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Recognizing Signs of Illness






Adopting a Cat or Dog

Feeding a Cat or Dog

Recognizing Signs
of Illness

Cat & Dog Health Factsheets

About Declawing a Cat

Traveling with a
Cat or Dog

Cat & Dog Training



Your companion animal can't tell you precisely when he is in pain or seriously ill. Some symptoms are obvious, but many are subtle. Observe your cat or dog closely at all times, just as you would a very young child. If you see any of the following signs, call your veterinarian for an examination as soon as possible. Be sure to note when the symptom first appeared, and whether it is getting worse or improving.



  • Is in obvious pain

  • Has one or more seizures; shivers or trembles, staggers

  • Loses balance or displays disorientation or lack of coordination; falls

  • Has difficulty walking, lameness, or limping (first check between the toes for seeds or anything that can get lodged there and penetrate the skin, causing swollen, painful abscesses)

  • Exhibits tenderness in any part of the body when touched

  • Coughs or sneezes frequently or has difficulty breathing; has discharge from the nose

  • Displays irregular breathing, shortness of breath, prolonged or heavy panting

  • Vomits or has diarrhea for more than one day, with or without blood

  • Changes eating habits, misses more than one meal

  • Loses weight (without being on a diet)

  • Stops urinating, has difficulty urinating (straining), urinates much more frequently, or displays dribbling of urine or incontinence

  • Drinks much more water

  • Excretes worms in the feces or develops a pot belly


Coat and Skin

  • Has visible wounds

  • Develops any lumps under the skin

  • Scratches, bites, rubs, or licks frequently or persistently

  • Develops sores or scabs

  • Loses hair (beyond normal shedding)

  • Stops grooming (cats)



  • Has failing vision, cloudiness in one or both eyes, or squints

  • Develops any difference in appearance between one eye and the other

  • Has discharge from the eyes

  • Has bloodshot eyes



  • Shakes head frequently, or scratches at ears

  • Has discharge from the ears

  • Has a bad odor in the ears


Teeth and mouth

  • Has loose or broken teeth or inflamed gums (teeth should be white, gums and tongue should be pink, sometimes mottled with black pigment; gums should form a clean margin with the teeth, with no recesses in which food can get trapped)

  • Has a bad odor in the mouth



  • Appears vague, unfocused, lethargic, or sleepy

  • Stops playing or changes social routine

  • Becomes irritable, rejects attention

  • Hides for more than one day

  • Shows signs of what appear to be depression or anxiety


Regular Checkups

The most important way to provide a long and healthy life for your cat or dog, in addition to your own careful observation, is to have an annual physical exam. Your veterinarian will review your companionís general health and vaccination records. At this time, he will check all vital signs including weight, listen to the heart and lungs, examine the ears, eyes, teeth, and skin condition, palpate the stomach, check the nails, check a stool sample, and generally look for any early signs of illness or aging. If your cat or dog has any chronic condition, this is a good time to test and confirm the treatment or consider a new approach. Remember that new therapies develop all the time, and your veterinarian will want to monitor your companion to update the diagnosis and treatment in order to supply the best care possible.


Lifelong Care

If you move to another area or change your veterinarian for any other reason, be sure to get copies of all your animal's medical records from your current veterinarian to give to your new one. It can be very helpful to maintain your own records of your animal's history: date of birth, vaccinations, illnesses, chronic conditions, medications, and all surgeries, including spay or neuter.