It is because these problems are usually pretty obvious and cannot be ignored. Anyone who has discovered an oozing, stinking ear infection or a chewed-bloody-and-bare hot spot will tell you that these are BIG hard-to-miss symptoms that something ‘not quite right’ is going on.
The same cannot be said for internal problems, which can be sometimes hard to detect in furry ones who are evolutionarily hardwired to hide their illnesses. Inside every dog and cat is an amazing system that works day and night. When things start to go sideways, it isn’t always obvious, especially since they can’t verbally tell us what’s wrong.
Judging from the popularity and diversity of forensic-crime dramas on TV, the public holds a diehard fascination with the process investigators and coroners use to solve medical mysteries. Their job is difficult because the ‘patient’ can’t talk.
Welcome, my friends, to veterinary medicine.
While the symptoms of internal disease might be difficult to detect, they are there if you are aware of what to look for. Catching problems early on usually translates into better prognoses. If you notice any of the following signs, or if your gut tells you that something isn’t quite right, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as possible.
Be observant. Essentially, become a student of your pet. Really step back and look closely at your companion animal, to determine what is normal. Any long-term human caretaker will tell you of the benefits that can come from using a journal to record basic observations (weight, activity, appetite, etc.).
Make a note of any changes in appetite, drinking, urination and defecation. If you free-feed, be aware that judging variations in appetite can be more tricky than if you precisely measure food. Always leave out plenty of fresh water, but notice if your pet is drinking more - increased water consumption can be an early sign of diabetes, kidney disease or hyperadrenocorticism. Be aware of your pet’s elimination habits - is he or she urinating more or less? Are there any changes in stool?
The bottom line is, any unexplained changes in activity level should be recorded and reported to your veterinarian.
Sometimes skin and coat changes can be a clue to a deeper problem. Repeated skin infections and hair loss on the tail can be symptoms of hypothyroidism. Patterned hair loss, tumors, changes in pigment or in the texture of the skin are signals that it is time to see your veterinarian.
Weigh your furr-kid every month or so. The easiest way for most folks is to stand on the scale to get your weight, and then stand on the scale holding your dog or cat and calculate the difference. If you have a big dog, I can tell you that most veterinarians would be happy to have you drop by and use their scale. While a pound lost or gained may not seem like much, in a 10-pound cat or dog it is significant. Any weight changes that are unexplained should be checked out by a veterinarian.
Thank you for all you do to make the world a better place for companion animals.
Dr. Jane Bicks