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Pet Symptoms: 6 Signs of Illness in Your Dog or Cat

What our sick pets can’t say in words, they’ll demonstrate through physical symptoms and behavior changes.

Urinating More or Less Frequently

As Mitchell discovered with Monty, excessive thirst and urination might spell diabetes. But increased urination may also signal liver or kidney disease or adrenal gland disease.

With increased urination, housebroken pets might start wetting inside the house. Or a dog that usually sleeps through the night suddenly needs nocturnal bathroom trips, Meadows says. An owner might notice, too, that he or she is filling the water bowl more often.

In contrast, too little urination, or straining to urinate, often signals a urinary tract problem or bladder stones. These are urgent reasons, especially for cats, to see the vet. 

"Cats can get an accumulation of crystals in the bladder or stones in the bladder that create bladder inflammation and can cause blood in the urine," Meadows says.

In male cats, crystals or inflammatory debris can plug up the urethra so that the cat can't urinate, which can become life-threatening within 24 hours.

"It's a hard thing to pick up because the only thing you might see is the cat making multiple trips to the litter box and just sitting there," Meadows says. Or cats that strain to urinate might change their habits and start urinating outside of their litter box, for example, into the sink or on bedding and furniture.

Sawchuk, who lives in Wisconsin, says that with the first snowfall, many people will report that their dogs have bloody urine. The problem may have existed for a while, but the owners didn’t notice, Sawchuk says. "And now, [the urine] is in the snow and it’s pink, so we get a lot of phone calls."

Coughing

"Coughing, especially if it's persistent, is one of those pet symptoms that need to be evaluated," Sawchuk says. Chronic coughing may be related to heart disease, heartworms, or lung diseases.

Or a dog may have kennel cough, an infectious tracheobronchitis that causes a harsh, hacking cough. For most dogs, kennel cough is mild -- a nuisance that goes away within two weeks, Sawchuk says. But for puppies, kennel cough can progress to fatal pneumonia.

Also, kennel cough may be more serious for dog breeds with pushed-in faces, such as boxers, bulldogs, pugs, and Boston terriers, Sawchuk says. Their unusual head anatomy can compromise their respiratory systems and create breathing difficulties.

If a puppy or dog with kennel cough develops more serious symptoms, such as fever, nasal discharge, loss of appetite, lethargy, or a productive cough, it may be getting pneumonia.

While any lasting cough should come to a veterinarian's attention, owners can also take protective measures by vaccinating their dogs against some of the organisms that cause kennel cough.

Owners should also tell a vet about persistent sneezing or discharge from the eyes, ears or nose. Also, "any animal that has difficulty breathing, rapid breathing, or choking -- those are all reasons to seek veterinary help," Randolph says.

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