When should you call the veterinarian? When your kids were infants and acting like something was wrong, you agonized over whether or not to call the pediatrician. You didn't want to be alarmists, but if something was wrong you certainly didn't want it to get any worse.
We often feel the same way when it involves our dogs. It's difficult enough for veterinarians to diagnose a sick animal, so how can we mere lay persons know if something is wrong when an illness or injury isn't obvious. We can't.
We need to pay attention to even slight changes in our dogs' behavior, elimination habits, eating habits or routines, and we shouldn't feel silly about calling the vet office just to report something.
Domestication may have blunted some of our dogs' instincts, but it hasn't completely eliminated them. When sick or injured, animals perceive themselves to be vulnerable, because in their world, if you're sick or injured, you usually get beaten up or eaten.
Dogs are very much creatures of habit; usually disliking changes in their environment or routines. So when they stray from their routines it could be a signal that we should make note of.
They’ll often do things that mean all’s not right with the world. Some may be significant, some may not be, and different animals may react differently to the same symptoms.
For instance, a sick dog may become very affectionate, or he could just as easily become indifferent and distant. And, to complicate matters a bit more, specific symptoms could indicate any number of possible problems.
Most vets would rather you report any change you find suspicious instead of hesitating and perhaps delaying timely intervention that would make a big difference. Here are some things that should make little alarms go off:
LOSS OF APPETITE usually is an early sign that something may be wrong, but then again, dogs will sometimes go off their feed for a day or so for no apparent reason. If he refuses meals, or special treats, for more than a day, I'd check with my vet.
CHANGES IN ELIMINATION Of course the two extremes, diarrhea and constipation, may be obvious, but note subtle changes, such as in color, consistency, frequency, difficulty, or pain.
BEHAVIORAL CHANGES such as uncharacteristic viciousness, depression, solitude, etc. may tip you off that something's amiss.
Some obvious warning signs include: persistent scratching, biting or licking, hair loss, sores, lumps, changes in hair coat, excessive drinking, a red line along the gums, swelling above or below an individual tooth, bad breath or teeth that are markedly discolored.
You should also investigate lameness, impaired agility, persistent shaking of the head, flakey skin, and discharges from anywhere on the body. Sometimes the vet can ease your mind over the phone, other times you’ll have to bring the dog in.
Your observations help the vet reach a diagnosis and to start treatment before a big problem develops. So, it's a good idea for all family members to be vigilant and alert to changes in your dog. No dog owner wants to hear the vet say, "If we had caught this earlier, we could have hoped for a better outcome."
Bob Bamberg has been in the pet supply industry for more than a quarter century, including owning his own feed and grain store in Southeastern Massachusetts, USA. He writes a weekly newspaper column on pet health, nutrition and behaviour and his articles appear at http://hubpages.com/@bobbamberg .