How to Recognize an Emergency Care for Pets

Your family vet will likely refer after-hours calls to a local emergency vet. Having the name and number tacked to your refrigerator or stored on your phone for quick reference is a good idea.

When you call, the veterinary staff will ask about your pet’s symptoms and medical history. They will then prioritize treatment based on your pet’s condition.

  1. Difficulty Breathing

Breathing is essential for life, and any breathing difficulties or distress in your pet should be considered a medical emergency. Many things can cause labored breathing, but most importantly, it indicates something is wrong. It is also important to note that this problem can quickly become fatal if not addressed promptly.

When an animal experiences this type of emergency, the first step is to call your regular veterinarian for advice. They will likely instruct you on how to transport your pet so that it can receive immediate treatment. Anxiety can exacerbate a breathing crisis, so if you are transporting your pet, try to keep them calm. This may mean wrapping them in a blanket or having someone hold them during transportation.

The veterinary staff at the hospital will check your pet’s condition and begin specific diagnostic and treatment procedures. The goal is to deliver oxygen and nutrients to the cells so the lungs will open and expand as normal. This may involve administering oxygen through a mask, bag, nasal or tracheal tube, or other methods. Other treatments may include fluid therapy, blood products, and medications to relieve pain.

In some cases, especially when an object is obstructing the throat or nose, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) may be needed. This is a sequence of chest compressions followed by rescue breaths. This is done by closing your pet’s mouth, covering their nostrils with yours, and blowing gently into the nose every three seconds (see this video on pet CPR for detailed instructions).

The veterinarian will then evaluate your pet’s condition to determine what is causing their breathing problems. This will most often require a thorough physical examination and some type of imaging, such as X-rays or ultrasounds.

  1. Seizures

Seizures are a common cause of emergency in pets. When a pet has a seizure, it is usually very clear that they need to be seen immediately. Whether the dog has ingested something poisonous or they are suffering from an uncontrolled epilepsy condition, seizures need immediate treatment to prevent permanent brain damage.

The first step is determining what caused the seizure and treating the underlying condition. For instance, the veterinarian may administer certain antidotes to reverse the effects of the seizure due to ingesting a toxin like Xylitol. If the pet is suffering from uncontrolled epilepsy, a prescription for an anticonvulsant medication will be given. Phenobarbital, levetiracetam (Keppra), and zonisamide are all common medications used to treat seizures in dogs.

If your pet has a seizure that lasts more than five minutes, it is considered a medical emergency and requires immediate veterinary attention. When you arrive at the veterinary clinic, they will quickly assess your pet’s physical state and assign priority care for problems like breathing difficulty, shock, severe burns, excessive bleeding, loss of consciousness, prolapsed organs, and difficult labor.

During the seizure, try not to touch the animal or hold it. This can lead to accidental bites. Instead, place it on a soft surface like a bed or couch where it will not be injured. Many pet owners also wrap their dogs in blankets or towels during a seizure, but this is not recommended. It can actually be dangerous for the animal if it becomes entangled in its bedding. If the pet is very upset or nervous after a seizure, a sedative might be needed to calm them down.

  1. Abdominal Bleeding

Bleeding is dangerous for any pet and is even more serious when it is internal. If your dog is bleeding from a puncture, deep cut, or any other wound, seek veterinary attention immediately. The veterinarian will assess the pet’s condition, particularly its blood pressure and heart rate. In cases of severe bleeding, the veterinarian will need to know your pet’s medical history, as this may be a sign of pre-existing conditions that could increase your dog’s risk of hemorrhage or prevent blood clotting effectively.

A vet can assess whether the bleeding is life-threatening and treat the injury accordingly, however, before this treatment begins, the bleeding must be stopped. For smaller wounds, using a clean swab or cloth placed firmly over the wound will help to stop the bleeding. This technique is called direct pressure and is an important part of pet first aid. It can be difficult to apply enough pressure with your hand, so a gauze bandage or sanitary napkin can also be used, especially for very anxious pets who might bite when they are in pain.

If your pet is vomiting repeatedly or seems very lethargic, this may be a sign that they are losing blood quickly and need immediate veterinary care. Other signs of loss of blood include pale gums, a low body temperature, and bruising or swelling of the skin. If the bleeding is causing shock (not enough fluid circulating in the body), the vet will need to treat this as it is very dangerous for your pet and can cause organ failure. This may involve removing the spleen or giving a blood transfusion.

  1. Severe Burns

Severe burns, especially those involving the face or legs, require immediate veterinary attention. These wounds can be extremely dangerous for pets and must be treated as such to minimize complications and reduce the risk of infection. Some signs to watch for include gagging or inability to breathe, skin that feels brittle or leathery, hair loss, and inability to feel heat or pain. A severe burn may also cause swelling and appear white or leathery, indicating that the skin has been burned to deeper tissues.

Severely burned pets should be kept away from water or anything that can wash away the skin’s protective barrier and could make the burn worse. Instead, cool the area of the body with cold water or saline and apply silver sulfadiazine ointment that can be found in most pet first aid kits.

Puppies and cats are notorious for swallowing objects they shouldn’t eat. This can cause a blockage in the stomach or intestines and may even be fatal if left untreated. If you notice your pet swallowing a foreign object, you should immediately take them to the emergency vet.

When your pet is at the emergency vet, they will thoroughly evaluate their health and ask for a detailed medical history. They will most likely separate you from your pet to evaluate them without distraction and discuss all available treatment options. This is a great time to ask about payment plans or care credit if you do not have the cash on hand to pay for your pet’s medical expenses. Many emergency clinics accept these forms of payment. They can also assist you in getting a loan to cover large, unexpected veterinary expenses.

  1. Loss of Consciousness

When a family member or friend suffers a severe health problem, you don’t hesitate to seek emergency care. Your pet is no different. Learning how to recognize when your pet needs immediate veterinary attention is a good idea.

When your pet faints, it is a sign of a medical emergency that must be evaluated and treated immediately. Fainting is also called syncope and can occur for a variety of reasons. Most often, it is due to a health concern that interrupts normal blood flow to the brain. Pets’ most common causes of syncope include neurological (related to the brain or spinal cord) and cardiac (including arrhythmias, heart failure, etc.).

The first step is to call your regular veterinarian. They will be familiar with your pet’s health history and have information on chronic conditions and underlying diseases that may influence treatment decisions. If your vet is unavailable, finding a local emergency veterinarian near you is the next best option.

Be sure to explain exactly what is happening to your pet. If your pet is unconscious, keeping them calm and cradled while they are transported is important. If possible, try to transport them in a blanket or use a pillow under their abdomen and in front of the rear legs for support.

Lastly, be aware of any signs of trauma or illness that may need to be examined by an emergency vet, such as a distended or bloated stomach (gastric dilation volvulus) or the presence of blood in their vomit and/or feces. This is a serious sign of hemorrhagic gastroenteritis or HGE. Without prompt veterinary care, this can be fatal for your pet.