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How to know if your pet is healthy

Posted by Emily Files  September 25, 2012 01:37 PM

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How healthy is your pet? Does it need to go to the vet? How do you know when your pet is unhealthy? Of course, the answer is ‘when something goes wrong.’ But how do you really know when something is going wrong?

The key is to know what is normal. It is not normal to have a broken leg; it is not normal to have a tear in your ear; it is not normal to have blood everywhere.

I can hear you saying: “How do you really know what normal is? I’ll bet there are some very subtle things that might appear normal but are in fact not normal at all. And those are things I want my vet to tell me about and protect my animal from.”

The better part of being a veterinarian is to simply know what is normal and what is not. I would argue that the better part of healthy pet ownership is the same thing, knowing what is normal for your pet and what is not. sawhet owl.jpg

So how do you get to know what normal is? If you are a veterinarian you look, compare and measure animal after animal. If you are a pet owner you can do the same thing as the vet, or you can compare your pet with itself day after day. If you start going around checking everyone else’s pet there might be repercussions. Feeling up a stray cat or dog might create problems. You may be safer checking your own animal repeatedly and when something changes then you know that your pet may be straying from normal.

What features should a pet owner track? Lay your hands on your pet. One of the great features of most pets is that they are bilateral. This means that what occurs on the left side of the body should also occur on the right side. The same is true for people.

There are other features that should be tracked. Easy ones include the character of the stool, the quickness of the breath pattern, the warmth or coolness of the nose or body, and the appetite. It is easy to forget to check these things routinely and when the pattern changes it’s hard to know whether there is a difference. Write it down or take pictures. You might not get it all but it serves as a good reference.

All of this might seem like a lot of to-do about nothing. When the dog’s sick it might seem obvious. What is not so obvious is when the turtle is sick, or the hamster, or the tarantula.

If you find that you are the care-taker of one of these kinds of animals and you are not familiar with that species, it is probably a good idea to conduct this simple physical exam on several occasions, and then visit the vet with your questions. This is a good practice for new pet keepers.

It is all about familiarity. Many people have animals because they want to know what life is like through the eyes of another species. Put yourself in their place and learn away. It will keep your pet healthy and probably you too.

Dr. Greg Mertz is a veterinarian and CEO of the New England Wildlife Center. He is also the author of two new e-novels: “A Field Guide to Wildflowers” and “®evolution.” They are available at most e-outlets like Kindle, Nook, Apple, Brio, and Smashwords. This blog post is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe. The author is solely responsible for the content.

View pictures here of some of the wild animals, including the owl pictured above, that the center has rescued.

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