Is Your Pet Healthy? Consult the 3 A’s!

Dr. Steinam discusses a fast and easy method to assess whether your “out-of-sorts” cat or dog is facing a serious medical issue that requires immediate action, or is simply just having a bad day. Using the “3 As” can help any responsible pet owner decide when to take action, and when to wait-it-out for just a bit.

A common occurrence in life is the ups and downs of how we feel. Some days we get out of bed feeling great, ready to tackle the world—other days, not so much. Maybe we slept in the wrong position, ate something that didn’t agree with us, were bothered by some incessant construction noise that was giving us a headache; there’s a long list of potential trivial things that may keep us from being at the peak of potential, albeit for a temporary period. Except for those times where we feel a little like a hypochondriac, these small daily insults rarely warrant a trip to our family doctor, or the urgent care center.

What about for our pets? How do we know if, when they are acting out of sorts, it is the start of something important, or if they just sampled a bug that is disagreeable?


Actual MBAH Client: Giovanni

When clients call our hospital in this situation (which happens more often that one might imagine), we have a fairly standard set of guidelines that we use to aid an owner in deciding whether to take action to seek care at that moment or not. I call these “the rule of 3 A’s” and these rules have a simple method to help most clients sort out what they should do.

First off, what are the 3 A’s? For me, they are activity, appetite, and attitude.

Activity in our pets is observed whenever they aren’t sleeping, so we have a good chance to observe their daily norms & capabilities. They do routine activities (get up from after sleeping, use a yard or litter box to eliminate, stretch & groom) both with us (taking a walk, chasing a toy) and without us (watching activities out a window, barking a warning). When they don’t follow their routine, we can run through reasonable & acceptable reasons for the differences (change in weather, alteration in the owner’s schedule owners, noisy activity within or outside of the house). But we are more likely to be alert to whether a trend develops. And if there is no plausible reason for the difference in behavior, then we start to wonder if there is something wrong with our pet.

Appetite, of all the 3 traits, is probably the easiest to assess, at least in a single pet household. Either the normal amount of food that’s put down is gone by the end of the day or it isn’t. Obviously, in a multiple pet household, the opportunity may presents itself for one pet to eat the rations meant for another, and thus inappetence goes unnoticed. But I would estimate 75% or more of owners are aware of whether their pet has eaten normally or not in any given day. And the key observation to make is “normally”, as there are more than a few pets who routinely have irregular eating habits. But those pets’ owners already know that, and can usually quickly pick up a change in the pattern of irregular eating.


Actual MBAH Client: Kibble

Attitude is a little harder to define, and may take more time to appreciate, but it’s also another area of observation in which owners excel. In assessing pets’ attitude, one looks at their routine demeanor—happy, grouchy, quiet, observant, excitable, laid back—as well as their interest towards interacting with other members of the family, be they 2 legged or 4. At the end of the day, a change in attitude—usually towards depression or dullness, but occasionally towards the other end of the spectrum and becoming hyper-excited or anxious—may be realized, and often is what prompts the phone call to the veterinary hospital to ask “is my pet alright? Should I be worried”

Chances are, if you’ve called Manhattan Beach Animal Hospital, my staff has asked you a few questions about what is occurring, and the 3 A’s were probably a part of the questioning. And the rule regarding these traits in a case of a pet that is not acting normally is this: if 2 out of the 3 A’s are normal, then it is not an emergency situation. If 2 of the 3 are abnormal, then it is best to schedule an appointment to be examined.

The beauty of the rule is in it’s simplicity. All 3 of the traits are fairly easy to observe and quantify, are usually similar day in and day out, which leads to quick appreciation of a contrast from normal. Without knowing what is at the root of the changes, they provide accurate feedback as to how a pet may be feeling. And the logic behind the two-out-of-three principle is that day-to-day variance may affect one of the traits temporarily, but a serious illness is likely to cross over and affect 2 or more of them.

Of course, nothing is 100% certain, and there are times where only 1 category might be off and yet a serious medical condition is percolating. And simple weather changes, especially when trending towards hot weather, can make any pet feel lethargic, not want to eat, and keep them from doing much other than rest. But a little more time will often reveal another category affected in the former, and a cooler evening coming on will usually reverse all 3 categories back to normal in the latter. So the rule of 3 A’s is a good measure to come back to at any time the health of a pet is in question.

Anytime you are unsure how to interpret your pets change in behavior call our Manhattan Beach veterinarians: 310-536-9654

Manhattan Beach Best Veterinarians

Manhattan Beach Cat & Dog Veterinarians

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 2705 N. Sepulveda Boulevard
  Manhattan Beach, CA 90266



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