Friday, September 7, 2012

When to Call the Vet

by Anna Geletka

I could tell my cat Fletcher wasn't feeling well. He couldn't find a comfortable position, he was refusing food, and he hopped in and out of the litter box every few minutes without anything to show for it. As the night continued, he began to cry and moan when his stomach was touched.

Like many pet owners, I worry over when to call the vet. I don't want to haul the cat around - and pay the exam fees - for the feline equivalent of the common cold.  But Fletcher was only getting more miserable. Finally, around midnight, I'd had enough. We headed to the emergency vet.

The diagnosis was a bladder obstruction, a relatively common condition for male cats (and dogs) that can lead to death in as little as 24 hours. Fletcher was already in the beginning stages of kidney failure. If I had waited until the next morning to call my regular vet, my kitty would have been in very serious trouble. After 36 hours at the vet, and further medication and care upon returning home, Fletcher has made a full recovery. I have no regrets about calling the vet - I only wish I had done it sooner.

Deciding when to call the vet might be one of the most important decisions a pet owner will make for their animal's well being. It's important for all pets to have regular wellness visits with the doctor at least once a year. But there will also be times when pets need to see the vet because they are ill or injured. Read on to find out how to determine if it's time to make the call.

Every pet has their own normal, and it's important for you to know what is normal for your little friend. For example, Fletcher rarely hides, and although I am granted the occasional snuggle, he isn't very cuddly overall. But when he's sick, he's either hiding under the bed or planted firmly on the nearest lap. Neither of these behaviors would be odd for some cats, but for Fletcher, they signal discomfort.

Similarly, your pet has his own tell-tale signs of illness and his own normal routine. Pay attention to where your pet likes to spend their time (under the couch? on a favorite bed?), their reaction to food (do they wolf it down? Pick delicately?), how often and how much they drink, and their toilet habits. Some pets may get occasional bouts of diarrhea, and this is nothing to be concerned about. For others, diarrhea is quite rare, and thus will suggest that something else may be going on.

Of course, once you notice an unusual behavior, it's very tempting to pick up the computer and start Googling away. Resist! There's a lot of great information online, but without an expert to connect the dots, you won't be able to make an accurate or useful diagnosis. And of course, don't try to medicate your pet on your own, especially with human medicine. Just one Tylenol can be fatal to a cat.

At the bottom of this post is a list of symptoms that should be addressed by a vet, either on an emergency basis or by appointment. Choose a vet whose diagnosis and treatment you can trust, and develop a good relationship with them. After all, they're responsible for keeping your best friend safe and healthy.

Finally, trust your instincts. You know your pet better than anyone else. If you think something is wrong with them, don't ignore that feeling.

Call or go to the clinic IMMEDIATELY for:
  • Dizziness or loss of consciousness
  • Seizures
  • Swollen abdomen (especially in dogs)
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Blue, white, or very pale gums (a sign of low blood pressure, shock, internal bleeding, anemia, or other serious problems)
  • Trauma related injuries (lacerations, bite wounds, fractures, dislocations, and blunt trauma) - for a small wound it may be ok to wait until normal business hours, but in general it's best to have these checked out to prevent serious consequences like infection or internal bleeding.
  • Signs of acute severe pain, like loud, continuous cries. 

Make an appointment for:
  • Protracted vomiting or diarrhea
  • Malaise and lethargy
  • Persistent congestion, cough, wheezing, or panting
  • Appetite loss
  • Weight loss
  • Toilet problems: blood in the urine, difficulty passing urine or stool, or inappropriate toileting (outside the litter box, for example)
  • Lameness or weakness with no obvious explanation
  • Unexplained bleeding, especially if it does not stop quickly on its own
  • Dry coat, flaking skin, or excessive scratching
  • Increased water intake and urination
  • Skin masses, lumps, and bumps
And, in general, any symptom, even a mild one, that persists or worsens for 48 hours should be checked out by your vet. If in doubt, give them a call.

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