The new normal?: When changes in behavior warrant a trip to the vet

Dr. Anna Dunton-Gallagher / Photo

Dr. Anna Dunton-Gallagher

As most of you know I’m slightly neurotic when it comes to my pets. I check them all the time, I subject them to bi-annual testing and I watch what they eat (and excrete) like a hawk. However, I also know that I’m not completely normal in that respect. My clients run the gamut of being even more attentive than me, all the way to completely relaxed about issues. Every owner has their own way of coping with things, but today I am going to talk about things that often people don’t worry about for a while, but that I always wish I could have seen sooner.


Pets vomit, all of them. Some of them vomit a little, some a lot. Cats especially love to vomit (and why do they always aim for rugs?) I am always happy to see a pet when it throws up once because I can make it feel better, but I ALWAYS want to see pets that have vomited for more than one day or have intractable (can’t stop) vomiting.

One time of vomiting may mean that your pet got into something they shouldn’t have, or even that they simply had a quick bout of nausea. However, when your pet keeps vomiting it means that we need to interrupt the process. If they are left to keep throwing up, it becomes a cyclic process which makes the stomach feel worse and worse. It also starts to affect the esophagus and can cause ulcers.

Even if your pet doesn’t have an obstruction (something stuck in their intestines), we need to stop the vomiting to make them feel better. In cases where they are only throwing up once but it is happening every day, that is another time that we need to intervene.


Diarrhea is often not a life-and-death issue, but many times won’t get better until treated. There are cases where diarrhea can be a symptom of a very serious illness, like parvo virus. Diarrhea can mean parasites, viruses or a bacteria overload, which can all be serious issues as well. Even in cases where there isn’t a serious underlying cause, diarrhea is a pain in the butt….literally. Pets get intestinal cramping, gas and generally do not feel good when they are having diarrhea. As much as you don’t enjoy getting up in the night to let them out, they aren’t enjoying the abdominal pain and discomfort that goes with it.

Diarrhea upsets their eating and often causes increased drinking to battle dehydration. As pets continue to lose liquid and electrolytes in their diarrhea, they feel worse and worse. Occasionally diarrhea will get better with absolutely no intervention, but often it requires some help. The longer you wait to call us, the longer they suffer and more treatment they need to get back to feeling good.

Urinary changes

Usually, if a dog pees in the house or has blood in the urine we get a call, since it is so atypical. However, even changes outside are important. If your dog goes from urinating four times a day to 10, something is wrong. If they usually pee in one spot and now are going multiple times when they go out, something is wrong. If you clean your litter box and usually see three pee clumps a day but now the box is swimming in liquid, we need to know.

Pets can have urinary tract infections, bladder inflammation or diabetes, which all cause these issues. The longer these go untreated, the more resistant to treatment they are. When pets cannot pee and have a blocked urethra, that is an absolute emergency. This happens almost exclusively in male cats, though occasionally in others. Owners usually notice their cat going to the box over and over, with no urination happening. They often strain and will cry. If these signs are happening you need to call your veterinarian yesterday, as blocked cats can die from electrolyte imbalances stopping their heart. In every other case, call your vet and plan on bringing a urine sample to look at the next business day, so we can get treatment started.

Not eating

Some pets are grazers who may skip a meal here and there, though most are little piggies. When your pet who has been eating with abandon for five years suddenly turns up their nose at food, we need to know. The cause may be as simple as an upset stomach, or as complicated as pancreatitis, a tumor in their intestines or a foreign body (something they ate that they shouldn’t have, like a rock, string or toy.)

Cat’s bodies are especially sensitive to not eating. Their metabolism is designed to eat four small meals a day, so when they stop eating for very long, the body goes into survival mode. This includes breaking down muscles and fat for energy. Breaking down fat is especially harmful, and leads to liver failure, called hepatic lipidosis (or fatty liver disease.) If we can intervene early before the liver is affected, cats have a much better outcome.

So, while I don’t necessarily encourage owners to be as obsessive as me, there are certain things that are better not left to time. It is always better to call your veterinarian and ask than assume that something is no big deal. We’re happy to tell you to watch for a bit if you can, or come right in if you shouldn’t.

Dr. Anna Dunton-Gallagher

Dr. Anna Dunton-Gallagher is a veterinarian at All Points Animal Care in Rutland. Have a question on this or any animal health topic? E-MAIL:

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