The preceding articles have discussed the significance of symptoms.

Appreciating and respecting the value of symptoms may be the most important thing you do for your companion animals.

This article was written to help you recognize very specific symptom details. One part might be useful today, whereas the rest doesn’t seem immediately relevant.

But knowing how to describe symptoms is always relevant. Symptom details (like individual words in a sentence) will help you put them into context.

Symptoms vs. Signs

One point of clarification that probably should have preceded these articles is that pre-verbal children, dogs, cats, horses and other animals do not have symptoms. They have signs.

Symptoms can be subjective. Quality of pains, sensations, dreams, etc. may need to be verbally expressed to be useful.

Animals can’t talk (a shocker, right?) By medical definition, they therefore only have clinical signs.

In Holistic Actions! objective signs + subjective symptoms are both classified as symptoms.

Understanding them will help you harness the natural healing power of your companion animal’s body.

6 Ps

6 simple Ps can transform the care you give to your companion animal. Four of them also give you a pretty good idea of what to pay attention. The more you know how to observe and describe, the more you can help.

These Ps are:

  1. Patience: Deep and permanent healing occurs slowly.
  2. Perseverance: You might need a new approach or different (not just a second) opinion. Don’t give up!
  3. Problematic Symptoms: Health challenges that may limit your pet’s life.
  4. Prominent Symptoms: Those that say “pay attention to me”. Acute dis-ease symptoms are often like this.
  5. Persistent Ones: How often do you see the symptom? Hourly symptoms are usually more significant than weekly.
  6. Peculiar Ones: Have you ever seen this before? In any animal? These are very characteristic of your pet.


This basic guide is designed to help you start learning the symptom language.

All you then have to do is write it down so you remember all of the symptom details. You can then mindfully interpret them and decide what to do.

To start, there’s only 4 symptoms that you need to know. As long as all of them are 100%, your pet is doing great. She’s on track for a long and happy life.

These are the B.E.A.M. (Behavior, Energy, Appetite, Mood) symptoms.

They will help shine the light on optimal long term health. They provide the context you need.

No matter what the other symptoms say, BEAM should be improving over time.

Another important general rule is that changes are very important. Especially if they are Prominent, Persistent, Problematic or Peculiar.

 Symptoms That Are Modified by the Environment

Pay especially close attention to these symptoms. They (“modalities”) are the clearest communication you will get from your pet. Like BEAM, these symptoms also reflect general internal health.

These are animals whose symptoms get better or worse:

  • from company, e.g. extra clingy and no longer want to be left alone or going off to be by herself at specific times of the day or night,
  • in weather conditions like rainy, humid, windy, etc.
  • suddenly wanting to be inside (or outside) more than usual,
  • during or after: eating, drinking, waking, defecating, urinating, etc.,
  • with certain foods (being able to see this is another reason to feed a variety)
  • preferring or avoiding pressure on a part or lying on or against hard surfaces,
    And more!

Other general indicators of health include:

  • preferring warm or cool spots,
  • wanting to be in (or stay out of) the sun,
  • frequency and quantity of drinking,
  • restlessness and not being able to settle down,
  • not wanting to move…

Very significant are also symptoms that occur at the same time. These are the concomitant symptoms. For example vomiting along with diarrhea, increased drinking along with sneezing, etc.

Specific tips to help understand your pet’s body

  1. Keep a daily log at home. Note especially if there is any change in a symptom.
  2. Are there symptoms that have arisen since any environmental or diet change? How about new symptoms associated with a medication (no matter how benign you were told that it is)?
  3. Changes of symptom pattern are especially significant. For example, if your pet starts seeking warm/cool areas, eating more/less, sleeping better/worse or in new spots, etc. These changes are very important even if they don’t seem to be related to the primary problem. Record anything that’s different from normal.
  4. Changes in overall demeanor/mood, energy, interactivity, playfulness, willingness to go for walks, etc. reflect both energy and mood..
  5. Behavior changes, fears and anxieties are very important.

