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Veterinary Q & A - Should I Call The Vet? Part I

My pet isn't acting "normal", but s/he doesn't seem sick either...


If your pet is sick or injured, you take them to see the veterinarian, right? What about the times when, while not 100% "normal", your pet isn't obviously sick, either? If you are a new pet owner or you have just adopted a new pet, you may not even know what is "normal" for that pet yet.

Learning to observe what is normal and to consequently distinguish illness and normal behavior in beings that can't talk takes time and patience. The purpose of this article is to serve as a basic guideline to know when to consult your vet to see if an examination is in order.

One of the first things to recognize is that each animal is an individual. While there are norms for each species, age, breed, and so on, each animal will have their own "rhythm", if you will. For example, a dog who gets very stressed riding in the car may experience loose stools the day after a long car ride. Knowing this bit of information, you can adapt and plan for this event. A dog that loves car rides who suddenly develops loose stool for no reason will warrant attention sooner. Below are some general questions that come up often in a vet's life. Please note that each situation is different, and you should always consult your veterinarian should you have any questions about your pet's health.

This is part I of this series. Please see Part II and Part III for more "should I call the vet?" scenarios.

My pet has been drinking a lot of water for the last few weeks. I figure that it is just because it is hot outside, so I don't need to call the vet, right?
Wrong! Increased water intake can be a sign of many different diseases, including, but not limited to; kidney failure, Cushing's disease, Diabetes Mellitus or Diabetes Insipidus, Hyperthyroidism, and Pyometra (infection of the uterus) to name a few. It can also be seen when taking some medications, such as Prednisone.

Diet and environment will cause small differences in water requirements, but an average daily intake for dogs and cats should be about 30ml per pound per 24 hours.1 For reference, 30ml is approximately 1 fluid ounce. Some of this daily intake of fluid will be found in food, too, especially with a moist diet. Puppies and kittens have a higher fluid requirement. If you notice a change in your pet's fluid intake (and subsequent increased urine output or increased urinary accidents) call your veterinarian for an examination.

I never spayed my dog when she was young. She is now 9 -- she can't get pregnant anymore, can she?
Yes, she can. Dogs do not go through menopause (cessation of ovulatory cycles) like humans do. Pregnancy at any age has its risks, but for an older dog, the risks of complications (to the adult dog and to the puppies) increase greatly. In addition to the worry of pregnancy, other problems, such as breast cancer and Pyometra (infection of the uterus) can be life-threatening concerns.

Isn't she too old to spay now?
Speak to your vet about spaying - with a pre-surgical health exam and bloodwork analysis, surgery is often safer than the risks of the above-mentioned conditions.

From the Forum: "Does the female have to be in heat for the male to mate with her and can a 11 year old still go into heat?" 4056MICHELLE

My pet seems like she has arthritis. Can I just give her a little aspirin or Tylenol® to see if that makes her more comfortable before calling the vet?
No. Two problems here: 1) self-diagnosis and 2) never give your pet any human medications unless under the direct supervision of your veterinarian.

What we humans perceive as arthritis (or any other diagnosis that we feel appropriate to what our pet is feeling at the time) may be something entirely different. It may seem like the pet is unable to move about freely, and thus the owner thinks it may be a cause of sore joints, but perhaps the real problem is extreme lethargy caused by some other illness. Or it could be a hidden skin wound or abscess. Many possibilities exist that your veterinarian will want to rule out.

As for medications, it must be stressed that animals are not "little humans" - they metabolize and tolerate medications differently than humans. For example, one Tylenol® can be fatal to a cat.

Antibiotics that are "left over" from another pet or human family member should never be given to a pet with a wound, respiratory infection, etc. (There should never be any "left over" antibiotics, anyway, unless specifically directed by your vet or physician to stop mid-course). Dosing is not the same for animals, and indiscriminate antibiotic usage may even create more health problems

Where can I go for more information?
Being informed is your best bet for keeping your pet as health as can be. See the linkbox for further information about pet care and diseases.

Text: Copyright © Janet Tobiassen Crosby. All rights reserved.

1Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine, Vol 1, Ettinger

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