Pets are creatures of habit, and subtle changes in their behavior, appearance, and actions can clue you into a potential problem. Keep a close eye on your pet to catch often-overlooked clinical signs that mean it’s time to head to Caring Hands Animal Hospital. Here are five common issues to watch for in your four-legged friend.

#1: Skin and hair coat changes

Your pet’s skin and hair coat health is a good indicator of their overall health, since many problems—both internal and external—can adversely affect skin and fur. A few health concerns that can change the look and feel of your pet’s skin and fur include:

  • Parasites — Although tiny, external parasites can cause significant damage to your pet’s skin. Fleas, mange mites, and ear mites can cause intense itching, spurring your pet into a frenzied scratching, licking, and chewing episode. You may notice hair loss, skin inflammation, oozing sores, or scabs in areas affected by these parasites. Intestinal parasites, on the other hand, leach nutrition from your pet by attaching to intestinal walls. Poor nutrition then leads to a dull, rough hair coat and flaky skin.
  • Allergies — Allergies are a common problem among all pets, although many breeds are predisposed to chronic skin irritation and inflammation. Pets who are allergic to substances in their environment, such as pollen, mold, or dust mites, can suffer from flare-ups during specific seasons, while pets with allergies to dander or storage mites can be itchy all year long. Allergic pets can scratch and chew themselves raw, rub their face or hind end on the ground, and develop hair loss and thickened skin. Hot spots also can pop up and rapidly worsen without treatment.
  • Hypothyroidism — Pets with low thyroid hormone levels can have skin and fur changes that slowly develop. Typically, dogs are affected by hypothyroidism, but some cats also can develop this disease. Affected pets often have patchy fur loss, dry skin, and dandruff.
  • Cushing’s disease — Dogs are more likely to develop Cushing’s disease (i.e., hyperadrenocorticism), which occurs when the adrenal gland secretes too much cortisol. This steroid hormone can influence your pet’s skin and hair coat, causing patchy fur, poor fur regrowth, thin skin, blackheads, recurrent skin infections, oily skin, and firm skin plaques.

#2: Foul breath

While many pet owners think their furry pal’s stinky breath is normal, any odor other than mild food-associated scents is cause for concern. Most commonly, bad breath is caused by dental disease, which can affect up to 90% of pets by age 2. Since virtually every pet will develop dental disease at some point in their life, lifting a lip and taking a peek at their gums and teeth will let you know if your four-legged friend has gingivitis, tartar accumulation, or worse.

Liver or kidney disease can contribute to bad breath in pets as well. When these organs fail to remove toxins and waste material from the body, the buildup can create bad breath.

#3: Appetite changes

While your pet may have an off day here and there when they turn up their nose at their kibble, appetite changes can be concerning. If your furry pal refuses to eat, they may have:

  • An upset stomach
  • A gastrointestinal obstruction
  • Pancreatitis
  • Dental disease
  • Arthritis
  • Kidney or liver disease
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Cancer

Any condition that causes pain, nausea, lethargy, or stress can result in a decreased appetite in your pet.

Increased food intake also is concerning. Potential causes for an increased appetite in your pet include:

  • Diabetes
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Cushing’s disease
  • Intestinal parasite infection
  • Malabsorption or digestive issue
  • Poor diet
  • Age
  • Medication

Appetite changes can be paired with thirst variances, so monitor your pet’s eating and drinking habits closely for differences.

#4: Weight changes

If your hefty pet suddenly drops weight on their own, they likely have a serious underlying condition. Weight gain can be a problem, too, especially if your pet’s weight continues to rise despite your diet and exercise efforts. Common causes for weight fluctuation in pets include:

  • Diabetes
  • Thyroid conditions
  • Cushing’s disease
  • Heart disease
  • Infections
  • Ascites (i.e., abdominal fluid accumulation)
  • Intestinal parasites
  • Bloat (i.e., gastric dilatation-volvulus)
  • Medication
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency
  • Dental disease
  • Partial gastrointestinal obstruction
  • Kidney and liver disease
  • Addison’s disease
  • Cancer

#5: Pain

Any indicator of pain means your furry pal needs to see our Caring Hands Animal Hospital veterinarian. Whether your pet has a slight limp that comes and goes, or yelps when they jump onto furniture, they need to be examined to determine the cause. Other subtle pain signals include:

  • Decreased food and water intake
  • Lethargy
  • Irritability
  • Hiding
  • Excessive panting
  • Vocalizing 

When your pet displays behavior that is out of the ordinary for them, they likely have an underlying health issue. Find out the cause by scheduling an exam with our Caring Hands Animal Hospital team.