Other clues:

  • When did the problem begin and what circumstances were associated with it or may have brought it on.
  • Previous illnesses such as ear and eye “infections”, allergies/skin diseases, colds, skin growth removals, urinary problems, etc.
  • Specifically, which treatments were used, for how long and and what doses were any drugs used? What were the results? For example, “Boris woke up one morning after being fine the night before with an ear “infection” with left ear redness and black thick smelly discharge and we used Panalog ointment and he was better in two days but then it came back in a few weeks”.
  • Mental and emotional conditions and changes such as: likes and dislikes, desires, fears, timidity, apathy, irritability, aggression, changeable mood, whether easily startled or starting from sleep, or from noise or being touched, whether better or worse from diversion (e.g. seems better from a ride in a car), reaction to contradiction (e.g. what happens when you try to stop an objectionable behavior), better or worse in company, especially quiet or “talkative”, interaction with others of the same species vs. interaction with people, etc.
  • Are there any conditions that started along with the main problem? For example are there loose bowels whenever the scratching gets worse? Is there seeking of quiet warm spots when the discharge worsens, etc.?
  • Does the problem come on at a specific time, season, phase of the moon, temperature/barometric pressure etc., e.g the stiffness is worse when it is humid.
  • How is the appetite? Excessive, picky, anything special that is desired or disliked, e.g. specific foods that are salty, sweet, fatty, sour, spicy, eggs, ice cubes. What about eating indigestibles like dirt, rocks, sand, stool, pencils, etc.
  • Is your pet drinking less or more than usual? Is there thirst for large quantities at one time, small frequent quantities, little thirst. Preference for cool fresh vs. room temperature or warm water? Preference for water out of the tap or hose or toilet?
  • Is she a “sloppy” drinker (does the water go all over the place after a drink?).
  • Do the symptoms remain the same or do they change character or shift from place to place?
  • Time of day, night, month or season that the symptoms are better or worse. Are symptoms better or worse before or after eating, sleeping, moving, resting, when occupied? Anything that makes the symptoms better or worse is very important.
  • How is your pet affected by different kinds of weather, by cold, heat, storms, thunder, snow, being at the seashore, etc.?
  • For external conditions of the skin, coat, nails, etc. describe the exact location, color of lesions, whether dry or moist, thick or thin, scaly, pimply, presence of warts or growths, appearance of skin overall,
  • Is the skin itchy and does your pet seem better from scratching or does that seem to make it itch more? Does heat, cold, exercise, wearing a collar, etc., make it better or worse?
  • Describe any discharges (nose, eyes, vaginal, penile, etc.). Is it scant or copious, thick or thin, sticky, what color, any odor, causing irritation to the tissues, color of the stain and what makes it better or worse.
  • Urine, color, how frequent is the need for urination and is it urgent, any accidents or incontinence in the house?
  • A detailed description of bowel habits, nature of the stool and discharges is very important. Just saying “diarrhea” or “eye discharge” does not tell you much about your pet. But the details are great clues!

Get The Details!

Stool/ GI symptoms

  • Stool frequency and urgency (does your pet rush to the litter box or to the door at a certain time of the day?), shape, quantity, urgency, consistency, odor, color, mucus, blood, odor, frequency, associations with waking, eating, drinking, etc.
  • Does it shoot out like water from a hose with (or without) gas? Is there straining before, during or after passing stool? Does your pet continue to try and eliminate even after the stool? Do you hear (or smell) other gas before during or after passing a stool? How about noises from stomach?
  • Normal stools are well-formed and are easy to pick up (and don’t leave mush on the ground).
  • Soft-formed stools may look the same (or a bit wetter) but are harder to clean up
  • Pudding stools are the consistency of soft serve ice cream.
  • Watery stools are, well, water consistency.
  • Are the stools: very smelly (do they burn your eyes from 6 feet away?), are they hard, dry, large, pasty, bloody, frothy, slimy, thin, watery, slender, flat, what color, etc.
  • How often does she go to the bathroom? Is there a need to eliminate frequently or urgently? What about accidents in the house? Are there times when it is worse or better, or how is it affected by certain circumstances
  • Is defecating or urinating difficult, incomplete (passes a little then keeps trying), urging without results or stool slips back in?


frequency, urgency, odor, color, straining, licking before/during/after, blood, leaking/dripping while walking.


Specific spots they don’t want brushed/pet or prefer to be pet at, reaction to brushing or petting (spinning, whipping head around, trying to bite, moving head from side to side, licking air, “dancing” with back legs)


Does she enjoy or dislike it? What’s her reaction to the running water?


Shedding amount, hair loss (in bunches/tufts?) dandruff, dry or brittle fur, oily, coat shine/dullness, thickness, odor


Dry, flaky, powdery, red or inflamed, open sores, clogged pores or cysts, pimples, location of any skin symptoms, change in skin pigmentation


Frequency, speed, amount, stick nose in water when drinking, messy or clean drinker

Discharge details are very important – discharges from anywhere like the ears, eyes, and nose, color, consistency (watery, thick, sticky, etc.), amount, location, odor, etc.


