Common Pet Diseases and How To Spot Them

After you’ve read this article, you will know what to look for, what to do, and how to catch common pet diseases in time.

When our precious pets get sick it can be a stressful time for us paw parents and for them! If only our furry family members could tell us exactly how they are feeling. That way we would know exactly what to do.

Sadly (even with the incredible advances in technology) our pets are still unable to talk to us, or rather, we are still unable to understand what they are saying or feeling.

But there are some common signs to look out for and that’s why this list has been put together based on the 4 most common illnesses seen in pets in South Africa.

The trick is to look out for these signs and catch them in time to ensure the best possible prognosis.

Of course, thinking about a trip to the vet might send your wallet running, but that’s where pet insurance comes in. And better yet, pet insurance that pays you before you see the vet!

1. Gastroenteritis (Gastro)

Gastroenteritis is a medical condition in which the lining of your pet’s intestines and stomach become inflamed due to an infection from a virus, bacteria, or parasite. It may also be caused by an allergic reaction to a new food or medication that your pet has ingested.

Symptoms of gastroenteritis in pets can include vomiting, diarrhoea, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, and dehydration. Treatment for the condition may involve antibiotics, dietary changes, and supportive care. If left untreated, gastroenteritis can be fatal. It is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible if you suspect that your pet is suffering from gastroenteritis.

The first signs of gastro are vomiting and diarrhoea. Other symptoms include:

  • Dehydration
  • Blood in vomit or poop
  • Nausea
  • Depression
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue 

Dehydration is a serious condition that occurs when your pet’s body loses more fluids than it takes in. This can happen due to frequent vomiting and diarrhoea, as the fluids your pet is losing are not being replaced.

Signs of dehydration include lethargy, sunken eyes, and dry, sticky gums. If you notice any of these signs, it is important to take your pet to the vet immediately, as dehydration can lead to serious health complications. Treatment may include IV fluids, and your vet may also advise dietary changes and other medications. It is important to monitor your pet and make sure they are drinking plenty of fluids.

Vomiting or having a runny tummy once or twice is not normally a cause for concern, but when the vomiting and diarrhoea persist for more than 24 hours, then you need to get to your vet.

When to be concerned

Dehydration is a serious condition that can occur quickly and can have potentially dangerous consequences for your pet’s health, so it’s important to be aware of the signs of dehydration mentioned above.

If you notice any of these symptoms, it is important to contact your veterinarian right away. Your vet may suggest putting your pet on an IV drip to replace lost fluids, but the sooner you catch the symptoms of gastroenteritis and dehydration, the less invasive the treatment will be.

Other treatments may include administering oral fluids and electrolytes, as well as providing supportive care such as rest and a bland diet. It is important to take action quickly when it comes to dehydration in order to prevent more serious health issues.

2. Cancer

Cancer is an incredibly complex illness that can manifest in many different ways. Depending on the type and stage of cancer, the signs and symptoms can range from mild to severe and can be difficult to identify.

Common symptoms of infected animals can include persistent fatigue, unexplained weight loss or gain, night sweats, changes in bowel habits, persistent fevers, and persistent pain. Other symptoms can include skin changes, difficulty swallowing, coughing, difficulty breathing, and nausea or vomiting. Cancer can also be detected through routine medical tests such as blood tests, x-rays, and ultrasounds. It is important to be aware of any changes in your body and to talk to your doctor if you have any concerns or are experiencing any of the above symptoms.

Any lump or bump under your pet’s skin should be looked at by your vet, especially if it seems to be getting bigger or changing shape.

More general symptoms include:

  • Sores that don’t heal
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Lethargy
  • Swollen glands
  • Swollen/bloated abdomen
  • Pale or discoloured gums and eyes
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting and diarrhoea (in some cases)

If you notice any of these persistent symptoms in your pet, make sure you book an appointment at the vet.

3. Kidney Disease

The kidneys help in balancing certain substances in the blood and filtering out wastes in the body as urine.

Kidney disease is something that might develop over time or happen abruptly because of a medication or another disease. Sadly, chronic kidney disease (the one that develops over a pet’s lifetime) is not always preventable. Some pets have a genetic predisposition to the condition.

Some stages of chronic kidney disease can be prevented, like dental disease. In the later stages of dental disease, the bacteria from the gums can enter the bloodstream and damage the kidneys. This is why oral health for your pet is so important.

Acute kidney disease can be prevented.

This kind of kidney disease is caused by a number of issues such as infection, poisoning, or medications. The kidneys are not working as well as they should and are therefore not filtering out waste correctly.

Symptoms are sudden and severe and include:

  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Increased urination
  • Increased water consumption
  • Dehydration
  • Weight loss
  • Dull coat
  • Sunken eyes
  • Ammonia smelling breath (Due to toxins such as urea and ammonia not being filtered from the blood as efficiently)

You have to catch kidney disease early otherwise the condition can form a vicious cycle.

4. Intervertebral disk disease (IVDD) in dogs

Canine Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) is a condition that is commonly seen in Dachshunds and Pekingeses that affects the intervertebral discs between the vertebrae of the spine.

This disease can cause a number of symptoms in dogs, ranging from mild pain and discomfort to partial paralysis, as well as complete paralysis in some cases. The condition occurs when the discs between the vertebrae become herniated, bulge, or rupture, leading to compression of the spinal cord and nerve roots. Treatment for IVDD typically involves a combination of drugs, physical therapy, and in some cases, surgery.

The disease can lead to permanent damage of the nerves.

Some of the symptoms include:

  • Abdominal tenderness or tenseness
  • Neck pain and stiffness (not wanting to move the neck and head)
  • Yelping unexpectedly when touched or moving
  • Lowered head stance
  • Back pain & stiffness
  • Arched back
  • Sensitivity to touch (might act aggressively)
  • Sensitivity to movement
  • Urinating issues
  • Lameness
  • Dragging one or more legs
  • Reluctance to rise
  • Weakness
  • Abnormal reflexes
  • Stiffness
  • Stilted gait
  • Tremors, trembling, shaking
  • Lack of coordination
  • Collapse
  • Paralysis in one or more limbs

You might notice some of these changes after your dog has done something strenuous like exercising or jumping off the couch. An acute ruptured disc often has the same symptoms, but it is a different condition.

The outlook of your dog may vary, but overweight dogs are more prone to this condition due to excess strain on the spine. Most cases will require spinal surgery, but the sooner you catch the symptoms and get your dog to the vet, the better the prognosis may be. 


Keeping an eye on your pet’s health and immune system is crucial for their well-being and for identifying any potential health issues early on. By being aware of your pet’s behaviour and physical condition, you can quickly spot any changes that may indicate an underlying problem. This means that you will be able to take them to the vet for a check-up before the condition becomes more severe.

One of the key things to look out for is any changes in your pet’s appetite, energy levels, or behaviour. For example, if your pet is usually active and playful but suddenly becomes lethargic, or if they are eating less than usual, this could be a sign of an underlying health problem. Additionally, you should also pay attention to their skin, coat, and eyes, as any changes in these areas could also indicate skin infections or other health issues.

You should also be aware of any new lumps, bumps, or other unusual growths on your pet’s body. These could be benign or malignant, and early detection is crucial in ensuring that they are treated promptly.

Another important aspect of keeping an eye on your pet’s health is to schedule regular check-ups with your veterinarian. This is particularly important as pets age, as they are more likely to develop health issues as they get older. Regular check-ups will allow your vet to keep track of your pet’s health and detect any problems early on. Prevention is ALWAYS better than cure.

Until next time,

The Team