Checking your pet for changes in health

Getting into the habit of regularly checking your pet can have many benefits. It is important to learn what’s ‘normal’ for your pet, so that early signs of illness can be identified early on. Having a time frame of when habits have started to change or symptoms have started to occur can be extremely useful for a vet assessing your pet, giving them a greater insight into your animal and improving their chances of reaching an accurate diagnosis.

Changes to look out for:

Eating habits:

Has your pet’s appetite changed recently? Inappetence is usually a key sign of ill health, and often the first symptom an owner may notice. If your dog or cat has been off of his or her food for more than 24 hours, you should seek veterinary advice. It is extremely important they do not go longer than this without eating (even if they are over-weight!)- animals that go without food for even a short time (such as a few days) are at increased risk of liver failure, caused by hepatic lipidosis. (Fatty liver).

Smaller animals such as small mammals should be seen by a vet as soon as any reduction in appetite is noticed. This is because prey animals in particular will keep any other signs of illness well hidden – usually by the time they have stopped eating, the illness has progressed to a greater extent than in other animals (such as dogs and cats). Small mammals such as rabbits and guinea-pigs can be affected by gut-stasis – a potentially fatal condition if left untreated. Inappetence is both a cause and symptom of gut-stasis and early treatment of this is fundamental to a successful outcome.

Increased appetite

Increased appetite can be a sign of illnesses such has hyperthyroidism or cushing’s disease. You may notice your pet scavenging and begging more than usual or eating more quickly than usual. An appointment with the vet should be made so that any underlying disease is ruled out.

Drinking habits:

Have you noticed that you are re-filling your pet’s water bowl more frequently? Increased thirst can be a symptom of many different medical conditions, including diabetes or kidney disease. Early diagnosis and treatment is key for successful management of these conditions. Always ensure that your pet has free access to water.

Urination habits:

Have you noticed your pet urinating more frequently? As with increased thirst, this can be a sign of disease. This can include diabetes, kidney disease or something more straight-forward such as a urinary tract infection. If you have not seen your pet urinate at all, this could be a sign of an emergency such as a blocked bladder and veterinary treatment should be sought immediately.

Other indications of disease can include: presence of blood in the urine, unusual smell, discomfort when urinating or very dilute urine.


Diarrhoea is often a very obvious sign of illness – this can occur as a ‘one-off’ (for example if your pet has scavenged something they shouldn’t have!) or it can be a symptom of something more serious. Knowing when to see a vet can be tricky. If in doubt, you should call us for advice- animals suffering from diarrhoea can become dehydrated very quickly and rapidly deteriorate.

Generally, veterinary treatment should be sought if:-

  • The episodes of diarrhoea are very frequent. i.e. every few hours.
  • The animal does not seem to be able to control when they defecate (e.g. if your dog has an accident indoors).
  • There is blood present.
  • The diarrhoea is accompanied by vomiting.
  • The animal appears to be lethargic or listless.
  • The animal is inappetent.
  • You suspect your animal may have eaten something toxic.
  • The animal is otherwise well but the diarrhoea has lasted for longer than 2 days with no improvement.

Constipation/lack of defecation:

If your pet’s stools appear to be very dry and difficult for them to pass, veterinary advice should be sought. Constipation can be extremely uncomfortable for your pet, and can be a sign of underlying illness. An absence of faeces can be a symptom of something more serious- such as a foreign body or blockage. Small mammals such as rabbits and guinea-pigs should be regularly monitored and veterinary care should never be delayed if you notice the absence of stools- this can be a sign of gut-stasis, a potentially fatal condition.

Occasionally, cat owners will report that their cat appears to be constipated. They may assume this because they have witnessed their cat frequently attempting to use the litter tray unproductively. This is actually potentially a sign of a blocked bladder – a fatal condition if left untreated. Veterinary treatment should be sought immediately.



Respiratory symptoms can be a symptom of a life-threatening disease and should never be ignored. It is a good idea to monitor your pet’s breathing so that you learn what is normal for your pet and can identify any changes quickly. You should monitor your pet’s respiratory rate, as well as the depth and ease with which your pet breathes. Signs of respiratory distress include: increased respiratory rate, increased effort (which may include additional abdominal effort), audible sounds (such as wheezing, crackling or rattling), blue-tinged gums, distress, unusual posture and excessive panting (or any open-mouthed breathing in species that would not normally do so).


Changes in your pet’s demeanour can sometimes be an early sign of illness. If your usually playful and energetic pet becomes withdrawn or lethargic, this may indicate that they are feeling unwell or in pain. Similarly, if a usually calm and settled pet suddenly becomes restless, this too could be a sign of an underlying problem. Sudden on-set of anxiety can be a result of a medical condition. Changes in grooming habits can also indicate illness or pain (such as arthritis). You know your pet best- any personality changes that cause concern should be investigated.

Coat changes

Coat changes can be an indication of a skin condition or of other illnesses such as Cushing’s disease or hypothyroidism.


Unexplained weight-loss or weight-gain can often be a sign of hidden illness. It is a good idea where possible to weigh your pet every month, so that you can keep an eye on any weight changes.