We all know when we don't feel good. We might be a little achy, extra tired, not very hungry, or running a slight fever. Often we will reach for an over-the-counter remedy to help with our symptoms so we can feel better and get on with our lives. Sometimes our symptoms seem a little worse than usual and we start doing on-line research to see if we should go to the doctor. We all do this and, apart from often finding out that our symptoms could be something dire, we often find things that help us get on the mend.
A lot of people do this same thing for their pets. Sometimes this is ok, as with a dog that has some diarrhea after getting in the trash. Giving some problems, like diarrhea or a single episode of vomiting, a day or two to right themselves is usually ok. But it saddens me when I see a dog or cat that has been sick for a week or more that could have been helped and recovered much sooner had their owner brought them in right away, rather than trying different things at home first. Often by the time I see them, they are really ill--haven't eaten for days, dehydrated, losing weight, and miserable.
I certainly understand the desire to try and help ourselves, our partner, our kids, and our pets before running to the doctor. But the difference between yourself and your pet (and young kids, too), is that you really don't know where the pet hurts or what might have happened to cause pain. If you have a stomach ache, you know it. If you fall you know you will be a bit sore and bruised the next day. If a cat has a stomach ache, they will just lie around and not eat. If your dog is limping, maybe there is just a sore muscle or maybe there is a fracture or a slipped vertebral disk. Many clinical signs our pets exhibit can signify just about anything! So while you might decide to treat the cat with hairball medication, which might not hurt anything, you delay getting him treated by your veterinarian. Or maybe you feed the dog with diarrhea some pumpkin for a few days, but the actual problem is an endocrine disease that could get much worse without treatment. People with limping pets often want to try giving an OTC human pain medication which can cause kidney failure or gastric ulcers and doesn't help the fractured paw.
It can be difficult determining when a cat or dog doesn't feel well, especially as they get older and tend to sleep more anyway. Cats are extremely good at hiding pain. So how can you tell if your cat isn't feeling well? A big clue is a decreased appetite. If your cat normally comes running when you fill the bowl and one day isn't coming out, that could indicate there is something wrong. Is your cat hiding or sleeping in unusual places? Does he seem to be in a hunched position instead of curled up when sleeping? That could indicate abdominal or bladder pain. Does your cat not want to be petted anymore? Are there mats or thick clumps of fur that would indicate she isn't grooming well? Are you finding poop or urine outside the litter box? Any of these clinical signs should send you to the vet and not to Dr. Google!
Dogs can be just as secretive when they aren't feeling well. Maybe they are eating, but not as enthusiastically as normal. A dog in pain may just want to lie in one place and just wag his tail when you approach, rather than jumping up and running over to you. Panting while laying inside the house can indicate pain. Vomiting or diarrhea that lasts more than once or twice can indicate a host of different things, including an intestinal obstruction, poison ingestion, bladder stones, or some endocrine diseases.
Your veterinarian is a valuable resource for figuring out what is wrong with your pet. We are able to help much better when we hear about possible problems sooner, rather than waiting until it is very obvious there is something wrong. By that time, we may not be able to help the pet recover. I love to get calls or emails from owners with questions about their pets behaviors. Sometimes I can tell you things to try at home first, sometimes it is not so obvious what is going on and I will recommend the pet be seen. So please, if you have any questions about your pet's health or behavior, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org before surfing the internet for home remedies!
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