2938 Vet. Med. Basic Sciences Bldg.
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
By Kimberly Meenen
University of Illinois
College of Veterinary Medicine
Animals can't tell us when they're feeling sick or when they hurt. But an alert pet owner can watch for signs of problems and can make wise decisions about whether or not veterinary care may be necessary from what he or she observes.
According to Dr. Allan Paul, a small animal Extension veterinarian at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine at Urbana, any change in the animal's behavior could signal an illness. "Watch for a loss of appetite, abnormal discharges from the animal's eyes or nose, or any changes in bowel or urination habits, including increased or decreased frequency, evidence of blood or pain, or accidents around the house if the pet is well-trained," he says. "Depression, tiredness, or a general lack of eagerness for usual activities could be other signs of problems."
He also notes that unusual lumps or bumps, limping, stiffness, foul breath, or excessive scratching or licking at any part of the body may indicate potential problems.
If any of these signs persist for more than a day, Dr. Paul advises pet owners to contact a veterinarian to see if the animal should be examined. He points out that the veterinarian depends on the owner to describe any physical or behaviorial changes.
Veterinarians are trained to glean as much information as they can from physical signs. But often behavior noticed at home may not be evident in the examination room. That's why it is so important for owners to mention any signs they've noticed.
"The pet owner knows his or her animal's routine and habits better than anyone else," says Dr. Paul. "Any change from these may be important. What may seem trivial or unimportant to the owner may be an important clue that helps the veterinarian pinpoint an animal's problem."
Pet owners can also ask their veterinarians questions. For
example, if cost is a concern, the owner can ask for an estimate
before additional tests or treatments are performed. Once the
veterinarian makes a diagnosis, owners may want to know how long
it will take before the pet recovers, whether or not the problem
will recur, or whether the problem can be prevented in the future.
If a specific treatment procedure or medication is necessary,
the pet owner should be sure he or she knows exactly how to perform
the procedure or administer the medication before leaving the