Conditions

All pets with an emergency listed below should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Pet Emergency Conditions

The following emergencies can be quickly life-threatening and necessitate an immediate response.

Allergic Reactions

Signs:

  • Swelling and/or redness around the lips and/or eyes
  • Swelling around the face and/or neck
  • Pale gums
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Vomiting
  • Staggering, weakness, collapse, severe itching, hives

Common causes:

  • Insect bites
  • Vaccines
  • Drugs (i.e., antibiotics, accidental ingestion of human medications)

First aid:

  • Call or take your pet to the veterinarian or after-hours emergency clinic.
Bleeding

Signs:

  • Arterial blood is generally bright red and squirts with the pulse
  • Venous blood is generally purple/red and oozes
  • Coffee ground appearance in vomitus, or bright red blood in vomitus
  • Black tarry stool or frank blood in the stool

Common causes:

  • Trauma
  • Rodenticide toxicity
  • Other anticoagulants, including Aspirin

First aid:

  • Apply pressure to the area that is bleeding, taking care to not get bit by the animal
  • Don’t remove bandages that are soaked through; apply new bandages on top
Bloat

Signs:

  • Excessive drooling, often thick and ropy saliva
  • Unproductive vomiting and retching
    • A dog may produce frothy, foamy material in small quantities
  • Agitated, uncomfortable, won’t lie down, pacing
  • Anorexia
  • +/- Abdominal swelling or bloated appearance

Common causes:

  • Deep-chested breeds are more affected
  • Hypothesized that may be due to rapid food and/or water intake, exercise

First aid:

  • There are no home treatments for bloat, and the pet should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Blocked Cat

Signs:

  • Frequent trips to the litter box
  • Straining to urinate and not producing urine or producing very small amounts
  • Blood in the urine
  • Vocalizing while in the litter box
  • Lethargy, anorexia, not wanting to move
  • Painful abdomen (cries or hisses when a cat is picked up or the abdomen is touched)
  • Attempting to urinate in odd places (i.e., bathroom tub, sink, floor, etc.)
  • +/- Vomiting

Common causes:

  • More frequently seen in overweight neutered males
  • More frequently seen in cats with a history of urinary crystals (may not have been diagnosed prior to blocked episode)

First aid:

  • There are no home treatments for urinary blockage, and the cat should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Breathing Problems

Signs:

  • Abdominal effort with each breath
  • Open-mouth breathing in cats
  • Cyanotic, or blue, gum color
  • Panting in dogs that do not subside with rest
  • Marked respiratory noise (may indicate an obstruction)

Common causes:

  • Allergic reactions
  • Upper airway obstructions
  • Asthma (more common in cats)
  • Primary lung disease (infection, cancer, other)

First aid:

  • Varies depending on the cause of the breathing problem.
  • Generally speaking, there are no home treatments for respiratory distress, and the pet should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Burns

Signs:

  • Moist red skin with no hair
  • History of being in the vicinity of a hot object or fire

Common causes:

  • Trauma

First aid:

  • Apply a cool, wet washcloth (if the pet will allow), especially if oozing or seeping
  • Transport quickly to a veterinarian
Compound Fractures

Signs:

  • Fractured bones that protrude through the skin
  • May or may not be associated with a large amount of bleeding

Common causes:

  • Trauma

First aid:

  • Move the fractured area as little as possible
  • Transport quickly to a veterinarian
  • May need a stretcher for larger dogs
Deep Lacerations
Signs:

  • Lacerations that have excessive bleeding
  • Lacerations that have areas of muscle and/or bone exposed

Common causes:

  • Trauma

First aid:

  • Cover the wound to control bleeding with gentle pressure
    • See bleeding
  • Transport the pet quickly to a veterinarian
Dystocia (Difficulty With Labor)

Signs:

  • Not progressing into the second stage of labor (delivery of puppies or kittens) after 6-8 hours of the first stage of labor
  • Foul-smelling discharge with no puppies or kittens delivered or knowing that more should be delivered but are not
  • Heavy, persistent flow of blood prior to, during, or after delivery
  • Mother exhibiting muscle weakness, muscle spasms, tremors, muscle rigidity, or seizures
  • Straining for more than 20 minutes without the production of a kitten or puppy
  • Weak, intermittent contractions for 1 hour without the production of a kitten or puppy
  • Passed fetal membranes but no puppies or kittens
  • More than 1 hour has passed between the birth of puppies or kittens
  • Intense abdominal pain and/or shock

Common causes:

  • Seen more in brachycephalic breeds such as Pugs, English Bulldogs, and Shih Tzu’s.
  • Large puppies or kittens occur more commonly in small litters

First aid:

  • To resolve dystocia, a cesarean section may be necessary and best for the puppies or kittens.
  • Call or take your pet to the veterinarian or after-hours emergency clinic for advice.
Eye Trauma

Signs:

  • Blinking frequently
  • Squinting
  • Conjunctivitis (pink swelling around the eye).
  • Ocular discharge
  • The eye appears larger or smaller than the opposite side

Common causes:

  • Trauma
  • Brachycephalic breeds such as Pugs, Boston Terriers, and Lhasa Apsos are more prone to having eye problems
  • Age-related change
  • Infectious

First aid:

  • Do not handle the eye; prevent the pet from scratching at the eye
  • Transport the pet quickly to the veterinarian
Gun Shot Wound

Signs:

  • Entry +/- exit wound
  • Wounds are round, +/- hemorrhage
  • May fracture bones, damage internal organs

Common causes:

  • Dog or cat has strayed onto the neighbor’s property

First aid:

  • Control bleeding if present
  • Transport the pet quickly to a veterinarian
Heat Stroke

Signs:

  • Excessive panting (dogs), open mouth breathing (cats)
  • Bright red mucous membranes
  • Weakness
  • Collapse
  • Hot to the touch (unreliable indicator)

Common causes:

  • Pets at greatest risk of heat stroke include…
    • Young (< 6 months) or old (> 7 years)
    • Overweight
    • Brachycephalic
    • Present or recent illness
    • Large breeds
    • Pets taking sedatives and anti-histamines
  • Windows up in the car while it is warm outside (doesn’t have to be overly hot)
  • Locked in a small room with poor ventilation
  • Heavy exercise

First aid:

  • Move the pet to a cool area
  • Rinse cool water over the paws, may use alcohol as well
  • Transport the pet quickly to a veterinarian
Hit By Car

Signs:

  • If the event is not visualized…
    • Difficulty breathing
    • Road rash
    • Limping

Common causes:

  • The pet has strayed out of the yard and onto a road
  • Pet is sleeping or lying in the driveway

First aid:

  • Transport the pet quickly to a veterinarian. It may be to wrap a large blanket around your pet for transport.
Poisoning/toxin Ingestion

Signs:

  • Dependent upon the toxin ingested (see the page on Toxins)
    • Muscle weakness, muscle tremors
    • Seizures
    • Petechia (red spots) of the gums
    • Vomiting, diarrhea, GI upset
    • Urinary problems

Common causes:

  • Toxins in the garage or household that are not stored out of pets’ reach
  • Accidental ingestion of human medications

First aid:

  • May recommend to induce vomiting depending on what was ingested
  • Activated charcoal is indicated in some cases
  • May call poison control (see the page on Toxins)
  • Transport quickly to a veterinarian
Seizure

Signs:

  • Uncontrolled body movements
  • Frequently lose urinary and bowel control during the seizure
  • Disoriented afterward
  • Is considered an emergency (seek immediate care) when…
    • Seizures last longer than 1 minute
    • Seizures cluster – reoccurring episodes
    • Pet does not recover from the seizure
    • More than 1 seizure per week

Common causes:

  • Many seizures are idiopathic (have an unknown cause)
  • Toxins
  • Brain tumors
  • Infectious (bacterial meningitis, viral meningitis, etc)

First aid:

  • If your pet has been prescribed diazepam for seizures, it may be administered rectally.
  • Move objects and people away from the pet to prevent injuries
  • If first time occurrence, transport the pet immediately to a veterinarian
  • If the pet has a history of seizures, may increase or alter anti-seizure medication. Discuss with the veterinarian.

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