Common Pet Health Problems

Cat lying down on an exam table, getting a shot from a veterinarian

Dogs and cats have many of the same health problems as humans — but they may not show symptoms in the same ways we do. Our pets have an instinctual response to hide their vulnerabilities. It’s up to us to pay attention, learn the symptoms, and help them get the best treatment.


Fleas are equal-opportunity pests, infecting both dogs and cats. They’re common and easy for your pet to pick up, but the good news is that they’re also easy to treat.

Fleas are hard to see and even harder to catch, so make sure you’re familiar with the warning signs:

•  Unusual scratching, licking, or biting at the skin

•  Hot spots and patchy hair loss

•  Allergic dermatitis (inflamed, red skin)

•  Tapeworms (noticeable in their stool)

•  Flea dirt (looks like small flecks of dirt or black dots)

Besides causing discomfort to your pet, untreated flea infestations can lead to anemia, allergic reactions, and infections. Treatment options include shampoos, sprays, pills, or topical liquids. Your veterinarian can recommend the best treatment for your pal.


It’s not fun or pleasant, but it’s a reality every pet owner will have to deal with at some point. The symptoms of diarrhea are well-known: loose, liquid, or watery stool. The first step is to make sure your pet has plenty of clean, fresh water available, as dehydration can more easily occur with diarrhea. You may also want to remove food for 12 to 24 hours and then reintroduce a bland diet.

If your dog or cat’s diarrhea lasts for more than a day, you’ll want to take them to a veterinarian to make sure it’s not a symptom of something more serious (such as a virus, intestinal parasites, disease, or a food reaction). And bring them to the vet immediately if they also have a fever, lethargy, vomiting, or dark or bloody stools. It may just be an upset tummy, but it’s better to err on the side of caution.


Similar to diarrhea, vomiting can have a variety of causes, including infection or parasites, heatstroke, poisoning, an intestinal or stomach obstruction, and pancreatitis. Cats in particular are prone to vomiting due to hairballs, diabetes, or urinary tract disease.

If you notice abdominal heaving, excessive drooling, and vomiting, it’s best to call your vet right away, as both cats and dogs can quickly become dangerously dehydrated. Treatment will depend on what’s causing the nausea and can include fluid therapy to prevent dehydration, drugs to control or stop vomiting, or a special homemade diet.

Ear Infections

Dog on exam table, with person using otoscope to exam his ear.Ear infections are common for dogs and usually caused by bacteria, allergies, yeast, or ear mites. Signs your pooch may have an ear infection include head shaking, increased scratching, balance problems, odor or discharge, and swelling. Don’t wait if you notice those symptoms — bring your pet in as soon as possible so your doctor can correctly diagnose and recommend a treatment plan.

While ear infections are rarer in cats, they do still happen. The symptoms are largely the same as for dogs. Although ear mites are most often the cause, it’s still crucial to bring in your cat for proper diagnosis and treatment. Left untreated, infections can become chronic and lead to deafness or even facial paralysis.


Dogs and cats alike are susceptible to internal parasites like tapeworms, roundworms, and hookworms. The easiest way to tell if your pet is infected is to examine their feces. The worms or worm segments look like small white grains of rice or sesame seeds. More subtle symptoms to look for in your pet include diarrhea, weight loss or change in appetite, and scooting.

Heartworm is a little different — it rarely affects cats, and symptoms in dogs include mild persistent coughing, fatigue after moderate activity, and reluctance to exercise. Because most dogs won’t show symptoms early in the infestation, preventatives are the best solution for heartworm.

Worms are unpleasant, but luckily treatment is easy and effective. Bring your pet in as soon as possible for an exam and treatment (and try to bring a fresh stool sample if you can). And avoid future infestations by signing up for convenient home delivery of your flea and worm prevention prescription.

Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease

While dogs may sometimes have urinary tract problems, it’s much more common in our feline friends. Common causes of this painful condition include stress, being overweight or unfit, a dry food diet, a multi-cat household, and sudden changes in routine or the home. Male cats in particular are more susceptible due to their narrower urethras.

Call your vet right away if you notice any of these symptoms:

•  Urinating in unusual places

•  Crying while urinating

•  Licking around the urinary area

•  Lack of appetite

•  Bloody or cloudy urine

•  Decrease in amount of urine or inability to urinate (including prolonged squatting in litter box)

•  Lethargy or depression

Untreated urinary problems can lead to kidney failure, so don’t wait to see your veterinarian if your cat shows any of these symptoms.

Be Vigilant

By paying attention to your pet’s habits and daily routines, and consulting with your veterinarian about treatment and prevention, you can easily avoid these common pet health problems or nip them in the bud before they get serious.