Saturday, October 1, 2011

Symptoms: Recognition, Acknowledgement And Denial

symptom n. an abnormality caused by a disease that is observable in a sick animal
Source: Dictionary of Veterinary Terms: Vet-speak Deciphered for the Non-veterinarian

The above definition points out two important things. A symptom is an abnormality that can be observed.

As far as your dog's health is concerned, this is the most important part of your job. 

You're the one who needs to pick up on such things. Well, of course, you know that, that is a no-brainer, isn't it? You would be surprised how often it is not.

Symptoms: Recognition, Acknowledgement And Denial

Observing doesn't necessarily mean understanding

Roxanne Hawn of Champion of My Heart wrote a great heartfelt article on the subject, Fearful Dog's and Medical Warning Signs. Sometimes we get so used to certain existing abnormalities, such as fear, that it is very easy to miss their medical significance.

If you had a confident dog, who suddenly became fearful, you're likely to take notice. But what if your dog is already fearful?

Your dog might be fearful, he might be quiet, he might be reactive … it is knowing what is normal for your dog that is important.

Knowing what is normal

Knowing what is normal requires truly knowing your dog. Nobody else can do this for you.

Some symptoms are hard to miss because they hit you right in the face. Explosive diarrhea, vomiting, bleeding, severe itchiness...

But symptoms are not always as obvious. That doesn't mean that they are any less important.

As in Lilly's case, there was an increase in fearfulness. But things like summertime increase in fears is normal for Lilly. Then there was some decrease in activity and stamina. Hiding behavior and change in elimination habits. Hair loss...

Beware of rationalizations

I think it is our tendency to nurture denial. A decrease in activity and stamina is easily attributed to weather, being tired from _______ (fill in your rationalization), or simple aging. “He just matured and slowed down.” There is no such thing in dogs, my friend! Dogs don't slow down because they matured, they slow down because being active had become difficult and/or accompanied by pain.

Even pain is sometimes considered normal for a senior dog!

When I joined hubby and our guys at the friend's farm recently, it was just couple days after Jasmine started favoring her front left leg again. I was upset about it and we had an appointment scheduled with her chiropractor.

The friend was complimenting on how great Jasmine was looking (and she was) and how well she was doing. I agreed but noted I was concerned about her front left leg.

“Well, she's eight years old,” the friend said.
Yes, she is, but she was eight years old three days ago too and was pain-free!

Just because a dog gets older it doesn't mean they won a frequent-flyer-pain-card!

Pain is not normal at any age! Pain is a symptom and needs to be addressed. Slowing down, not wanting to jump up on the couch, reluctance to play ... are not signs of maturity, they are symptoms of pain.

JD's buddy at the farm, Griffin, used to be his play buddy since JD was a pup. They'd play and play all day until they'd drop. Griffin is a Labradoodle and he is 6 years old now. He suddenly doesn't want to play with JD anymore (which is breaking JD's heart).

What do you think? Had Griffin became too mature for silly play or should he be examined for signs of arthritis or other health problem?

The frog in boiling water

Gradual changes are the hardest to notice. Because they happen a little bit at the time they kind of became the new normal. Just like the frog placed in cold water that is slowly heated will not jump out. It doesn't work out so great for the frog!

Any signs that could be attributed to aging should be examined.

I think using what your dog was like when they were younger can serve as a good baseline. Symptoms of arthritis, Cushing's disease … are all too often contributed to aging.

Image Ostrich Head In Sand

Straight out denial

denial n. refusal to admit the truth or reality
Source: Merriam-Webster

Nobody wants bad things to happen to their dog. Denial is really hoping that what you're seeing isn't what you fear it might be.

The first time Jasmine got up and was limping on her rear left leg, both hubby and I hoped her leg just fell asleep. Maybe her leg just fell asleep. Maybe she just laid wrong. Maybe she's just a little stiff. Hubby, an eternal optimist, God bless his soul, is always trying to offer one of these explanations. But experience taught me otherwise.

Beware of “maybe it's just” explanations for what you're seeing

Maybe it's just heat was the first thought of Duncan's parents when he became lethargic and listless. Three days later he collapsed upon arrival at the emergency hospital and was diagnosed with Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia (IMHA).

Our neighbor's though it was just the heat when their dog collapsed. He died at the emergency hospital of heart failure.

Even just the heat can be deadly for your dog!

Know what is normal for your dog!

Know what is normal for your dog. Note and acknowledge any deviations from it. Noticing and addressing early symptoms can make a world of difference, and, in some cases, it can mean the difference between life and death.

Resist denial and rationalizations. The only way to deal with a problem is by facing it. And if by some chance you do end up in the veterinarian's office with a false alarm, trust me, it's the better alternative.

Related articles:
Where There Is Smoke, There Is Fire: A Symptom Is Your Friend, Treat It With Respect!
When Is It an Emergency?
Help! My Dog Is Purple!
A Word On Pain
It's Your Dog's Health

Do you know what your dog is telling you about their health?

Do You Know What Your Dog Is Telling You About Their Health?

Learn how to detect and interpret the signs of a potential problem.

Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog

An award-winning guide to better understanding what your dog is telling you about their health, Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, is available in paperback and Kindle. Each chapter includes notes on when it is an emergency.


  1. Ergh.
    I think our group of "average" dog people see their dogs poop five minutes later than they usually do and call the vet. XD
    In fact, when I called to schedule an appt (with our local vet first, and then we'll move to the specialist...or to someone he recommends), I asked for a parasite screen, a snap test, a urninalysis, and skin scrapings in addition to her shots and talking about why she's so itchy.
    When they mentioned I'd just had a urinalysis and parasite screen, I laughed and said, "Better safe than sorry."
    Unfortunately, I can't get in until October 13th, so it's booties on the back feet and a cone on the head for the poor dog until that day.
    Also, I mentioned giving her baths and the vet tech went "OOOOOH!" as in uh oh and said "make sure she's 150% dry or don't do it." I think because it's so moist around here.

  2. Hi JJ. Yes, I agree, better safe than sorry. Strange that your vet would have such a reaction to bathing, it is become more and more promoted by vets for dealing with skin issues, recommended over drugs.

    But as any treatment it makes best sense when you know exactly what you're trying to treat. We have to make sure Jasmine is 150% dry after a bath, because when she isn't infection can pop up very quickly. Some of the skin invading bacterial really like moist environment. So that might we why?

  3. Very insightful post and one that many owners should read. I have previously worked within a vet clinic and consistently saw dogs brought in by owners for unnecessary symptoms because they were uneducated and oblivious owners. As a pet owner, it is a responsibility to educate and inform yourself on basic symptoms and what they MIGHT be a sign of, this saves not only a trip to the visit and keeps your money in your pocket, but also saves the time of vets to tend to emergencies.

    1. HI Michelle, thank you. Well, personally I think it's better to make one more trip to the vet, than one less.

  4. Watch out for begining of Enviro ALLERGY Symptoms

    Its not Flea or Food ..
    Its Enviro !

    Because Allergy / Atopy is a Cumulative/ Progressive ALLERGY SnowBall that Gains Speed ( Frequency of allergy Issues ) and Mass ( Severity of Allergy Issues ) as it Rolls Down Life’s Hill…

    85% Allergy = Enviro Sources

    As soon as you see constant Paw Chewing, Itching, Biting, Gunky Ears > Many Pet Parents have turned to Doggy GOO

    Stop & Melt your Dogs Allergy SnowBall ASAP As GOO Possible !