How Your Pet’s Health Offers Clues About Your Own

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You’ve noticed pets and owners start to look alike over time, but did you know that Fluffy’s physical condition can mirror yours, too? “A pet’s illness can be a reflection of our own health, especially when a disease process is heavily influenced by lifestyle choices,” explains Kathryn Primm, DVM, owner of Applebrook Animal Hospital in Ooltewah, Tenn. “In most cases, recognizing what is going on is enough to help both pet and owner.” After all, you’ve got extra motivation to make healthy changes if they also benefit your fur baby. Here’s what you can learn from three common animal symptoms. 

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If he’s anxious…Check your stress-o-meter

“People’s level of anxiety can dictate to some degree the anxiety level of their pets,” says Jim Lowe, DVM, a veterinarian with Tomlyn Veterinary Science in Fort Worth, Texas. A study from the University of Lincoln in England and the University of São Paulo found that domestic dogs actually have the ability to combine facial and vocal cues to perceive human emotions—which can make them attuned to your moods. Likewise, specific phobias can carry over to your dog, notes Stanley Coren, PhD, author of How to Speak Dog: Mastering the Art of Dog-Human Communication ($ 16, For example, if you’re constantly wincing during storms, it could cause Fido to develop a fear of thunder. Try easing tension in both yourself and your pet by doing something calming, such as listening to soothing music. 

If her grooming habits have changed…see whether you’ve been sneezing

Excessive scratching or licking in a cat or dog could be a sign of allergies, says Dr. Primm. (“Sensitivity to inhaled allergens tends to elicit a different reaction in animals than in people,” she explains.) And if you find yourself sneezing and coughing, you may be allergic to the same thing, like pollen, mold, or dust mites. Your vet can help nail down the culprit and, if necessary, prescribe meds for your pet. Minimize the amount of pollen that gets into your home by wiping down your pet with a wet cloth after time outside, paying special attention to paws and face, and changing your clothes and showering when you come inside. Vacuuming, cleaning your pet’s bedding and bathing her regularly can help with both indoor and outdoor allergies. 

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If he’s putting on pounds…take an honest look at your diet and exercise habits 

It’s probably not a coincidence that just as obesity rates in humans have been rising, the proportion of dogs in the United States that are overweight or obese has grown, too—by nearly 10 percent between 2009 and 2015. “People who follow a healthy lifestyle are more likely to promote a healthy lifestyle in their pets,” points out Dr. Lowe. Show your pup—and yourself!—some TLC with daily physical activity. And ask the vet for diet pointers for your furry friend. 

Red alert: If you spot respiratory symptoms (coughing, sneezing, wheezing) in your pet, it might mean that you’re both being exposed to potential airborne irritants in your home, like smoke or other environmental pollutants. “Animals are lower to the ground, where toxins tend to settle, so they’ll experience the effects sooner,” explains Coren. 

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