How to Identify Pet Health Issues at Home

How to Identify Pet Health Issues at Home
Dr Michelle Enslin, Resident Veterinarian at Boehringer Ingelheim

A pet is more than a loyal companion; they’re an important part of the family and truly make a house feel like a home. Just like us, though, they can experience health problems and illness. Since they’re cherished members of the household, there are several actions that owners can take in identifying pet health issues and keeping their four-legged friends happy.

In South Africa, there are three common areas of concern that dog owners may encounter, according to Dr Michelle Enslin, Resident Veterinarian at Boehringer Ingelheim. “Skin conditions constitute some of the most frequently seen reasons for visiting the Vet. Many breeds in South Africa, such as Jack Russells and Labradors Retrievers, are genetically predisposed to having skin allergies,” Dr Enslin says. “These can normally develop from one day to the next, and can lead to secondary bacterial and fungal infections especially in the ears. In addition, much like humans can develop allergic reactions to mosquito bites, pets can also develop allergies to flea bites.”

Dr Enslin adds that other common health problems that pets experience are gastrointestinal in nature. Vomiting, diarrhoea and/or inappetence are some of the most frequently seen symptoms in our furry family members. These can often be related to the presence of internal parasites like worms. The third most common health concern veterinarians see on a daily basis are bone and joint related, and often seen in elderly pets. Many breeds have a genetic predisposition to developing problems in their joints and it usually manifests as pain or lameness in areas like the elbows and hips.

For pet owners, there are several warning signs that can help them identify if their pets are suffering from these issues and if a visit to the vet should be on the cards. “With skin problems, it’s important to look out for unrelenting scratching and unusual biting of the paws and the rear,” Dr Enslin explains. “Consistent headshaking also indicates irritation in the ears. And if you take your pet out, pay attention to their skin by running your hand through their coat and checking for possible ticks and fleas.

“On the joint side, if your pet struggles to get up from a lying position, stops running around, and looks stiff, these are general indicators that they could be in some form of discomfort. In terms of gastrointestinal issues, watch out for changes in behaviour like them not eating or wanting to play – especially with puppies since they always want to play and eat.”


But when is the right time for owners to seek out veterinary assistance? Dr Enslin says that like humans, pets will react differently to illnesses – some might get over an event quickly, while others won’t. If you are concerned that your pet is behaving out of the norm, it is recommended that you call your vet, tell them exactly what has happened and for how long, and ask for their expert opinion. Since they’re likely to be familiar with the animal and their medical history, they’ll be able to advise if you should bring them in or monitor for further symptoms.


“Be mindful that cats may also experience the same common health issues as dogs,” Dr Enslin says. “However, cats don’t always react the same way as canines. They might be more aloof or hide away when in pain. Again, if you’re in doubt, contact your vet for more information and assistance.”


While it’s impossible to protect your pet from every eventuality, there are some preventive methods that you can take to keep them healthy, such as giving them antiparasitic treatment such as NexGard Spectra for dogs and Broadline Spot-On solution for cats. These treatments are engineered to be safe to use on pets and to help prevent the likes of fleas, mites, ticks, and worms. Dr Enslin recommends that you speak to your vet to discuss which is the best option for your pet.


Every pet is an individual and will experience life differently. As pet owners, it’s our responsibility to give them the best quality of life and to keep an eye out for any potential signs that they might be in distress.

They look out for us, so it’s the least we can do for them in return.