There are subtle indications of sickness that you can learn to watch for, particularly in older dogs and cats.
Any change in temperament or activity level can be an indication of a problem. Metabolic and endocrine disorders often cause personality changes or lethargy. Dull, tired eyes are also an indication of a problem. Subtle changes may be difficult for your veterinarian to detect, but you know your pet and can explain these things in detail.
Gastrointestinal symptoms can be related to a gastrointestinal problem, or to a multitude of other problems. Liver disease, kidney disease, diabetes, and heart disease are just a few things in addition to a primary GI problem that can cause anorexia, vomiting, or diarrhea. Any change in your dog or cat’s eating or drinking habits can be an indication of a problem.
Skin and hair/coat changes can also be good indicators that something is just not quite right. Many endocrine disorders are associated with alopecia (hair loss). Hypothyroidism and hyperadrenocorticism in dogs can cause hair loss on the trunk of the body, usually symmetrical. Diabetes and hyperthyroidism in cats causing a dull hair coat, matting, and dandruff.
Eyes are a part of the body that can be damaged in a real hurry. Problems such as dry eye and glaucoma can occur rapidly. Glaucoma is an emergency and should be treated right away. Dogs can also develop cataracts, sometimes very quickly (as in diabetes cases). If your dog or cat suddenly develops a red eye or is rubbing or scratching at the eye or holding it closed, call your veterinarian immediately.
Dental disease is common in older pets. Difficulty chewing, weight loss, and excessive drooling are all symptoms of dental disease. If let go, mild dental disease can progress and cause serious illness such as kidney failure or heart failure.
If your dog or cat has a history of a heart problem, your veterinarian is probably closely monitoring his condition. Vigorous exercise and extended time in the hot weather can be extremely dangerous for older dogs, especially those with a heart condition.
Arthritis is another common affliction of older pets. Slow onset of symptoms allows this painful disease to go unnoticed in some cases. Pets typically have difficulty getting up after resting, have difficulty with stairs, or even exhibit exercise intolerance. Maintaining an ideal body condition helps decrease the stress on the joints, but many pets still suffer with the pain of arthritis. Medications and supplements and sometimes even surgery can be used to help keep your aging pet pain-free.
For a pet with any type of medical condition, it is important to follow your veterinarian’s instructions. Medications are extremely important and follow-up visits including lab tests are critical to helping your pet stay as healthy as possible.