Photo by hillary.kladkeDogs and cats are great at hiding pain (it's a sign of weakness, after all, and not good in the world of survival of the fittest). Sometimes, when your pet is sick, it's obvious (usually blood is a giveaway, whether gushing from a gaping wound or coming out one or the other end where it never should be).
Then there are the times when pet illness is harder to spot. Diseases like canine cancer can even be silent killers.
While I'm not a veterinarian, I'm a pet owner who has had several major and minor pet crises over the years. My dog has been bit by another dog, a bite that required surgery and a drain. My cats have both had multiple crystal/urine issues, and my male cat ended up having major surgery because of it. Most recently, my dog has had unexplained lameness, blood in her urine, and bloody diarrhea (not all at once, thank goodness!).
In my experience, there are three areas to watch out for: sudden behavior changes, input changes, and output changes.
This can include the happy-go-lucky dog that's suddenly turned into Cujo, the cleaner-than-thou cat that now looks greasy and dirty, or unexplained lethargy or mood changes.
If your pet goes on a hunger (or thirst) strike, something's up. It might not be serious, but if it goes on longer than a few meals skipped, you might want to check it out. As for pets who stop drinking, my advice is "get thee to the vet" because the difference between a mild case of dehydration and a major case could be upward of $1,000 (unfortunately, I'm speaking from experience).
If your cat is dancing in and out of the cat box all the time, run, don't walk, to the vet. Especially if it's a male cat. Both of my cats have had their share of crystal blockages, and with our male, it was so serious that he almost died. Had I not been closely monitoring his bathroom habits, we would have lost him for sure.
It's a good idea to get familiar with your pet's poop, too. Once you have established what's "normal," keep an eye out for abnormalities and monitor more closely if they poop pop up. If you see black or tar color stools or bright red blood in the stool, get to the vet. Ditto for vomiting that continues or any vomiting mixed with blood.
Granted, I tend to err on the side of caution when it comes to my pets. But when in doubt, you can at least call your vet. That second opinion could save your pet's life.
Have you ever had a major pet medical emergency? What happened?