Does she beg for food and always appear hungry? Is there an increase or decrease in appetite? Is she fed in a crate and if so, why? Will she eat out of a bowl or need to be hand-fed? How fast does she eat? And how does she eat? Does she take a few bites or eat all of the food right away?


Sound (rasping, wheezing, wet cough?), frequency, time of day, length of coughing episode, after waking up, when pulling on leash, after eating or drinking

Vomiting or regurgitation

To differentiate these you need to witness the act to see if it is active or passive. Does the act seem painful? Is there retching? What is the vomitus odor, amount, color, consistency, foamy/frothy, undigested food, triggers, blood, frequency, timing (time of the day, related to eating, drinking, going out or coming in, after defecating/straining) weakness after vomiting


Frequency, time of day, triggers, length of sneezing episode and how many sneezes in a row


More or less reactive to small animals, other dogs or people, length of distance before reactivity occurs, jumping, lunging, barking, growling


Size, open (discharge, bleeding, odor), color, soft or hard, painful, movable, attached (pedicle?), changes in shape or size, hair loss, appear suddenly or gradually, growth speed


Making eye contact more or less frequently, responding to name, actively looking for attention

Temp preference

Prefers to be in sun or shade more frequently, will only walk in the sun/shade, behavior changes with sun or shade, shivering, body feels cold or warm


Includes scratching, licking, rolling, rubbing. Occasional itch or frequent, itching to the point of opening skin, can’t sleep or eat due to itching, location of itching.


Reverse sneezing, wheezing, coughing, time of day, frequency, after sniffing ground, eating, or drinking.


Refusing to get up from persons side, protective behaviors, following, lying on feet/body part, behavior when away from person.


Increase or decrease in energy, seems to be more excited, running, jumping, wanting to go for longer walks, lying down more or less frequently.


Appears to be more/less affectionate, happy, excited to see people, fearful.


Body posturing (cowering, low to ground, stiff, tail between legs or straight out, head bent low), running away from source of fear/phobia or trying to attack/go after it (fight or flight), new fear or phobia? (water, thunder, lightning, wind, loud noises, fast movements, etc.), shaking, refusing to move, curling up.


Eating something new that they did not like before, not eating something that they used to eat, will eat something cooked, but not raw (or vice versa).


On specific foot, holding paw up, sore on spot of lameness, swelling (when touched does indent stay and for how long, or does it return to shape), does swelling feel soft or firm, hot to the touch, pain on rotation of joint.

Ease of lying down

Speed of lying down, lying down with front or back end first, yelping/crying out, spinning before lying down, back end goes down fast but front end is slow to go down.

Ease of getting up

Speed of getting up, using front end more than back to lift up, yelping/crying out, using wall or something else as support to get up, takes multiple tries?

Seeking solitude

Actively avoids interaction, goes to room/area with no one else.


Increase/decrease in focus, excitement level, using food, toys, praise (combination of the three), reluctance to sit, down, heel, etc., enjoys or dislikes training, eye contact.

Vocalizing/moving in sleep

Whining, barking, snoring, paws or legs twitching (all paws?), moving legs as if running.

Female cycle

If your pet is an intact female; how old was she when she first came into heat, how far apart are the cycles, are there any behavior changes or physical symptoms that accompany heat, what is the vaginal discharge before during and after the heat cycle look and smell like? Has she ever been pregnant? Did she breed and conceive easily? How did she carry, any problems delivering? Did she have plenty of milk, any problems associated with nursing?

Sexual issues

Any male or female sexual issues? Trouble breeding, masturbation, excessive mounting behavior, penile or vaginal discharges related or unrelated to heat?

In general what are the effects of heat, cold, bathing, lying down, walking around, first getting up? Unusually tired or excited by company or being left alone? Wanting to be held/clingy vs. wanting to be left alone, looking for dark, quiet spots. Any trait or habit that is different in this individual compared to others that you have known is especially significant.

All of these details are not meant to overwhelm you. Instead, we hope they will help you get started.

Any detail is helpful. The more that you describe and record, the more clues that allow you to help your pets.

Try and dissect one particular symptom that your pet has.

We will help you do this!  You will appreciate and be able to promote your pet’s wellness. You’ll then better understand any dis-ease processes. Join us at Holistic Actions! (Sign up below).

Be well.

Dr. Jeff 

Join Holistic Action! Community and Receive Great Tips For Your Holistic Journey