Hi friends. Welcome back to VeryRealVet.
Let’s talk emergencies.
Specifically, when you should take your dog or cat to the emergency vet (and equally, when it’s OK to hold off a little and monitor things, or book a more routine appointment).
Couple of housekeeping bits first – I am a vet, but I am not your vet. If you’re in any doubt as to the immediate safety of your pet, or whether they require emergency vet care, you should be speaking to a local vet center specifically about your pet.
This is because my advice/any vet’s advice will vary depending on your pet’s age, medical history, combination of symptoms they are showing and a whole variety of other circumstances.
Make use of the information below as a guide, but it is not comprehensive; other emergencies certainly exist that are not mentioned here. Use common sense and, if in any doubt, consult your vet.
ACTUAL Emergencies – An Emergency Vet Visit Is Needed RIGHT NOW
- Any seizure without known cause. An example of ‘known cause’ would be epilepsy that is already under medical management.
- Any seizure lasting longer than 2 minutes, or more than one seizure occurring within a 24 hour period, even in known epileptics.
- Difficulty breathing: your pet may be unable to fully lie down even when exhausted, and may keep themselves propped up at the front. This helps them breathe better. They may be breathing very rapidly and/or have obvious movement of the abdominal muscles (“abdominal effort”) when they breathe. Their gums or tongue may develop a bluish tinge.
- Poison ingestion or exposure; eg, eating chocolate or human medication; walking through bleach; coming into contact with lilies.
- Any cat or dog who seems unable to urinate. In cats, you may notice straining and frequent trips to litterbox with nothing produced, or in the later stages, hiding and seeming painful and antisocial. In dogs, straining and a tense abdomen will usually be noticed.
- Fainting, collapse or unconsciousness. These are frequently due to heart disease, lung disease, or internal bleeding, for example from an abdominal tumor. Some abdominal tumors show no prior warning signs before collapse.
- A pet who is unable to stand, or suddenly dragging a limb or limbs (limb paralysis).
- Choking; your pet was eating, and now is clearly choking. This means there is something – usually food – stuck in their airway. You will note that this is different from coughing. Coughing is still worthy of investigation, but is usually not an emergency.
- Excessive drooling or frothing at the mouth, and/or apparently unable to swallow. This tends to mean there is an object stuck in the esophagus (food pipe) and this needs to be addressed without delay, by endoscopy under general anaesthesia.
- Excessive, obvious bleeding, or even small-scale bleeding that you cannot stop with 10 minutes of firm pressure.
- Any bruising that should not be there (check the skin and the gums for red or purple spots).
- Your pet ate an object that is not going to pass through them easily, either due to its size, shape or a combination of both. Examples include tennis balls for dogs, or string for cats.
- Any pet that is known or suspected to have been hit by a car. Get them checked over even if they seem OK.
- Excessive panting where there is a chance heat stroke could be the cause.
- Any obvious abdominal bloating in a dog, especially if coupled with obvious discomfort and/or wretching. Bring them in immediately.
- Any dog or cat who is acting drunk and/or disorientated. Toxin exposure, kidney failure, inner ear disease or a stroke may be to blame, amongst other causes.
- Snake bites.
- Wasp or bee stings around the face, mouth or neck, or if your pet’s face, muzzle or neck begins to swell after an insect sting.
- Bitches or queens that are struggling with birthing.
URGENT Issues Requiring A Same Day Vet Appointment
These issues are a step down from being true emergencies. You need to ask for a same-day vets appointment, but should not break the speed limit on the way over, or turn up on their doorstep unannounced in a panic.
The following issues do require same-day medical attention, but I would not consider them to be immediately life threatening.
- Any eye problem. Listen, I don’t fuck about when it comes to eyes. Your pet only has two of ‘em. I will never be annoyed if you take an emergency appointment, and it turns out to be conjunctivitis. I will just be glad it’s not an ulcer, or worse.
- Deep skin infections, or those which are widespread over your pet’s body.
- Severe or non-weight-bearing lameness. Keep your pet still in the meantime.
- Unable to pass feces for more than 2 days (cats) or 3 days (dogs).
- Excessive panting where you are sure heat stroke cannot be the cause, and your dog seems otherwise well.
- Your pet has cut themselves on something (but isn’t really bleeding.) Make a same day appointment and explain your pet may need stitches; because they may need a sedation or general anaesthetic, don’t feed them in the meantime. Put on a cone of shame, to stop them licking/interfering with their wound.
- Frequent vomiting (ie, multiple times over several hours). This is urgent because of the possibility of dehydration developing. Book an appointment for the soonest they can see you, and monitor your pet for signs of dehydration in the meantime.
Signs of clinical dehydration that an owner might notice include dullness/listlessness, or a reduced capillary refill time (CRT).
I’ve gone ahead and filmed you a short video showing how you can check your pet’s CRT yourself at home:
- Frequent , explosive diarrhea; as with frequent vomiting (above) your pet is at risk of developing dehydration. If signs of significant dehydration have already developed, you need to see a vet without any delay.
- Rectal temperature over 40.0 degrees C / 104 degrees F.
– Note again, if there is a chance this could be due to heat stroke then this is an emergency as per the category above. When heat stroke is at play, every minute counts, and you should be turning up on your vet’s doorstep in a rush!
- Large amounts of blood in the feces or urine.
Stuff That Is Fine To Wait A Couple Of Days
It’s nearly always beneficial to take your pet to the vet the same day that you notice a problem. However, sometimes, life gets in the way! Or sometimes, your vet is already fully booked that day.
If your dog or cat are experiencing one of the issues listed below, you should feel confident that they can safely wait a couple of days to see a vet if necessary, as long as they are not getting worse in the meantime.
- Frequent coughing. Make a routine appointment for some point over the next couple days, and monitor your pet closely in the meantime. You need a same-day appointment if the coughing is non-stop. As far as I’m concerned, you only need to take an emergency appointment if it’s coupled with difficulty breathing.
- Small amounts/specks of blood in the feces or urine.
- Ear infections.
- Superficial skin infections which are not widespread over your pet’s body.
- Mild to moderate lameness. Don’t walk your pet in the meantime.
- Reduced appetite. Make a routine appointment day you notice the reduced appetite. Bring it forward to an urgent/same-day appointment IF your cat goes more than 2 days without eating, or your dog goes more than 3 days.
- “He’s just not himself”. I do understand, he’s your baby. But this is a brutally honest blog. Book a routine appointment. Monitor him in the meantime. Bring it forward if necessary, or if other signs develop. The vast, vast majority of these “he’s just not himself” cases that I see, turn out not to be emergencies, and frequently take an emergency slot away that somebody else’s pet desperately needed.
If you have time (that is, if you don’t have an emergency on your hands), you may enjoy the following: