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Unusual behaviour in your dogs or cats

Your pets will most likely be doing their level best to engage your attention now that you’re at home almost all the time for lockdown. It’s fair to say that they might be wagging their tails more often or coming to check up on you 20 times a day – ears back, super chuffed, expecting a treat – or getting into scuffles with their pack-mates to prove who deserves to be petted first by the hand that feeds them.

But they might also be displaying other behaviours that you might not have noticed had you not been around so consistently. Here are a few common behaviours that animals display when things might not be so hunky-pawry, and it’s worth a phone call to the vet to find out if you should bring them in for a check-up:

1. Just keep spinning

If you’ve got a dog full of crazy antics who happens to spin around from time to time out of sheer joy and using up excess energy while chasing her tail, then more power to her. But if your dog is a compulsive spinner who gets no relief from being a constant whirligig, there might be an underlying condition for which this is a huge red flag. Whether she’s biting her tail to relieve an itch, hotspot, or possible flea allergies, or spinning around is an attempt to distract her from a literal pain in the backside (from swollen anal glands), these conditions need veterinary attention sooner rather than later.

2. Changes in eating or drinking patterns

You would know from looking at your dog or cat’s food and water bowls (as well as cleaning up their landmines) more or less what they consume on a daily basis. But what if they’re not really hungry or thirsty… or they’re too hungry or thirsty? Some dogs and cats don’t eat when they’re stressed. Or they’ll drink too much and pee too much when something isn’t quite right with their internal workings. Now is the time to be observing their eating and drinking patterns, especially if they’re experiencing weight loss or weight gain that just doesn’t add up. If you notice anything amiss in your dog or cat’s food and water consumption patterns and you can’t identify the source of the problem*, rather contact your vet for an appointment.

* If you leave a bowl of dog food out for your dog to graze throughout the day, but he’s looking a little on the skinny side, maybe there are some happy, plump pigeons or rodents that are stealing his food.

3. From dog breath to death breath

It’s normal for dogs and cats to have a little bit of a pong on their breath, especially before or immediately after eating. Don’t you? But if your reaction to your pet’s breath is akin to an eye-watering gag reflex, then perhaps it’s time to get their teeth checked out. Our pets won’t tell us when their teeth and gums hurt, but their whiffy breath just might. Check your pet’s teeth for plaque, and their gums for any redness or bleeding. Also, if they’re just swallowing their food without chewing, it might indicate tooth and gum pain. Definitely schedule a vet visit for a dental check-up.

4. Head pressing

If you notice your pet pressing their head against a wall, call your vet immediately. In dogs and cats, head pressing is a symptom of one of a few problems: from neural damage, toxic poisoning (i.e. over exposure to alcohol or insecticides) or metabolic disorders like hypoglycaemia, to the side effects of a brain tumour or a stroke. Do not hesitate, your pet pressing her head against the wall or into a corner requires urgent attention.

5. Panting incongruously

It’s normal for dogs to pant to cool their body temperatures and prevent overheating. It’s not normal for cats to pant. It’s also not normal for dogs to pant if they haven’t been charging across the lawn or lying under too many blankies. If your dog or cat is panting, they may be signalling that they’re in pain or it may be a symptom of some other condition. This would be a tough one to self-diagnose, so call your vet straight away and make a plan to take your pet in for a check-up.

Yes, South Africa is in lockdown due to COVID-19, but veterinary care is an essential service, so you must definitely seek help from your vet if your pets are showing abnormal behaviour. If in doubt, call your vet first and ask for their recommendation. Above all, keep an eye out on your pets and give them heaps of love throughout the day – it’s good for you too!

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