Monitoring your pet at home
Knowing how to monitor your pets health is the first step to keeping them happy and healthy. Oftentimes knowing what to watch for can help provide important information if you need to take your pet to the vet.
Most pet owners know the obvious signs of sickness, such as vomiting or diarrhea, but there are also more subtle signs that can be very important in providing information. A pet's eating and drinking habits are usually a good meter on how your pet is doing. We recommend meal feeding for dogs and cats, so that way if your pet is not eating you will know as soon as possible. Changes in appetite can sometimes be indicative of GI upsets, cramps, or nausea. Water intake is very important as well. Try to keep track of how often you have to fill the water dish or how much you put in it. If your pet seems to be drinking more or less, it may be the start of a problem. If your pet is not drinking enough for any reason they can become dehydrated. In addition, if your pet drinks more often or a larger amount this could be the start of urinary or kidney problems. As unappealing as it sounds, monitoring our pets bowel movements and urination are very important. Any changes in stool should be noted. This means firmness, color, smell, texture, and sometimes content (bird seed, grass, etc). Urine changes should be monitored by color, odor, quantity, and frequency. In both cases, straining with nothing happening has the potential of being a serious problem.
Sometimes it can be difficult to evaluate certain vital signs at the vet clinic due to stress, excitement, or fear. You can help your veterinarian by knowing some things ahead of time. Heart rate and respiratory rate are both things that can change drastically if a pet is excited or stressed. To take your pet's heart rate, place your hand mid-way down your pets chest. Once you feel the heart beat, count the number of beats for 15 seconds, then multiply by 4. You can use this same technique to find respiratory rate, by moving your hand a little higher on the chest or simply by watching the breaths they take. Normal heart rate is 100-160 beats per minute for smaller breeds, 60-100 for larger breeds, and 160-220 for cats. Respiratory rates should be 10-30 breaths per minute for dogs and 20-30 for cats. Temperature is another vital sign that can sometimes be affected, especially if the pet seems fearful on the ride to the vet's office. You may have heard us before refer to it as a "car ride" fever, meaning that your pet's temperature was probably high just from the stress of coming in. Just like you have most likely seen us take your pet's temperature before, the most accurate reading is done rectally. For this your pet will need its own thermometer. We recommend labeling it clearly "pet", so you know it is only to be used for that reason. When taking your pet's temperature, having another person to help is ideal and the use of a lubricant (such as KY Jelly) will help make it a little less uncomfortable. Normal temperature is between 100-103 degrees F.
If you notice any of these changes in your pet, it is important to make note of them and let your vet know. Small changes may not always require a trip to the vet, but if you do end up in the exam room, knowing the details can truly make a difference in the treatment and outcome of your pet's health.