Almost half of all Canadian households have a pet, and for many, their cat or dog is like family. Just like your human family, your pets can also suffer from illness.

Veterinarians say there are key signs to watch for when determining whether your pet needs to visit the vet, and knowing your pet is the best way to recognize if there’s a problem.

“I think folks are pretty astute at knowing their own pet, what it looks like, how it behaves, what it feels like, because they're constantly handling them, so I don't think most folks miss too much,” says veterinarian Dr. Frank Cook.

Cook says some pet owners can overreact in the beginning, but after a while they will know when their pet is ill. Cook says the best thing pet owners can do is listen to their gut instinct.

“Most pet owners that we see bring them in at the appropriate time,” says Cook. “With pets, they don't speak the language of course, so what you're doing is observing how they behave at home and how they interact.”

It is also important for pet owners to have a vet they trust and with whom they are comfortable contacting when something doesn’t seem quite right with their animal.

“I feel that I could call Dr. Cook 24 hours a day, seven days a week, it wouldn't bother me at all,” says pet owner Marise LeBlanc. “I feel he's like family and that he really cares.”

Cook says pets are like family in that they get sick and need attention, so recognizing a small change in their behaviour can help lead to a speedy recovery.