Symptoms of illness in four common pets


If pets could speak, caring for them would be that much easier. But pet owners must rely on physical cues to determine if their beloved pets are doing well or feeling under the weather.

Various animals display different symptoms when they are not feeling well or suffering from illness.

It is important for pet owners to become familiar with what is “normal” for their pets so that they can readily identify behaviors or symptoms indicative of illness. Keep in mind that symptoms that would indicate illness in one pet may not do the same with other animals. That is why it is key to establish a baseline.

According to Mark Stickney, DVM, director of general surgery services at Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, any change in a pet’s behavior from what is normal is reason to consult a veterinarian.

This generalized symptom list may give pet owners pause to speak with a vet about the health of their furry friends.


Cats will spit up on occasion, particularly if they have been grooming themselves and have to pass a hairball. Cats who roam outdoors may gobble down a kill and later vomit back up indigestible parts, like feathers or fur. But frequent vomiting may be indicative of a food allergy or intolerance. Sometimes it may be the symptom of gastric irritation from parasites like roundworms. 

It is difficult to gauge if cats are ill because they can be so stoic. Blood in vomit or feces, decreased activity, straining to urinate, or urinating in inappropriate places can be signs of illness in cats.


Dogs are a little better that cats at conveying illness. Generally speaking, normally upbeat and boisterous dogs who are now lethargic and uninterested in interaction are probably sick. Fetch by WebMD says disinterest in food for several days, vomiting, diarrhea, or changes in urination might indicate illness. Quite often pet owners do not discover their dogs are suffering from diabetes until they have to frequently refill water bowls and their normally trained pets start urinating inside the home. 


According to The Spruce: Pets, common signs of illness or injury in hamsters include inactivity, huddling in a corner, unkempt coat, discharge from the nose or eyes, wetness around the tail, or hair loss. Bring the hamster in for a checkup if it exhibits any of these symptoms.


Determining if your pet lizard is sick can be challenging since lizards (and most reptiles) have such slow metabolisms that, when they get sick, they often do not show signs of illness until a disease has progressed. Different species have varying nutritional requirements and light requirements. They also have their own specific temperature and humidity needs. PetMD says lack of appetite, fewer droppings, lethargy with hiding under bedding, sunken eyes, sticky mucus in the mouth, and weight loss (particularly thinning of the tail) are signs a lizard may be sick.

Getting to know pet behaviors and indications of wellness can make it easier to determine if a pet is sick and needs medical attention. (MC) 

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