Your pet is part of the family. They eat, sleep, and play with you and your kids. They accompany you on your morning runs, afternoon walks, and backpacking trips. But unlike other family members, your pet can’t talk. As pet parents, it’s up to us to pay close attention to their behavior and symptoms to know when to take them to the vet, and when it’s safe to care for them at home. If they’re sick, we’ve got to be able to tell whether they ate something they shouldn’t, or if
they have an underlying health condition.

Like other members of your family, pets can become sick with a variety of illnesses and life-threatening diseases. Environmental factors, genetics, and aging can all cause health disorders in pets. Data released by Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI) ⎼ the largest provider of pet health insurance in the United States ⎼ has revealed skin allergies, arthritis, and bladder or urinary tract infection to be among the most common medical conditions in dogs. Chronic kidney
disease, diabetes, and lymphoma are common health disorders in cats.

It’s common for pet owners to panic at the first sight of some odd behavior in their dog or cat. Your pet’s behavioral changes may be due to stress or might be symptoms of an underlying medical condition. Look out for these red flags to help you determine if your pet needs medical attention.


sad dog

Source: Regine Tholen/Unsplash

The color and consistency of a pet’s stool are good indicators of its health. A healthy pet should have firm, brown, and moist stools with no visible signs of irregularities or discolorations. Many factors can make your pet pass loose, watery stools. New food, ingesting hairballs, and stress can all give your pet diarrhea. Diarrhea, however, it can also be caused by more serious health conditions, such as:

  • Intestinal parasites
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Environmental allergies
  • Bacterial or viral infections
  • Kidney or liver failure
  • Cancer
  • Pancreatitis

Diagnosis and Treatment of Diarrhea

If your pet’s diarrhea lasts for more than two days or you notice blood or mucus in their stool, take them to a vet immediately. Most vets find it helpful for the owner to bring in a sample of the stool so that it can be sent out for testing.

Other diagnostic tests like x-rays and blood work may also be performed to find the underlying cause of the disorder. Your vet will develop a tailored treatment plan, which may include natural dietary supplements, dewormers, or other prescription medications to address the cause of diarrhea and remedy your pet’s condition.

Itchy Skin


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Skin is the largest organ of the body and can reveal a lot about your pet’s health. Healthy skin in pets should be clear and smooth, pink or black depending on their pigmentation, and with no flakes, crusting, or inflamed areas. Many internal and external factors can compromise your pet’s skin, causing excessive itching and irritation.

While it is common for bored and stressed pets to scratch and lick their skin excessively, a chronic itch can signal more serious health problems. Pruritus ⎼ the medical term for itchy skin ⎼ is often caused by allergies, skin infections, and fleas and mites. Look for any of these symptoms on your pet’s skin to determine if it needs a doctor’s visit:

  • Raw, bleeding skin
  • Red, raised bumps
  • Pus and discharge
  • Scabbing and crusting
  • Redness and flakiness
  • Hair loss and bald patches

Diagnosis and Treatment of Itchy Skin

When you take your pet to the vet, the first thing they will do is a visual examination of your pet’s skin to look for signs of bacterial, fungal, or parasitic infection. The vet may also collect samples of hair and skin debris to help them identify what is causing your pet’s itch. If an infection is ruled out, your pet will be tested for allergies to find out which allergen is triggering the itch. Most vets will also do routine bloodwork to make sure all other vital organs are functioning normally and that it is safe for the pet to be on anti-allergy medications.

Treatment for itchy skin will depend on the underlying cause of the irritation. Oral and topical medications will be given to kill the bacteria, fungus, or parasites on the skin if the itch is due to an infection. If the itching is caused by allergies, dietary modifications, allergy shots, and steroid treatment will be prescribed to relieve your pet’s discomfort.

Excessive Thirst and Urination

scared dog

Source: Matthew Henry/Unsplash

Water plays an essential role in all bodily functions. It’s important to note how much water your pet drinks daily to ensure they are healthy. On average, dogs and cats need to drink one ounce of water for every pound of body weight to ensure optimal health. While it is normal for pets to drink more water in warm weather or after they’ve been active, excessive thirst followed by increased urination often indicates that something is wrong.

