Animal Diseases

Learn about animal diseases and how veterinary professionals make a diagnosis. This course will help you understand the principles of disease, diagnosis, and how to determine an appropriate course of action to help animals in need.

Course CodeBAG219
Fee CodeS3
Duration (approx)100 hours
QualificationStatement of Attainment

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Do You know When an Animal is Healthy or Sick?

 Develop a foundation for understanding diseases in animals.

Routine disease investigations are based on clinical, pathological and epidemiological evidence. If there is a need for conclusive identification of a disease or condition, an accurate laboratory diagnosis should be obtained. It is particularly important, especially in the case of infectious diseases that the final diagnosis rests on adequate aetiological evidence.
In most cases disease investigations are carried out by professionals (In some countries it may be prescribed who can or should carry out an investigation to give a a diagnosis). It helps for animal owners to understand and be able to recognise diseases conditions that may affect their animals, so that timely intervention can occur.

Lesson Structure

There are 10 lessons in this course:

  1. How Animal Diseases are Diagnosed -
    • How veterinary professionals conduct clinical examinations
    • gross and clinical pathology
    • information to collect and how to collect it (live animal and necropsy samples), specialist support services to assist in diagnosis (i.e. types of laboratories, specialist vets etc)
  2. Diagnostic Testing -
    • Pathways followed to detect and diagnose different types of diseases
    • information to be supplied with samples for diagnostic testing
    • diagnostic techniques
  3. Viral Diseases -
    • Characteristics of viruses and the significance of a range of viral diseases that affect animals
    • viral taxonomy
    • types and structure of viruses
    • virus replication cycle
    • transmission
    • some common viral conditions
  4. Bacteria and Fungal Diseases -
    • characteristics of bacterial and fungal organisms.
    • laboratory identification
    • controlling infections, specimen collection
    • important disease conditions
  5. Parasitological Conditions -
    • Discuss and differentiate a range of conditions that are caused by parasites. Terminology and classification
    • life cycles
    • protozoa
    • helminths
    • arthropods.
  6. Metabolic and Nutritional Conditions - Lesson covers a range of common metabolic conditions affecting cattle, horses, pigs, sheep/goats, cats and dogs
  7. Poisoning - Discuss and differentiate some common disorders that result from poisoning or toxins.
    • Cardio-respiratory
    • Central Nervous System (CNS)
    • dermatological, gastrointestinal
    • hepatological
    • haematological disorders
  8. Inherited Conditions (Genetic Disorders) -
    • Discuss types of genetic inheritance, and give examples of genetic diseases affecting horses, dogs, and cats.
  9. Other Conditions and Disorders -
    • Identify and discuss miscellaneous conditions such as allergies, dehydration, and age related conditions
  10. Research Project -In this project you will evaluate symptoms of ill-health or disease displayed by a set of animals, and go through the process of identifying the problem and deciding on a course of treatment

Each lesson culminates in an assignment which is submitted to the school, marked by the school's tutors and returned to you with any relevant suggestions, comments, and if necessary, extra reading.

How Can a Person Know an Animal is Sick?

The first step in disease recognition and control is being able to recognise when an animal or group of animals is unwell. By compiling information from the history of an animal or group of animals, conducting a physical examination, and undertaking special testing (if necessary) the veterinarian or government inspector is generally able to determine the cause of a condition or disease.

The following list outlines some of the more common signs that can be looked out for in an ill animal:

Common signs of an ill or injured animal

  • The animal not eating as much as usual – this is usually the first sign you will notice

  • It may also drink more or less water than normal, depending on the illness.

  • An animal standing by itself away from the herd

  • Animal limping or dragging a leg

  • Discharge from eyes, nose, or vaginal area

  • There may be abnormal lumps

  • The eyes may be dull and the mucous membranes may have changed colour. Deep red membranes indicate fever; pale membranes show anaemia; yellow membranes indicate a liver disorder, while blue-red membranes show heart and circulatory problems, or pneumonia.

  • Animal making unusual noise (bellowing, grunting)

  • Animal acting uncomfortable, getting up and down

  • The animal might be sweating. A cold sweat indicates pain while a hot sweat indicates fever.

  • If the animal is in pain it will probably be restless (getting up and down and pacing about), and it may even be groaning

  • Diarrhoea or straining to defecate

  • Animal not defecating or with very little stool

  • Animal urinating a lot, or not as much as usual

  • Marked weight loss or gain

  • The coat will look dull and dry, and the hairs may stand up.

  • There may the presence of open sores, dandruff, or the loss of hair or fur from the body

  • Behavioural signs - Recognise any significant differences in the behaviour of an animal such as increases in viciousness, lethargy or any other abnormal signs such as excessive head shaking, scratching, licking or biting of certain parts of the body

  • The vital signs of a sick animal will change. The temperature may go up or down. A rise in temperature of one or two degrees usually indicates pain, while a rise of more usually indicates infection.

  • The rate of respiration, and the way the animal breathes could also slow changes. With pain or infection, breathing becomes more rapid. In a very sick animal, breathing can be laboured and shallow.

  • A slightly increased pulse rate suggests pain, while a rapid pulse suggests fever. An irregular pulse can indicate heart trouble. In a very sick animal, the pulse is weak and feeble.

  • A sick animal may also possess foul breath or excessive tarter deposits on the teeth


This course will help you to more readily recognise problems with animals as soon as they manifest.
If you have always wanted to work with animals then this course is a great starting point towards a qualification.
If you work in an animal shelter, have farm animals, care for pets, work in a pet shop etc and would like to recognise the first symptoms and signs of a disease so you can call in a health proessional as quickly as possible - this course will help you to do that.

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ACS Global Partner - Affiliated with colleges in seven countries around the world.

ACS is recognised by the International Accreditation and Recognition Council
ACS is recognised by the International Accreditation and Recognition Council

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Peter Douglas

Over 50 years experience in Agriculture and wildlife management. Former university lecturer, Wildlife park manager, Animal breeder, Equestrian. Peter has both wide ranging experience in animal science, farming and tourism management, and continues to ap
Dr. Gareth Pearce

Veterinary scientist and surgeon with expertise in agriculture and environmental science, with over 25 years of experience in teaching and research in agriculture, veterinary medicine, wildlife ecology and conservation in the UK, Australia and New Zealand
Cheryl Wilson

Cheryl has spent two decades working in agriculture, equine and education industries, across England, Scotland, Australia and New Zealand. She graduated with a B.Sc.(Hons), HND Horse Mgt, C&G Teaching Cert. For several years, Cheryl managed the distance
Alison Pearce

Alison brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to ACS students. She has worked as a University Lecturer, has also run a veterinary operating theatre; responsible for animal anaesthesia, instrument preparation, and assistance with surgical techniqu
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