occur suddenly and without warning. It is important for all pet
owners to have a basic understanding of common veterinary medical
emergencies and basic first aid for their pet.
Some emergencies are obvious. A dog
runs across the road and is hit by a car. Others may be just as
serious - but not as obvious. A German Shepherd appears restless
after a large meal and tries to vomit. Unknown to the owner, this is
the beginning of Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV), one of the most
serious medical emergencies in large breeds.
While no one can be prepared for all
emergencies, there are some simple guidelines and clinical signs
that all pet owners can follow and look for to help their pet loved
ones. Who knows, it just may save your pet’s life?
Are there any particular
emergencies then that I should look out for?
Listed below is a list of common
emergency situations with a brief description of their clinical
signs. This list is not intended to be comprehensive but should
serve as a guide. In any emergency or illness, be sure and contact
your veterinarian as soon as possible for more specific
recommendations and assistance.
This is a severe allergic reaction and is often recognized by sudden
collapse and severe breathing difficulties. There are many causes
for anaphylaxis that vary from insect stings, contact allergies to
injection reactions. You should seek veterinary care immediately if
you think your pet may be experiencing anaphylaxis.
Bites and fight wounds.
These are particularly serious if:
There is a lot of
They involve the head
(particularly eyes, ears, nose or throat)
They have penetrated
internal organs or the abdomen (stomach or groin)
When is bleeding an emergency? When is it severe? Blood pumping out
or dripping so fast that it is making a pool on the floor or blood
soaking through a normal bandage within a very few minutes is cause
for alarm. These are examples of severe hemorrhage. Ears, nose, feet
and even torn nails can bleed severely and need veterinary attention
to stop the loss of blood as quickly as possible.
Burns and scalds.
Unless you witness these injuries, they are not frequently apparent
until some time later when scabs or loss of hair or skin are noted.
This is because the initial injuries are masked by the hair coat. If
you see your pet burned or scalded, contact your veterinarian
Persistent vomiting and/or
diarrhea. Repeated or
continuous vomiting and/or diarrhea, with or without blood, could be
a sign of poisoning, obstruction or acute gastrointestinal
Dehydration is a major concern,
especially in small dogs. Contact your veterinarian as soon as
possible before forcing fluid or administering human medications.
You may inadvertently give something that worsens your pet’s
Convulsions or seizures.
A convulsion or seizure is a series of violent, uncontrolled spasms.
Seizures lasting for more than three to five minutes or accompanied
by loss of bowels or urination are considered serious and medical
attention should be sought immediately.
Eclampsia is also known as hypocalcemia, milk fever, or puerperal
tetany. It is a condition that not only affects nursing mothers but
may also occur during late pregnancy. Signs are vague and include
restlessness, panting, increased salivation and stiffness when
moving. This can soon progress to muscle twitching and spasms,
pyrexia (high fever) and death. Contact your veterinarian if you are
concerned that your pet is developing eclampsia.
This condition is characterized by bloody diarrhea and/or vomiting.
There are many causes of hemorrhagic enteritis ranging from a change
in diet to stress to intestinal obstruction. Contact your
veterinarian if you observe blood in the stool, if the vomiting or
diarrhea persists beyond 6-12 hours or if your pet becomes less
responsive or weak.
Also called heart attack, cardiac failure, and cardiac
insufficiency. How do you recognize if your pet is experiencing
As dogs age, they may suffer from a
condition called congestive heart failure (CHF) which may affect
either the left, right or both sides of the heart. The condition is
often undiagnosed until collapse occurs. Other signs of this
condition include coughing, difficulty breathing, bluish
discoloration of the tongue (and other mucous membranes), decreased
stamina and exercise intolerance.
A “heart attack” – or when the dog
collapses – is often preceded by exercise or excitement. The
inefficient heart is unable to pump blood fast enough and there is a
severe lack of oxygen to the muscles and brain, which results in
If you observe any of these signs,
contact your veterinarian immediately.
This can happen at any time in warm, humid weather. Most frequently
it is the result of dogs left in cars in hot weather with too little
ventilation. The signs are excessive panting, lethargy and distress.
Unconsciousness can quickly follow.
When do injuries become an emergency? This will be determine by the
type and extent of wounds and may be difficult to tell without
medical tests. Any penetrating wound to the chest or abdomen and
virtually any injury involving the eye should be regarded as an
emergency. Injuries to the head or causing difficulty breathing
should also be treated as emergencies.
Poisoning of any sort will be
regarded as an emergency. If you see your dog ingest a suspicious
substance, call your veterinarian. Your pet will most often lick,
swallow or contact toxic materials without your knowledge. Clinical
signs are variable: vomiting, diarrhea, collapse, skin damage due to
caustic substances, etc. Seek veterinary care as soon as possible to
help reduce the spread and further damage of toxins to your pet.
Unconsciousness or collapse.
This may occur with or
without seizure activity. It often occurs without warning, e.g.
sudden heart failure or following a blow on the head etc. Collapse
should always be treated as a medical emergency.
What should I do in an
Keep calm and try not to panic. By doing so, you will be able
to answer any questions from your veterinarian and help your pet
Contact your veterinarian. Explain what has happened and
follow the advice given.
Keep your dog warm and as quiet as possible
Keep your pet as still as possible when moving to reduce the
risk of further injury to limbs or spine.
Carry out any procedures (first aid) advised by your
Transport your dog safely to the veterinarian as directed.