How To Know When To Go To The Vet

We’ve all been in this dilemma, vets included. It’s late at night, or you’re having a busy week and something just isn’t quite right with your pet.

On one hand:

  • You don’t want to waste your vet’s time.
  • It’s a going to be a big hassle to get to the vet.
  • It could be expensive, especially late at night.


  • Your pet might be suffering.
  • You know they can’t tell you what’s wrong.
  • Animals often hide their illnesses.
  • You’ll never forgive yourself if you miss something important.

You need to know if you’re either over-reacting or instead not reacting fast enough.

How do you recognise the right time to take pets to the vet?

What are the signs of illness in dogs, cats, rabbits, ferrets, rodents and birds?

Here are five common scenarios that should help. Can you see the common link?

happy Ella dogElla seemed a little off colour and was shaking her head but otherwise seemed fine.

Evie rabbit anaestheticEvie the rabbit had a white spot in her eye.
Seth sore back

Seth wasn’t playing or active like he usually is.

Tom cat abscessTom was sleeping a lot and off his food.

Jackie terrier cystitisJackie was weeing more often than usual.

None of these pets was obviously unwell but their owners were concerned. We see cases like this every day. Here’s what happened next:

Ella had an ear infection.

Evie had a serious infection called encephalitozoon.

Seth had hurt his back.

If Tom didn’t get antibiotics he was going to end up with a nasty cat bite abscess.

Jackie had a urinary tract infection.

They were all in pain, possibly except Evie. They all needed treatment. All except Seth were going to get a lot worse if nothing was done.

So am I saying you should always go to the vet all of the time? No. Here is the common thread:

In each case their owners knew their pets were not ‘themselves’.

As a guardian of a very special animal, you know that animal better than anyone else ever can. You know their personality, normal behaviour, usual activity level etc. So…

How Do I Know When To Go To The Vet?

  • Trust your gut instincts.
  • Changes in behaviour are always meaningful. Pets don’t suddenly behave differently for no reason. Sometimes the cause isn’t a physical ailment, but usually it is.
  • If you are worried, don’t let yourself be talked out of it. Your first impression is usually the best guide.
  • If you aren’t the regular owner, or are running a boarding or kennel facility, you need to be especially careful. In this case you don’t know what normal behaviour is so you have to keep a higher index of suspicion for illness.

If an owner is concerned by something but the vet can’t see the cause, it’s more likely that the vet hasn’t seen it yet than the owner is wrong. It might take a second visit or extra tests to find.

Do I Need To Go To The Emergency Vet?

Most of the time you’ll already know when it can’t wait. If in doubt, call the Animal Emergency Centre or your closest after hours facility. They’re busy and won’t advise you to come unless they can see a good reason.

If you feel bad for asking, remember that vets won’t ever complain that you’re wasting their time. If pet owners always wait until they are 100% sure something is wrong, sometimes they will leave it too long.

By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These blogs are from a series regularly posted on Facebook and Twitter. Like or follow our page or subscribe via email to read the latest.
Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours of lodging.


One Reply to “How To Know When To Go To The Vet”

  1. Thank you for this article Andrew. Yes we do know our animals best and obvious change to us. Also thank you for re assuring us when we feel like we are looking silly bringing in one of our pets. For something not obvious to others.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *