There are degrees of ill health ranging from the animal that is merely "off-colour" to one that is desperately ill. An animal that looks "not quite right" should be observed closely until it appears fully recovered. If it is incubating a serious disease, an early diagnosis could save the animal. By checking the vital signs of the animal, the owner can receive early warning that something is amiss. Seriously ill animals must receive immediate and urgent veterinary attention.

The first sign that an animal is becoming sick is that it picks at or refuses food. It may drink more or less water than normal, depending on the illness. The eyes will be dull, and on closer inspection, the mucous membranes may have changed colour. Deep red membranes indicate fever; pale membranes show anaemia; yellow membranes indicate a liver disorder, while blue-red membranes show heart and circulatory problems, or pneumonia.

The coat may look dull and dry. The animal might be sweating (except for dogs). A cold sweat indicates pain while a hot sweat indicates fever. If the animal is in pain it will probably be restless (getting up and down and pacing about) and it might even be groaning.

The animal will either scour (i.e. pass very loose droppings), or will become constipated and pass no droppings at all. The passing of urine might also cease. A very sick animal will lie down for long periods and will not get up when approached.

The vital signs of a sick animal will change. The temperature may go up or down. A rise in temperature of one or two degrees usually indicates pain, while a rise of more usually indicates infection.

The rate of respiration, and the way the animal breathes could also show changes. With pain or infection, breathing becomes more rapid. In a very sick animal, breathing can be laboured and shallow.

A slightly increased pulse rate suggests pain, while a rapid pulse suggests fever. An irregular pulse can indicate heart trouble. In a very sick animal, the pulse is weak and feeble.

Animal owners should consistently check pets for signs of health or ill-health. Aside from the above vital signs, the following should be monitored:

  •  General condition – weight and body condition
  •  Sluggishness
  •  Movement or Gait – check for lameness
  •  Appetite
  •  Excessive Thirst
  •  Weight Loss
  •  Eyes
  •  Ears
  •  Mouth
  •  Coat
  •  Skin
  •  Head
  •  Teeth
  •  Limbs
  •  Trunk
  •  Mucus membranes
  •  Swellings
  •  Excitability
  •  Slobbering
  •  Discharge
  •  Urination
  •  Diarrhoea
  •  Breathing
  •  Vomiting

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