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.
Topic: Animal Science
Estimated Time: 30-60 minutes
Supported by the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, Education and Workforce Development Program.
Follow these steps to conduct an examination of your cat or dog.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Questions to deepen wonder and understanding.
- Why does an animal’s behavior tell us how it is feeling?
- When was the last time your pet went to the veterinarian? Was it for a sick or a well visit?
- 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.
- How does your pet act when it is feeling good? How do you think it would act in comparison if it were sick?
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!
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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.