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It’s the Little Things

Published on March 17, 2016

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These Small Signs Say a Lot about Your Dog’s Health

As an emergency veterinarian, I commonly hear this from even the most astute owners: “My dog was completely fine yesterday.” I’m here to tell you; I believe you.  I’ve been witness to a very sick Labrador that was still eating and drinking and wagging his tail. Dogs are experts at hiding their illnesses from us.

The truth is that a dog who is feeling under the weather is also working hard to convince you that they are fine. This comes from thousands of years worth of instincts. In the wild, an obviously sick or weak animal is as good as dead. Even though your dog doesn’t have to worry about that too much anymore, their instincts are still telling them to hide any signs of illness. You’ll need a sharp eye and good observation skills to catch some of the more subtle clues.

Let’s go back to the basics: eating, drinking and the way your dog looks. The following are some general clues to watch for prior to a larger issue arising in your furry friend.

Eating Habits

We usually know when our dog is feeling well when they chow down on their food. For some of us, it is not uncommon for our finicky dog to turn up a meal or two every so often. However, any more than that is something to take note of. If your dog snubs his or her food for two or more days then please have them examined. Also make sure to keep an eye on your pet’s weight in relation to their eating habits. For instance, notice if it looks like she’s gained weight, even though she is not getting any more to eat, or if she is losing weight but still has a great appetite.  Even the smallest of weight changes, especially in smaller dogs, is a red flag for a veterinary consult.

Drinking Habits

The earliest signs of illness can be seen in thirst habits, especially in older dogs. If you notice that you are replenishing the water bowl more than usual please consider a consult with your veterinarian. In older dogs we may screen for metabolic diseases such as diabetes, hypothyroidism, and Cushing’s disease, possible tumors, kidney failure, infection or liver failure.

Coat

It is not uncommon for our dogs to shed, but excessive hair loss or bald spots in the coat are a sign that something may not be right. The problem can be as simple as a food allergy, flea allergy or even a seasonal allergy. However, it may also be a sign of a serious skin infection or metabolic disease.

Lethargy

This is a very common term that we use in veterinary medicine to indicate decreased activity level. This may be as simple as your dog not wanting to go for his daily walk or as extreme as a reluctance to rise or weakness in the back legs. Sometimes lethargy is gradual or sudden. In either case, if you notice this change in your dog it is worth while to have a doctor examine your pet, especially if you notice lethargy with any of the other warning signs listed.

Vomiting

Ok, this one is obvious, right? Yet I know many clients that will insist that their dog vomits quite often. How do we know what is normal or not normal for our dogs? Occasional vomiting isn’t anything to worry about. However, if your dog displays frequent episodes of vomiting (monthly or even weekly) or vomits several times in a row and appears depressed  or in pain, or if you notice blood in the vomit, you should call your vet immediately.

Stool

Its poop patrol time! Your dog’s stool is a great indicator of his or her general health. Chronically soft stool or hard and dry stools may warrant more attention and be an indicator of a dietary or health problem. It is not uncommon for an occasional stool to be loose, but if the stool is consistently loose or liquid in consistency, has blood or mucous, or is associated with any of the other clinical signs mentioned above then please consider a doctor check!

Overall, you are the best indicator of what is normal for your pet. Trust your instinct. If you feel like something is not quite normal after a little observation then please have your pet examined.

 

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