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Signs you should call your Veterinarian

Updated: Aug 14, 2023

I've encountered many instances with my Shih Tzu Brody where he's "acting off". Something just isn't right. I am now the type of pet parent that will immediately call or go to the vet. I do not hesitate! But I used to and I do know many people that hesitate. They play the hem and haw game, do I call the doctor now? Do I wait and see? Do I go straight to the emergency vet? Maybe my dog is just having an "off" day. Trust me I've been there. These are all valid thoughts. You also have to consider the expense that comes with an emergency visit and taking time out of your day to go. Sometimes we hesitate, because we don't want to seem dramatic or be labeled the helicopter parent or hypochondriac. But I'm telling you from experience, it's better to be safe. Just do it. Be the helicopter pet parent. Be over cautious with your fur baby. Because you are their one and only advocate. They can't tell you specifically what is wrong. They can't call a doctor or go to the nurse's office when they feel icky. They need you to be their healthcare advocate.

Brody has had five major procedures/surgeries since I adopted him in 2016 and many minor vet visits. We joke he's our "free" $20,000 rescue dog. 🤣

The first three of those surgeries were on his left eye, his fourth surgery was for an emergency cholectomy last Novemeber, and the most recent was for an emergency eye surgery on his right eye in January 2023. Each time I saw the symptoms that he was uncomfortable, in pain, and/or lethargic and I took him in right away. And each time I was told that if I had waited any longer it could have been catastrophic. He could have lost his left eye to chronic and persistent ulcers had I not taken him in at the first sign of discomfort in his eye. His gall bladder was hours away from rupturing and he very well could have died if it had. But I recognized his inappetence and subsequent vomiting as abnormal and off to the emergency vet we went. Most recently, he surely would have lost his right eye to a rare sequestrum (a focal region of necrotic tissue) had I not seen the eye discomfort and immediately called his Ophthalmologist. She did in fact tell me that had I waited, he would have lost his eye.

If it hadn't been for me recognizing the unusual, abnormal behaviors, as minor as they may seem, Brody's prognosis for each emergency could have been far worse.

So in my experience it has always been better to go, take them in, call your vet! The old saying goes "it's better to be safe than sorry!"

I have listed below some of the symptoms or behaviors I have witnessed in Brody, as well as my other dogs, and in dogs under my care as a pet professional. All of them indicate to me it's best to call my vet and/or head to the emergency vet. The list starts with more mild symptoms but still important ones to never ignore. These are the symptoms we often brush off as "they are having an off day". The list ends with the more severe symptoms. Hopefully you'll recognize the early symptoms and seek veterinary care before it progresses further.

***Please note, I am not a veterinarian and this is by no means a list to help you diagnose what's going on. It is simply things that I have experienced being a pet owner and being in the pet care field for over a decade. This is here to hopefully help open your eyes to some behaviors that could indicate your pet is in distress and needs to seek professional veterinary care.

Mild, sometimes easy to dismiss symptoms:

Lethargy (low energy)

Refusal to participate in usual activities like play, walks, snuggles

Refusal to eat

Refusal to drink water

Abnormal vocalizations



Diarrhea (try to collect a sample of your vet)


Moderate to severe symptoms:

Abdominal bloating or distention

Difficulty urinating

Labored breathing or coughing

Excessive panting

Severe symptoms, seek immediate emergency care:


Fever (obtained rectally, above 103°F)

Ataxia (impaired coordination)-can indicate exposure to toxins

Eye darting -can indicate exposure to toxins



Respiratory arrest (not breathing)

All of these are cause for concern and the sooner your pet is seen and diagnostic workup is started the better the outcome. If financial restraints are causing you to delay veterinary care or treatment, please consider Care Credit. Most emergency vet clinics accept Care Credit and many primary veterinarians do as well. In most instances you can apply while in the waiting room and be approved instantly. Don't delay. Your doggy will thank you for seeking care promptly.

Brody might not be here today if I dismissed the "weird", "off", minor behavioral changes. Thankfully I know my boy well and I trust my "dog mom's intuition". Trust your gut and advocate for your doggies! ❤️

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