Is your pet acting abnormally? It can be confusing and frustrating if you feel like your pet is not himself but is also not obviously sick. It may be hard to pinpoint what is really going on, but you just know that your pet is "off." When should you call the vet? How can you help your pet at home?
What to Do If Your Pet Seems Abnormal
If you notice something about your pet seems different or unusual, you will first want to get a closer look to see if you can figure out what is wrong. Observing your pet more closely may allow you to see other signs or behaviors that can lead you to a solution.
Watch for Signs of Illness
On the surface, you may think that your pet has no signs of illness, but you may find out more with observation.
Check Your Pet's Temperature
It's not the most enjoyable thing to do, but getting an accurate rectal temperature on your pet will let you know if he is running a fever or has a low body temperature. Normal body temperature in cats and dogs ranges from about 100.2 to 103.5 degrees Fahrenheit.
Do a Home Exam
Take a few minutes to look over your pet at home if he will allow you. Start at the head and work your way to the tail, looking closely at each part of your pet to see if anything appears unusual. Also note whether any areas seem tender, painful, itchy, or warm to the touch.
Ears: Lift the flap and look in the ear canal for debris, pus, redness, swelling, blood, or greasiness. Check for an odor as this can indicate an ear infection.
Mouth: Open the mouth and check for cuts, bumps, redness, swelling, or bleeding on the lips, tongue, gums, and the rest of the mucous membranes. Check the teeth for excess tartar and other evidence of dental problems.
Skin and Coat: Look at the general appearance of the coat. Is it dull or unkempt? Run your hands through the coat and feel the skin for wounds, scabs, and sensitive spots. Part the hair in several locations to see if the skin looks red, inflamed, flaky, or otherwise abnormal. Look for itchiness, discomfort, and any other signs that indicate your pet may have skin problems.
Joints: Feel all of your pet's joints for swelling. This includes shoulders, elbows, carpi ("wrists"), hips, knees, and hocks. Move the joint in a natural way and note whether your pet seems uncomfortable during this. Feel for stiffness, crunching, and popping.
Spine: Move your dog's head up and down then side to side, noting stiffness or pain. Use two of your fingers to push firmly yet gently down the spine, watching your pet for a pain reaction.
Paws: Look at each paw closely, checking the pads, nails, and between the digits for injuries, pain, and foreign objects.
Abdomen: If your pet will tolerate it, look at the abdomen and gently feel for lumps or sensitive areas.
Tail: Lift the tail and look for injuries or a pain reaction. Look at the genital area for injuries, redness, swelling, or discharge.
Measure your pet's food and wait to see that he is eating it all. Observe him while he eats to see if he is having trouble chewing or swallowing. Note whether he seems extra hungry or unusually disinterested in food.
Vomiting and Diarrhea
Look for hidden spots where your pet might have vomited or had diarrhea. If you have a cat, look closely for diarrhea when scooping the litter box. If your dog uses the yard to defecate, be sure to watch him when he goes outside. When scooping the yard, check carefully for diarrhea.
When to Call the Vet
If you discovered abnormalities on your pet's home exam, noted appetite changes, or discovered vomiting and/or diarrhea, then you should contact your vet for advice. If everything else seems normal but your pet still seems "off," then you can look deeper to see if there is a behavioral issue. Your pet may be under some type of stress.
Look for Behavioral Changes
If you are unable to find specific signs of illness, there may be something behavioral going on. Is your pet avoiding a certain area of your house or yard? Perhaps something is scaring him. Does your pet suddenly vocalize in ways he never has before? Is your pet's routine changing? Could he be depressed? Is he sleeping well, or does he seem restless? Also, consider any changes in his environment or to your routine as he may be reacting to that.
If any of your pet's behaviors seem unusual, you should start by contacting the vet. If your vet rules out a health issue, then it may be helpful to consult an animal behaviorist or trainer.
If you can't find anything wrong, but you know your pet is not himself, then it's reasonable to watch and wait for a day or two. However, don't wait too long to seek advice from your vet. Your vet has the tools and resources to find underlying diseases. Early diagnosis could mean your pet's survival. If your pet is not himself for more than two to three days and you can't figure out why, then you should call the vet for help.
Normal Rectal Temperature Ranges. Merck Veterinary Manual
Ear Infections and Otitis Externa in Dogs. Merck Veterinary Manual
Feline Dental Disease. Cornell Feline Health Center
Dermatitis and Dermatologic Problems in Dogs. Merck Veterinary Manual
Camps, Tomàs et al. A Review Of Medical Conditions And Behavioral Problems In Dogs And Cats. Animals, vol 9, no. 12, 2019, p. 1133. MDPI AG, doi:10.3390/ani9121133