Recognising the signs of a sick dog or cat

Posted on 23 October, 2017

Sick Cat

We employ a network of homesitters throughout the UK who look after a range of different pets, but how can they tell if a pet in their care is unwell? We’ve done a round-up of some of the main signs to look out for which will be useful for all our homesitters.

Just like humans, dogs and cats can have off days when they just feel a bit under the weather. They may not want to eat or spend a lot of time sleeping. Cats may hide away for a few hours, perhaps lying in a hunched up position. Dogs may not want to go for a walk or are less playful.

Most of the time this shouldn’t last more than 24 hours and they will usually perk up and be back to their usual selves. However, there are some signs could indicate a trip to the vet is needed.


If a dog or cat has vomited more than two or three times over a 24 hour period it’s time to see the vet. While both dogs and cats can be sick much more often than humans, mainly because they have a habit of eating things they shouldn’t when out and about – it’s important to take them to the vet if this is more than usual to avoid dehydration and check for any underlying condition.

Diarrhoea and constipation

There are many reasons dogs and cats get diarrhoea, such as changes in diet, eating something they shouldn’t or nervousness. If this continues for more than a day, or if there is diarrhoea with blood or it’s accompanied with vomiting, then book an appointment at the vet. Cats can also suffer from constipation. Keep an eye on them when they visit the litter box and if they are straining and only pass small, hard faeces then they may need medicine from the vet to ease this.

Eating, drinking, urinating or defecating more or less than normal

Dogs and cats can’t tell us when they are sick, so often the only way to tell when they are ill is noticing changes in their usual routines. Stopping eating or drinking is a sign that something is wrong. Equally, eating more than usual and being really ravenous or drinking more could indicate illness. Changes in toilet habits should also be monitored and if they don’t clear up over 24 hours, take them to the vets to be on the safe side.

Strange behaviour

Owners and homesitters know how pets in their care behave. Any changes could be a sign they are unwell. A usually friendly cat may not want to be touched or an approachable dog may start to growl if you go near them. Tails that are usually high or wag could be held low. Or a pet may become very lethargic and disinterested in its surroundings.

Keep an eye on them and check for other physical signs. Dogs should have pink gums, and the nose should feel moist and cool. If the gums have paled and the nose is dry and warm or in cats if they are not grooming themselves or their breath smells bad – then take them to the vet.


Coughing in both cats and dogs can be an early warning sign of an acute illness. If it persists for more than a day check with the vet that it’s not something serious. If the pet has difficulty breathing or the gums have gone bluish it’s time to rush them to the vet.

Symptoms can be hard to spot in dogs and cats, so it’s important to know what usual behaviour is and isn’t. Stroking or grooming pets all over once a day is also good practice in order to notice any unusual lumps and bumps. Always make a note of any behaviour changes or symptoms, and when these occurred, so that a vet can be fully briefed if necessary.

For homesitters looking after someone else’s pets it’s better to err on the side of caution. If there is anything that is causing concern, then it’s worth having them checked out at the vets. For all our homesitters on assignment remember you can call us at any time, day or night, so if you are worried about the pet you are looking after and want our advice don’t hesitate to call.


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