, leaving an animal alone in a hot car is against the law in several states, including the state of New York.
Avoid vigorous exercise on warm days. Keep fresh, cool water available at all times. Provide shade to pets living outdoors, or better yet, bring them indoors during the heat of the day.
Avoid walking your pet on asphalt on hot days. Because their bodies are close to the ground, they feel the heat more intensely, and the pads of their paws can easily burn. A pro tip? Hold the back of your hand to the ground for ten seconds. If it begins to burn and you need to remove it, the surface is too hot for your pet’s paws!
A pet’s fur is like a big jacket that they can’t remove. Take a trip to the groomers and get your dog a short summer haircut, making sure to leave enough hair for sun protection. Brush your cats more often during the summer months to help thin their coats.
Remember that some breeds of cats, such as Persians and Himalayans, and dogs such as pugs and bulldogs, are more sensitive to heat. You’ll want to use extreme caution in the heat with these breeds. Talk to your vet during your pet’s next checkup about summer safety precautions.
If you suspect your pet may be suffering from heatstroke or another illness or injury, please contact East End Veterinary Center, your specialty and 24/ emergency hospital for companion animals in Riverhead, NY. For emergencies, appointments are not required to see a veterinarian; however, you are encouraged to call ahead at (613) 369-4513 so we can prepare for your arrival.