Sick or Well: How Can You Tell?

Similar to people, animals also have signs to let us know when they’re under the weather. Can you recognize them?

About the Activity

When we’re sick, our body and mood have ways of showing us and people around us that we aren’t well. Animals do this too. In this activity, kids observe and examine their pets for symptoms of illness. Most likely they are healthy, but have fun examining your pet.


This activity works best with a cat or a dog – but if you don’t have pet, you can get creative by using a stuffed animal or by walking a friend through the steps and symptoms as they examine their pet.


This is the third in a four-part educational series about preventing and treating illness in animals. View all activities at 4-H Veterinary Science: Stopping Sickness.


Grades: 6-8
Topic: Animal Science
Estimated Time: 30-60 minutes


Supported by the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, Education and Workforce Development Program.

orange tabby cat in a garden

These simple materials will get you started.

  • A pet, preferably a dog or a cat, or a stuffed animal
  • A pen or pencil
  • Downloadable symptom chart
  • A flashlight
  • Optional: Pet treats or comfort toys
supply list icon

Activity Steps
Follow these steps to conduct an examination of your cat or dog.

  1. To begin this activity, find a comfortable space to conduct your examination. Pets can be squirmy and skittish, so it’s best to have your space set up before bringing your pet into the examining room.Did You Know? It’s important for pets to have regular exams, even when they seem healthy. This is like when you go to the doctor for a checkup. Regular exams can help to detect potential health issues early on. There are other preventative measures your veterinarian may recommend for your pet, as well, such as vaccinations. These are important for preventing certain diseases like rabies.
little boy with glasses holding a black puppy
  1. Once your examination space is set up, it’s time to bring in your patient. Placing a toy or comfort object by your pet may help to keep them still and calm. Depending on the temperament of your animal, you may want to ask a helper to hold them while you conduct your exam.
  2. Now, use the symptom chart and the questions in it to guide your exam. Put a check in the appropriate box. This may require some critical thinking. For example, is it a healthy sign when a cat has a slightly moist nose? If you don’t have a pet, put a check next to whether you think each symptom or sign would refer to a healthy or sick cat or dog.Tip: Some of the symptoms you’re looking for aren’t cut and dry. If your cat has watery eyes sometimes, and they do when you observe them, they may be fine. But if your cat rarely or never has watery eyes and does when you observe them, they may be sick. Some of these require you to use your best judgement – just as a veterinarian would do.
    Note: If you mark sick for any of the below observations, talk to your grownup about calling your pet’s veterinarian.

Reflection Questions
Questions to deepen wonder and understanding.

  1. Why does an animal’s behavior tell us how it is feeling?
  2. When was the last time your pet went to the veterinarian? Was it for a sick or a well visit?
  3. What are some things you could do to help improve your pet’s health? Be sure to check with your grownup/veterinarian before taking action on these ideas.
  4. How does your pet act when it is feeling good? How do you think it would act in comparison if it were sick?
lightbulb icon

Investigate and Explore
Take what you've learned to the next level to learn more and explore the possibilities.

Ask your grownup if you can accompany them the next time they take your pet for a checkup. If pet owners are allowed to accompany their animals, observe how the vet carries out the exam. Ask questions about what the vet sees or hears throughout the exam.


If you are not allowed in the examination room, ask your veterinarian some questions about your pet’s health before the exam and see how they report back. Regardless of which option works for you, discuss what you learned after the exam!

dog being examined at a veterinary office
4-H'er with his dog

Shop 4-H Curriculum and Products

Shop 4-H offers university-backed STEM curriculum, educational kits, products and supplies to help you continue exploring animal science and more!

Click on the tiles below to learn more and add items to your cart.

From Airedales to Zebras Veterinary Science curriculum from Shop 4-H

From Airedales to Zebras

Grades: 3-5


Introduces youth to the normal animal, basic anatomy and systems, elementary principles of disease and careers with animals.



Veterinary Science curriculum set of 4 from Shop 4-H

Veterinary Science Set of 4

Grades: 3-12


The full set of Veterinary Science curriculum includes beginner through advanced levels and the accompanying helper's guide.



Animal Behavior curriculum digital download from Shop 4-H

Animal Behavior Digital Download

Grades: 9-12


Designed to be facilitated in small groups, activities cover animal care concepts and issues in biomedical research and food safety.



Horse Science curriculum set of 2 from Shop 4-H

Horse Program Set of 2

Two of our most popular and time-tested guides that include scientific and practical horse information. Set includes one copy each of Horse Science and Horses and Horsemanship.


All About Dogs curriculum from Shop 4-H

All About Dogs

Grades 3-8


Learn how dogs think and the meaning behind their body language, how to keep dogs happy and healthy and  the roles they play in our lives.



Dog curriculum set of 4 from Shop 4-H

Dairy Goat Set of 4

Grades: 3-12


The full set of Dairy Goat curriculum includes beginner through advanced levels and the accompanying helper's guide.




View the full collection of Animal and Agricultural Science curriculum on Shop 4-H.

Brought to you by:

This work is supported by the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, Education and Workforce Development Program, grant no. 2021-67037-33376/ Project Accession No. 1024940, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Help 4-H Provide Equal #Opportunity4All Kids