Excessive thirst ⎼ known medically as polydipsia ⎼ often results when the body is producing more urine. Your pet is drinking more water to replace the fluids lost due to excessive urine production. An abnormally high urine production ⎼ known by its medical term as polyuria ⎼ is often an indication of a serious health problem. Polydipsia and polyuria ⎼ which usually happen in combination ⎼ may be caused by:

  • Kidney failure
  • Renal failure
  • Adrenal disorder
  • Diabetes/Pancreatitis
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Bladder infection
  • Urinary tract infection

Diagnosis and Treatment of Excessive Thirst and Urination

If you are refilling your pet’s water bowl more often and noticing your housebroken animal is urinating in odd places, you should seek medical help as soon as possible. Your vet will perform physical examinations, blood tests, a urinalysis, and an x-ray or ultrasound to find out what is causing your pet’s drinking disorder.

Treatment for excessive thirst and urination will depend on your pet’s diagnosis. After identifying the cause of the disorder, the vet may prescribe antibiotics, insulin shots, hormone-balancing medication, or a kidney dialysis treatment to relieve your pet’s ailment or manage their condition.

Stiffness and Limping

drinking beagle

Source: 584652/Pixabay

Healthy joints are crucial to help your pet live an active lifestyle. It is healthy joints that allow your pet to charge up the stairs, sprint around the house, and jump to catch a toy when they are younger. While it is normal for pets to slow down as they age, feeling uncomfortable during certain physical activities can indicate mobility issues. 

If your middle-aged or senior pet appears stiff and tries to avoid physical activity, they may be suffering from a joint disease such as arthritis. Arthritis is becoming one of the most common health conditions in pets, increasing by 66 percent in dogs and 150 percent in cats during the past ten years. Other than avoiding certain physical activities like jumping or going up the stairs, pets with arthritis also show the following symptoms:

  • Limping
  • Depression
  • Difficulty getting up
  • Excessive grooming around the joint area
  • In cats, urinating and defecating outside the litter box

Diagnosis and Treatment of Joint Stiffness

It is crucial to diagnose and treat arthritis as early as possible to slow disease progression and help your pet live with less suffering. Joint stiffness and limping should not be perceived as a normal part of aging. Stiffness is a degenerative joint disease that must be treated promptly to prevent physical disability in the future. If your pet looks stiff and struggles with some physical activities, take it to a vet immediately.

The vet will perform a thorough physical examination and conduct an x-ray to evaluate the condition of your pet’s joints. Most vets will also do baseline bloodwork to make sure the liver and kidneys are functioning well. If x-ray imaging shows the wearing away of cartilage at the joints, your pet will be diagnosed with arthritis. Treatment for arthritis will vary depending on the severity of the condition. While joint stiffness can’t be completely cured, supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids, glucosamine and chondroitin, and turmeric can help manage the condition (assuming that the liver and kidney function tests are normal).

Vomiting and Upset Stomach


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Cats and dogs are notorious for eating things they shouldn’t. It is common for pets to vomit from time to time as their body tries to get rid of undigested food or ingested foreign objects. While throwing up is usually not a cause for concern, vomiting can sometimes signal a serious health condition. Some medical disorders that can cause vomiting include:

  • Liver, kidney, or renal failure
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Intestinal parasites
  • Addison’s disease
  • Heartworms
  • Hepatitis
  • Cancer

If your pet vomits for more than a day, has abdominal pain, and feels lethargic, take them to the vet immediately. If not treated promptly, persistent vomiting can cause severe dehydration and electrolyte imbalance, which can lead to shock, coma, and even death.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Vomiting

As discussed above, there are many reasons why pets vomit. Multiple steps and diagnostic tests are required to pinpoint the exact cause of your pet’s illness. Along with the standard physical examination, the vet may order blood and urine tests, fecal analysis, an abdominal ultrasound, and even surgery for obtaining biopsies to help them make an accurate diagnosis.

Treatment for vomiting will depend on what is causing your pet’s ailment. If your pet is throwing up due to gastrointestinal inflammation, a bland diet and anti-nausea medication can help alleviate its condition. For more serious cases of vomiting, fluid therapy, hospitalization, and surgery may be needed to treat your pet’s condition. 

Keep an Eye on Your Pet to Keep Them Healthy

Pets can’t verbally communicate if they’re feeling unwell. But they demonstrate their poor health through physical symptoms and behavioral changes. Therefore, pet owners need to watch their fur babies closely so they can identify any unusual behavior. While it’s common for pets to act strange when they’re bored or stressed, not being their regular selves often means they are sick. Keep an eye on the symptoms of the most common health conditions in pets to determine if your furry friend needs medical help.

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