10 Secrets Your Pets Won’t Tell You About Their Health

Paws on pavement
Dogs are notorious for not alerting their owners when their paws are getting injured on hot pavement.

Our pets may be nonverbal, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t know how to tell us when they’re not feeling so hot.

Nonetheless, some can be super-secretive, hiding everything from how they feel physically to what their emotional landscape looks like.

As a veterinarian, I’m constantly interpreting subtle signs of distress and translating very specific cues into real health-care decisions.

You, too, can learn to read certain signs of potential problems, and then take your pet to the vet. All you need is a little insight — and plenty of practice.

With that goal in mind, here’s my list of the top 10 ways our pets keep secrets that we’d rather they didn’t.

“I hurt!”

As you can imagine, this is a huge issue for veterinarians. Identifying pain can be hard to do when pets' pain-relieving adrenaline is pumping and they’re obviously doing their very best to be sure that they don’t show any weakness.

Just so you know, dogs’ and cats’ wild ancestors imbued them with the ability to mask pain. This is an especially attractive quality when you live in mortal fear of predators who share your ecosystem. There’s no time for visible suffering when a predator is looking for his next meal!

“I’m itchy!”

Although dogs will show you when their skin is irritated by chewing and scratching, cats are infinitely subtler. Most itchy kitties will display their discomfort by over-grooming. If the irritation is intense enough, hair loss can even result. It's only in the most extreme cases — such as with ear mites and mange — that cats will scratch to relieve itching, sometimes with claw marks to show for it.

“That’s more food than I need.”

Can you imagine your food-obsessed dog ever confessing to this? The truth is that dogs, cats, goats and horses are the only species I know of that will eat themselves to death. It’s kind of sad — but true — that most canines are capable of taking in as much food as we’re willing to give them. And cats? That bottomless bowl of kibble that so many of their owners offer them means that they never have to ask for more.

“I’m tired.”

Lots of things can make a dog tired: hypothyroidism, Cushing’s disease, diabetes, malnutrition, anemia, osteoarthritis, heart disease, cancer, fevers, etc. To you, it may seem like your pet is just getting old or settling into that couch potato middle age thing, but the truth of the matter may be more sinister.

“Why do you look so fuzzy?”

It’s hard for pets to convey a loss of vision. While sudden blindness may lead to obvious signs of distress and confusion, a gradual loss of vision is hard to get a handle on if pets are good at adapting — and they almost always are!


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