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Bentley & Friends: Signs of illness to never ignore in your pet

A veterinarian told us "difficulty breathing, hemorrhage, profuse vomiting or diarrhea, also acute collapse or profound lethargy" are big red flags.

CHESAPEAKE, Va. — As pet owners, we know how our animals behave and can pretty quickly pick up on signs that something may not be right. 

Sometimes, though, we write major red flags off as harmless behavior.  

Our pets can't tell us something is wrong. We have to be acutely aware of subtle, or sometimes apparent, changes in their behavior that could signal health problems. 

Dr. Denette Cooke, of Chesapeake's Cooke Veterinary Medical Center, said it's not unusual for dogs and cats to disguise their distress.

“Pets are liars, they hide their illness, so it's hard to always know what is going on with them," Cooke said.

Here are some signs in your pet that you should never ignore. 

“We want to watch for things like dyspnea or difficulty breathing, hemorrhage, profuse vomiting or diarrhea, also acute collapse or profound lethargy," she said.

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Let’s start out with how to identify if your pet is having difficulty breathing. 

“If you see them kind of working to breathe, those abdominal muscles coming in and out when they should be completely rested, then we want to check that out,” said Cooke.

This may also mean your pet is not getting enough oxygen - which you can test for at home. 

To see how much oxygen they've absorbed, lift up your pet's upper lip and press on the pink underside for about two seconds. Watch for how quickly the color returns to that area.

Let’s move on to pointing out a hemorrhage. 

“Something people think about is just 'blood that I see, It’s just drips of blood, I cut a toenail, maybe a laceration somewhere,' but we are also looking for blood that you cannot see,” Cooke said.

Your pet could be losing blood through the GI tract. While you won't see this in the traditional sense, keep an eye out for black, tarry stool. 

Dr. Cooke also recommends catching urine periodically, to make sure it is a normal color. If there's blood in the urine, call your vet.

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The next two symptoms, profuse diarrhea or vomiting and acute collapse, are both emergencies and you should immediately seek veterinary care. 

Profound lethargy is one that can be tricky. You may confuse it for your dog being depressed or just excessively tired. Do not make this mistake and dismiss it. 

“Often it can be a sign of a medical problem going - on so we don’t usually say behavior out of the gate," Cooke said. "We say it’s a medical problem first, and if we cannot find that medical problem, then maybe we tailor it and say it's behavior.”

Paying attention to and catering to any changes you notice in your pets will help to keep them happy and healthy.