Urgent signs that tell you that your pet needs to go to the vet

Barbecues have some particular safety issues for pets

There are many obvious situations where you need to take your pet to the vet, but here are three signs that owners might see, and they might not realise that a visit to the vet is urgent:

  1. Head pressing
  2. Not eating for more than a day
  3. Suddenly drinking much more water

1. Head pressing

For reasons that are not fully understood, head pressing generally indicates damage to the nervous system. It may be caused by a number of things: toxic poisoning, brain tumours, congenital liver shunts, metabolic disorders,  encephalitis, infection of the nervous system, or a brain haemorrhage

The best thing you can do is take your pet to see a vet.

Investigation of head pressing involves a logical series of tests to find the cause.

  1. Full neurological examination – done by the vet, in the consulting room. This involves methodically testing a large number of specific nerve reflexes and functions. Vets often use a tick sheet to make sure that they don’t miss any. This is fundamental to locating the precise area of nerve damage.
  2. Blood and urine tests to assess the pet’s metabolism and to look for markers of certain illnesses (such as low blood glucose, high kidney enzymes etc)
  3. Xrays
  4. Ultrasound
  5. Advanced imaging such as CAT scans or MRI scans

Once the diagnosis has been made, the right treatment can then be given, depending on the cause, ranging from metabolic treatment (kidney disease), to surgery (liver shunt, brain tumour)

2. Not eating for more than a day

It’s common enough for pets to miss an occasional meal, but if a pet stops eating for more than 24 hours, this is a clear sign of serious illness that needs to be investigated without further delay. Even if a pet is in good form, bright and exercising normally, there is likely to be something wrong internally, and the sooner the pet is checked by the vet, the more likely the problem is to be sorted. Examples of causes include foreign bodies obstructing the digestive tract (they don’t always cause vomiting), internal infections like peritonitis, diseases of the mouth and throat, systemic illnesses with a wide range of causes.

The vet will again start by checking your pet over physically, and if the cause of the problem is not obvious, further tests (such as blood and urine samples) may be needed. Of course it is possible that your pet could be healthy but just not feeling like eating, but this would be unusual, and it’s safer to have them checked.

3. Increased thirst

Increased thirst – known as Polydipsia (or PUPD: Polyuria Polydipsia – increased urination and increased thirsts) – is a common cause of serious illness and should never be ignored, even if a pet is otherwise apparently in good health.

Possible causes include Diabetes Mellitus (commonly known just as “diabetes”), kidney disease, liver disease, internal digestive obstructions, womb infections and cancer.

A pet should normally drink no more than 50ml per kg body weight I.e. A 10kg terrier no more than 500ml, a 30kg Labrador no more than 1500ml. Any pet drinking more than this needs to be investigated.

When you go to the vet, you can make it easier (and cheaper) by doing two things:

  1. Measure precisely how much your pet drinks over a 24 hour period, and tell the vet
  2. Collect a urine sample to take to the vet in a sterile container

The vet will be able to make an immediate diagnosis in some cases (e.g diabetes) but in other cases, the usual work up will be needed: urine sample, then bloods, then perhaps imaging like xrays or ultrasound.

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