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Healthy Pets

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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.


"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.

Hair Loss or Itchy Skin

Fleas, ticks, mange mites, and ear mites are common reasons for hair loss and itching on the skin or around the ears. When cats or dogs have ear mites or yeast infections, they may scratch at itching ears and have "brown, crumbly discharge in the ears," Sawchuk says.

But hair loss or itchy skin may also result from endocrine problems, staph infections, fungal or yeast infections, and a host of other causes, Sawchuk says. "We make our diagnosis by sometimes collecting samples of hair and the superficial debris on the skin," she adds, "or sometimes doing laboratory testing to look for hormonal problems or culturing if we're worried about fungal infections and things like that."

Stiffness, Lameness, or Difficulty With Rising

Pets that suffer stiffness, lameness, inability to bear weight on one leg, or trouble rising from the ground may have hip or spine arthritis, disc disease, ruptured ligaments, or hip dysplasia. Tick-borne diseases, such as Lyme disease, can also cause arthritis.

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