If you've ever called your vet and told them you need an appointment because, well, you don't know what it is, maybe it's nothing, maybe you're being too protective but SOMETHING just isn't right with Fluffy, what the vet staff probably wrote on that day's schedule was something along these lines:

11:15 Smith, Fluffy (F) ADR

ADR is universal veterinary terminology. It stands for Ain't Doin' Right. And, while it might sound like a joke, if you call any veterinary clinic in the USA and tell them your dog is ADR, they will know exactly what you mean and they will make an appointment for you.

So what is that exactly? The ADR dog or cat is usually a little mushy (yes, that's another professional vet term), generally has somewhat decreased appetite and thirst, and is acting oddly. More often than not an ADR dog is acting needier than normal, and an ADR cat is generally more antisocial, but exceptions abound.

ADR is an abnormal behavior with an absence of obvious symptoms or visible injuries. Fluffy may have vomited once or twice, had one urinary accident, or occasionally show a slight limp, but these are usually clues that the veterinary staff have to ferret out of the client, rather than obvious problems that are reported in the initial phone call. Most owners who call with ADR pets are embarassed about it, because they really don't have a concrete problem to report, and the phone call will often begin with them saying "you probably think I'm silly, but..."

If this is you, then first of all, relax. There's nothing silly about it. Just by making this call, you have shown that you are a responsible pet owner. Like an observant parent, you probably know your pet and his normal behavior, and if you think he's not doin' right then he probably isn't. Granted, every vet has a few hysterical clients who suffer from Munchausen's by proxy, but most of the time ADR is a sign that something really isn't right, and it just hasn't become obvious yet. Both cats and dogs are far more stoic than most humans, and their natural tendency is to hide their weaknesses. Cats are especially private about their ailments, and ADR cats can turn out to be hiding anything from infected gums to early stages of kidney failure, thyroid deficiency or diabetes. But dogs have their share of hidden illnesses, too.

Unfortunately, not all of these problems are cureable. But many of them can be managed successfully if they are diagnosed in time. Hyperthyroid, diabetic and kidney-damaged cats can live long, happy lives on a proper regime. Other problems like dental issues and tick-borne diseases can be treated. The key, of course, is catching the problem before it starts to damage multiple systems. If your critter is ADR, there's a decent chance you've acted early enough.

At this point, I should point out that although it is a valid reason to call your vet, ADR does not constitute an emergency most of the time. If your companion is eating, moving, peeing and pooping, and not showing limping, sneezing, coughing, diarrhea or vomiting, your vet is not going to bump other, sicker patients from this morning's schedule so she can see you. It is reasonable to expect an appointment in the next few days, though.

So, what can you expect to happen after you make the call?

Physical examination by the vet often turns up clues that may be enough for a tentative diagnosis of the empirical sort, AKA "let's treat for X and see if he responds". This may sound scattershot, but if your vet is confident enough to recommend it, chances are he's made the right call and Treatment X will work. When the diagnosis is not as solid, most vets will recommend further diagnostics - which usually means bloodwork. The most common screening panel checks blood chemistry, thyroid and a complete blood count. This panel, which requires 3 ml of blood, gives the vet enough information for a good diagnosis for the majority of ADR animals. Results should be available overnight in most cases.

Another diagnostic that is advisable for active outdoor dogs is the 4DX test that checks for heartworm and tickborne diseases. The three most common tickborne diseases - Lyme, erlichiosis and anaplasmosis - are all stealthy diseases that very often show no obvious symptoms until they enter advanced stages that are tough to treat, and all three have been found throughout the United States. Here in Connecticut, we find exposure to either Lyme or anaplasma in about 15% of the dogs we test. (Cats are fairly resistant to these diseases and are not routinely tested for them.)

One of the most basic veterinary diagnostics, which should not be overlooked in ADR cases, is a fecal flotation to check for intestinal parasites. The sad truth is that our outdoor pets are exposed to other animals' poop, and are prone to investigating and sometimes ingesting it. This is a wonderful way to pick up giardia, roundworms and other beasties. While these parasites are rarely the sole cause of an ADR pet's distress (typically they show clear symptoms like diarrhea or vomiting), the possibility does exist, and low-level parasitic infestations can make it hard to recover from other problems. A piece of fairly fresh stool about the size of your thumb is more than enough for a fecal flotation. It does not matter if cat litter or grass are mixed into the sample.

The vast majority of ADR cases can be diagnosed and treated based on some combination of these tests and a physical examination. Some cases will, of course, require other tests, while some will need only the physical and some actually turn out not to require treatment. Most of them, however, do have some kind of real problem. So if you know your pet's normal behavior and you feel that he ain't doin' right, don't ignore it. Call your vet.

If Fluffy could talk, he'd probably already have told you to.

Note: I am not a vet, I just work for one. I am not trained to diagnose your critter, so don't ask. Call your vet.