Watch Tip: Chronic Ill Health

Posted on July 16th, 2010 by Anna Nirva

Watch Tip for week of July 18:

Watch for signs of chronic ill health in your neighborhood’s dogs and cats as you pass. Do you see matter streaming from eyes, ears, or noses? Is the pet unusually lethargic? Is the animal very thin with a big belly, indicating parasites? Is the animal attracting many flies?—This is the sign of a maggot infestation in a wound or matted fur, a very urgent condition. Listen for coughs or sneezes. Please make every effort to talk to the owner.

Poor health causes long-term suffering and illness can spread to pets living nearby. Take action.

Learn to confidently recognize signs of illness or poor health conditions to be prepared to help neglected animals. Undertake three analyses: 1-Signs of ill health, 2-Overall condition of the animal, and 3-State of the pet-keeping environment. Take notes. Determine if urgent veterinary care is needed. All of these are common-sense judgments; you should of course be objective and rational and avoid jumping to conclusions, while trusting what you see and hear, and your intuition.

Signs of Ill Health

  • Respiratory ailments: do you see snotty noses, matter-y eyes? Sneezing, coughing, noisy breathing?
  • Check feces if you can: do you see diarrhea, or a dirty butt? If you do, pinch the skin on the neck. Does it stay pinched when you let go for a moment or two? The animal is dehydrated.
  • Is the tummy swollen? If swollen, do you see protruding or dangling teats? The animal is either pregnant or suffering from a heavy load of parasites (worms), or both.
  • Do you see problems with the fur: matted, patchy, sparse, burs?
  • Is the skin scaly or inflamed skin, little white pustules?
  • Are there untreated wounds, hot spots, or injuries (broken limbs)?
  • Do you see an unusual number of flies landing on the animal? This is a sign of a maggot infestation and urgent action is needed!

Overall Condition

  • Is the animal able to walk? If not, urgent action is needed!
  • Is the animal bleeding? If so, urgent action is needed!
  • Is the dog or cat thin or obese?
  • Is the animal a baby, an adolescent, adult, or a senior?
  • Does the animal act like it feels sick, lethargic or droopy or reclusive?
  • Does it cry out, moan, whine?
  • What expression do you see on the face of the dog or cat? Eyebrows and ears down-tilted? Blank or unaware eyes?

State of the Environment

  • Is the premises clean, comfortable and reasonably safe, or dirty and ramshackle?
  • Or nonexistent, such as a chained dog without shelter, water, food?
  • How is the animal fed, on bare ground or in a bowl or bin?
  • How many animals are kept there?
  • Do you see litters of puppies or kittens?
  • Does the owner live there or anywhere nearby?
  • Is extreme weather a factor in the condition of the dog or cat?

If a neglectful neighbor is approachable, you have an opportunity to help and educate. Assume that the pet is valued on some level. Remember, ignorance is most often the cause of neglect. Your neighbor might actually appreciate your caring interest and advice. We are all learning as we go, and so many of us have over-reached our capabilities, causing suffering to others without knowing. I know I have. Try to be a positive force for change.

If the neighbor is reclusive and could be considered a “hoarder,” keeping more animals than they can properly care for, gather information and photos. Speak with the neighbors. Present the information to law enforcement. (See the Watch Tip from July 11.)

If the neighbor resists your efforts to speak and is a “backyard breeder,” you have a challenge. Their household finances depend on keeping maximum profits, and they may resist providing care and even deny the animal is suffering. Even though state laws might require veterinary care, some local authorities may resist intervention for various reasons, or might even refuse to check on the animals.

If you live in an area served by authorities who refuse to enforce existing laws, find regional rescues and ask for assistance. Using Google, search for something specific like “collie rescue austin texas” or “mixed breed rescue portland maine.”  Or use more general terms such as “cat rescue madison kansas.”  Ask a nearby municipal or county shelter whether a rescue has a good reputation.  If your own jurisdiction isn’t cooperative, ask a neighboring one for a recommendation.  If the first rescuer you speak with isn’t helpful, call another one.

Be persistent. Time passes so slowly for the suffering.

Thank you to Jerry Dunham for assistance with this post.

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