In my last article, I talked about the different ways you can help the veterinarian treat your pet. When a vet is trying to determine what ails a sick pet, I really don’t think there is such a thing as having “too much information.” And since our pets can’t tell us – or the vet – how they feel, it’s up to us to be their voice and to ensure that they get the treatment they need to be healthy and happy. A big part of that is keeping detailed records of their health and past treatments along with their dietary issues and environment history. But there is another very important component to helping your vet treat your four-legged friend: you need to know your pet well. Better perhaps, than you even know yourself.
When you know your pet well, you will be more apt to notice right away when something is amiss. And the sooner you can get them in to see their vet, the better. While not every health problem a pet can face is serious, a delay in treatment for some conditions could be life threatening. Getting to know your pet well is not that hard, but it does take time and a conscious effort. It involves spending enough time with your pet that you have a good idea of what is “normal” for them, and what isn’t. It means being observant about everything. When you know your pet well, you know what their typical appetite is; you know how their skin and coat look, how their eyes, nose and mouth look, and whether they have any digestive issues or problems with their bones and joints.
Responsible pet owners know how important regular vet checkups are. However, it’s also a good idea to perform your own brief physical exam on your pet at home on a regular basis. Look at the eyes to see if they’re bright, clear and free of any discharge. Examine their mouth to make sure the gums are a healthy pale pink and teeth aren’t yellowed or covered with tartar, and that there’s no foul odor. The ears should be free of wax buildup, and the nose should feel damp and velvety with no crusting on the surface.
You should pet and massage your dog or cat regularly too, not just because it feels good to them and helps you bond, but because you will notice any lumps or bumps that might be present. Feeling along the abdomen for any masses or swellings associated with the mammary glands can help detect tumors. Taking your pet’s temperature at home, although not particularly pleasant for either of you, can provide valuable health information. The stress of being in a veterinary exam room can sometimes cause a borderline elevated temperature that’s difficult for the vet to interpret. If your pet has a fever in the comfort of their own home, this tells the vet that it’s not likely due to nervousness.
Knowing your pet well also means being able to tell when there are behavioral changes. This is often not as easy as noticing physical differences in your pet, because the changes may be subtle and difficult to interpret. Behavioral changes might not necessarily indicate that your pet is ill; they may just be acting differently for reasons known only to them. For example, if a pet suddenly stops sleeping in a favorite spot that he’s loved for years, it’s possible they just want a change of scenery. In the summer, my cats sometimes sleep under the bed rather than on it. I wondered why they were “hiding” under there, until I realized it was cooler, and probably more comfortable. Some behavioral changes are more serious, however, and may indicate an underlying medical problem. These include lethargy, aggression, growling, restlessness, refusing to eat, and going potty in inappropriate places.
If you know your pet well, you will notice right away when something changes. Being aware of any differences in behavior or appearance is an important part of responsible pet ownership, and may even save their life. When in doubt about any changes in your pet, behavioral or otherwise, it’s always wise to consult your vet.
Read more articles by Julia Williams
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