Be Your Pet’s Voice: Recognizing the Signs

Whenever your animal is sick, or in pain, there are “verbal” and “non-verbal” cues your pet will give you. That is why paying such close attention to your animals is vital.

As mentioned in the previous post in this series, Leo recently had a very serious illness: a urinary tract block. In felines, a blocked urinary tract is fatal within 3-6 days. The good news is, there are warning signs, but you need to know what you’re looking for.

Visiting Leo on his third morning of hospitalization, just after his catheter was removed. He still refused food and hadn’t eaten for three days. Although happy to see me and snuggle, he was exhausted.

As mentioned above, your pet will usually give you verbal and non-verbal cues when they are in distress. I’ve always monitored my animals very closely, looking for a mix of the two. This is because some of the responses below happen individually when your pet isn’t necessarily sick (dogs whine when left alone, cats can yowl for no reason). Use your best judgement, and call your vet if you ever become concerned for your pet’s wellbeing–they will instruct you on what to do for your pet, or tell you to bring it to them for an evaluation.


Like human infants, pets cannot outright tell you when something is wrong. Like human infants, luckily, there are certain noises they make that will indicate they are in pain which are strikingly different than the noises they normally make.

In dogs, I’ve noticed whining or whimpering, to be fairly common. This can be multiple short whines, loud brief yelps, or a mixture of the two. This is dependent upon the pain they are in and whether or not it is long lasting, or short and stabbing.

Leo doesn’t make noises when he is in pain (which is one of the reasons we didn’t know for sure that he was in any pain), so I have not heard first hand a felines distress noises. That being said, cats do have noises they make. This can be a howl, repeated meows, or nothing at all.


Dogs and cats may have a change to their normal breathing pattern. Maybe their breathing is rapid, or extremely slow. If you typically don’t notice their breath, maybe the change is that their breathing is very noticeable to you.

Leo has an extreme personality change when is is sick, which is another sign that things aren’t okay. He is typically very bubbly and vocal. When sick, Leo becomes quiet and seems to move much more cautiously through our home. Another personality change may be that your friendly dog becomes aggressive.

Another sign is appetite. Animals that aren’t feeling well tend to refuse food and/or water. If your pet rejects food at a meal time, chances are there is something wrong and you should call your vet immediately.

Further Reading

If you’d like to learn more about pet first aid, please use the following links to read-up on how to help your pet. In an emergency, or if you think something is wrong with your pet, call your regular vet, or local emergency clinic for immediate attention. These resources are intended for education purposes only, not as medical advice!

Signs of Pain–Boston University (also has advice for rabbits, ferrets, rodents, birds and fish)

I find PetMD is a great resource for pet owners, but does not replace a veterinarian…just like WebMD doesn’t replace your doctor.

Please consult your veterinarian before using any remedies you may find on the internet, or that you are told by friends and family. Every animal is different, and what is okay for one may not be okay for another. Always consult your vet first!

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