When is it a Veterinary Emergency?

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When is it a Veterinary Emergency?

It’s 10 p.m. and you notice your dog has a bad limp. Or maybe he has suddenly developed a severe rash. Are these signs of an emergency that need an immediate trip to the vet?

Some emergencies are obvious. Profuse bleeding, seizures, and trouble breathing all require a vet’s immediate attention. But what about other symptoms, especially those that occur in the middle of the night? Since pets are genetically wired to hide pain and illness, it can be difficult for a pet parent to know what to do.

Here are the basics of what constitutes an emergency and the steps to take if you need to act quickly to save your pet.

Breathing Problems

A pet whose breathing is labored or who is choking, gagging, or has nonstop coughing should see a veterinarian ASAP. Wheezing, raspy sounds, and shallow breathing can all indicate oxygen deficiency, a life-threatening symptom.

Eye Injuries 

Eye injuries that include blood, an unusual discharge, or swelling around the eye can be serious, as can bulging eyes or sudden blindness. A call to the vet can help determine if your pet needs to be seen right away.

Severe Vomiting or Diarrhea

Vomiting or diarrhea multiple times a day, especially if it’s accompanied by fever, lethargy, or the suspicion your pet ingested a poisonous substance, calls for a medical evaluation.


Anything that’s bleeding, discharging, or is deeper than a superficial scratch should be seen. Bleeding that doesn’t stop within 5 minutes, or is coming from the nose, mouth or rectum is also considered an emergency.


If your dog has been attacked or bitten by another animal or hit by a car or other object, he should be immediately checked out for possible internal injuries, which could quickly become life-threatening.

Elimination Difficulties

An inability to urinate or defecate indicates your pup might be suffering from a urethral or intestinal obstruction. Both conditions require immediate treatment so toxins don’t build up in his body.

Inability to Stand or Walk

If your pet suddenly has difficulty standing or walking, or he is experiencing disorientation or extremely anxious behavior, it can be caused by serious neurological damage. Conditions like herniation, compression, or injury to the spinal cord are best addressed as soon as they’re noticed.

Allergic Reactions

Though they’re most commonly caused by bug bites, your dog might also have an allergic reaction to a medication or vaccine. If he develops hives, facial or throat swelling, has unusual vomiting, or loses consciousness, call the vet immediately.


A first-time seizure, one that lasts longer than three minutes, or several seizures over a 24-hour period can be a sign of toxicity that requires emergency intervention.

Labor Difficulties

Most dogs usually enjoy hassle-free birthing, but if your laboring dog has gone several hours between delivering puppies, call your vet immediately.

If an Emergency Trip is Necessary

The coronavirus pandemic has made trips to the vet more challenging. Because non-emergencies require valuable personal protective equipment that’s in short supply, some states have directed veterinarians to discontinue nonessential services. But if you notice your pooch behaving in a way that’s unusual for him, or if something just doesn’t seem right, he could have a real health problem that needs immediate care.

The best first step is to call your vet or a nearby emergency animal hospital. The staff there can usually ask questions that help determine if your pet should be seen right away. Even if you find out he’s perfectly fine, you’ll be glad to have your mind at ease.

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