Many times when a pet is ill, a trip to the veterinary office can seem overwhelming. Owners may feel anxious about making a trip with an injured or ill pet, worried about their pet’s condition and have legitimate concerns over the cost of medical care.
In addition to these concerns, there’s the history taking process, which can feel like a test to owners who haven’t spent time observing their pet’s normal behavior and physical signs.
History taking is the time when the receptionist, technician and a doctor play 20 questions. Pet owners are asked a myriad of questions about everything from how often your pet urinates in a day to what his bowel movements look like.
Information obtained during this interview gives valuable clues about your pet’s current and prior health, severity of symptoms and which tests may be helpful to most efficiently diagnose your pet’s condition.
How can owners become better prepared to help their pets? The answer is another question.
What is “normal” for your pet? Often pet owners do not notice gradual changes in their pets until they becomes extreme, sending them to the emergency room.
Taking time to observe your pet’s normals at home can help him on two levels:
1. You will become better at recognizing when your pet is in the early stage of illness, so treatment can be more successful.
2. Your pet’s medical history will be easier to obtain, giving your vet more reliable answers and the keys to making a diagnosis more quickly.
If you notice a pattern of change or are not sure about your pet’s normal findings, you should notify your veterinarian. I caution pet owners against dismissing changes as “getting old,” because you can talk yourself out of listening to your intuition and delay treating illness in a curative stage.
Check for and record your pet’s normals, including the dates of your observations. Try to do a weekly inspection observing the following:
l Gum and tongue color: Gums should be pink in color (with certain breed exceptions). Gums that are usually pink, but have turned pale, white, blue, blood red or start bleeding, should be checked by a veterinarian immediately. New black pigment or raised gums can indicate disease.
l Teeth and dentition: Observe your pet’s teeth to look for broken, uneven or missing teeth. Look at her bite to see if her teeth line up evenly between both sides of the mouth and from upper to lower teeth.
l Respiratory rate: Watch your pet at rest or during sleep and observe the rise and fall of his chest. Each rise and fall composes one breath. Most dogs and cats should have a resting respiratory rate between 20 to 40 breaths per minute. The rate will be higher with activity, which is why it is important to monitor this “normal” when your pet is resting.
l Energy and activity level: Notice how often and for how long your pet plays on average. Also, note recovery time after playing. Does she tire quickly or become short of breath after a few minutes of play when she used to be able to play for 20 minutes without tiring? Is your pet typically social and playful, but now disinterested in playtime?
l Appetite and thirst: Does your pet eat all of the food you offer him right away, or does he graze throughout the day? How often do you refill the water bowl each day? Is there a sudden increase or decrease in the amount of water being consumed?
l Check the litter box; pay attention to urine stream and bowel movement consistency: How many times does your dog mark his territory when urinating? Does she squat once and then walk a few minutes, before re-entering the house? How many wet spots are in the litter box each day when you scoop?
l Flexibility and strength: Can your pet go up and down the stairs equally well and as well as she did a year ago? How well is she getting up into the vehicle? While on walks, does she hesitate to go up and down hills? Can she get on the couch or cat tree without any trouble?
l Vision and hearing: Test your pet’s hearing and vision by making different noises from a direction where she can’t see you; does she turn her head to the correct side? To test vision in different lighting, set up an obstacle course with a few chairs and turn off the lights. Can she maneuver through the chairs without running into any?
l Lumps and bumps: Does your pet have lumps or bumps anywhere on his skin? Measure them and mark them to show your veterinarian. She may recommend testing to assure they are not cancerous.
Remember to contact your veterinarian as soon as you notice anything out of the ordinary with your pet.
Dr. Cynthia Maro is a veterinarian at the Ellwood Animal Hospital in Ellwood City and the Chippewa Animal Hospital in Chippewa Township. She writes a biweekly column on pet care and health issues. If you have a topic you’d like addressed, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.