Common Pet Emergencies

What is an emergency?

If your pet is in trouble, it can be quite difficult as an owner, especially if you are unsure if the situation should be evaluated immediately.  When in doubt, always contact your veterinarian or the nearest emergency animal hospital. Prescott Area Pet Emergency Hospital can be reached at 928-778-1990.

Common dog and cat emergencies that should be evaluated by a veterinarian immediately:

Allergic Reaction
Allergic reactions to food, vaccines, or insect bites/stings can quickly progress to anaphylaxis that causes sudden collapse, severe breathing difficulties and may lead to death. The first signs that you may see in your pet are often swelling around the face, the appearance of hives, and restlessness. If left untreated, it may progress to vomiting or diarrhea, difficulty breathing, and collapse. If your pet is having an allergic reaction it is important that they see a veterinarian as soon as possible.
Bite Wounds
In animal attacks, the initial puncture wound is just the “tip of the iceberg” as far as damage. Damage to the underlying tissues is usually much more extensive and there can be significant muscle damage or tearing present underneath these wounds. They may also penetrate into the belly or chest and damage vital organs. Infection is another life threatening danger. If you witness your pet being attacked by any animal it is very important to have them examined by a veterinarian as soon as possible to determine the extent of the injuries.

Rattlesnake bites are common in some areas of the country. The venom from a rattlesnake bite can cause many abnormalities in pets including nerve damage and damage to the blood components of an animal. Animals often get bit in the face, but bites are also seen on the limbs or body and you may or may not see a puncture wound. The venom will quickly cause swelling and severe pain to the area of the bite and then signs of bleeding abnormalities will become present. Pets that have been bitten by a rattlesnake need immediate assistance to control pain and to minimize the overall side effects of the venom. Please do not make any attempts to place a tourniquet or remove the venom if you suspect a rattlesnake has bitten your pet.

Bleeding (severe bleeding or bleeding that does not stop within 5 minutes)
It can be difficult for a pet owner to know when bleeding is an emergency and when it can be treated at home. Any bleeding from the nose, mouth, rectum, coughing up blood or blood in the urine is a true emergency. For other bleeding emergencies keep the following in mind: if bleeding does not stop within 5 minutes or blood is pumping out in spurts, soaks through a bandage within a few minutes or is dripping so fast that it makes a pool on the floor, it is a true emergency. Ears, feet, toenails, the tongue and the nose can bleed severely and may need veterinary attention to stop the bleeding. If possible, attempt to control bleeding by covering the wound with a clean absorbent compress and applying direct pressure while in route to your veterinarian or an emergency animal hospital.
Bloating, Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus (GDV)
GDV is often seen in large breed dogs, however, these symptoms can happen in smaller breed dogs as well as in other pets. A pet that is experiencing an episode of “bloat” or gastric dilatation will develop a bulge behind the rib cage from a distended stomach full of gas. In the early stages, the pet will try to vomit frequently without any material coming up. In some cases, the stomach will twist upon itself, causing a “volvulus”, which will obstruct the entrance and exit of the stomach as well as block blood flow to the stomach. Swelling of the abdomen becomes very pronounced, they will become very restless and painful, and the pet may rapidly collapse due to shock. This is an emergency situation that requires immediate veterinary assistance if the pet is to survive.
Change in Consciousness
A change in consciousness is a true emergency and may be caused by illness, toxins, trauma, and disease. The change may be seen as sudden collapse, tremors, staggering, sudden weakness, lack of responsiveness, coma, convulsions, sudden blindness, tilting of the head or biting at imaginary objects. Change or loss of consciousness may be life threatening. If your pet has any of the above symptoms, get them into veterinary care immediately.
Choking, Difficulty Breathing or Nonstop Coughing and Gagging
Choking may become a serious problem, even if the symptoms resolve within seconds. Choking can cause a build-up of fluid within the lungs and decrease oxygen supply to organs that may not show up for a time after a choking episode. Any choking episode, no matter how brief, needs to be evaluated by your veterinarian or an animal emergency hospital.

Difficulty breathing typically occurs when the lungs or airway is compromised. Some reasons for a compromised airway are trauma, allergic reactions, heart failure, toxins, infectious agents, or cancer. Any difficulty breathing should be considered a serious problem, requiring immediate evaluation by a veterinarian.

Coughing is a vague symptom of various problems that can occur in pets including viruses, bacteria, pneumonia, allergic bronchitis, and heart failure. Any compromise in your pet’s respiratory ability should be evaluated by a veterinarian as soon as possible.

Dental Emergencies
Dental emergencies may not be the most common type of pet emergencies, but it is important to know what a true pet dental emergency is. Facial or oral swelling, a fractured tooth, oral trauma (bone fractures, lacerations, puncture wounds), bleeding and excessive drooling should always be addressed immediately.

  • Facial or oral swelling could be caused from an abscessed tooth, infection or allergic reaction.
  • Bleeding can be a sign of severe dental disease or even a bleeding disorder.
  • Tooth fractures are not only painful, but they put your pet at risk for an infection.
  • Excessive drooling or unwillingness to chew food or toys could be a sign of an infection and if it is left untreated, it could lead to kidney, liver and heart problems.

Pets are great at hiding their symptoms. Many pets that suffer from severe dental disease will continue eating even though it is painful. While dental disease is very important to address, if your pet stops eating this may be a sign of some other type of illness and should be evaluated right away.

Dystocia (inability to give birth)
Dystocia is a term to describe a difficult or abnormal birth in a pet. This abnormality may be caused by a small birth canal, a large baby, illness in the mother or baby, or a combination of these causes. If your pet has strong contractions for 20-30 minutes without a baby present, weak intermittent straining for 1-2 hours without a baby, no labor for 4-6 hours with known babies still to be delivered, is in obvious severe pain, has abnormal green vaginal discharge, has a baby apparently stuck in the birth canal, or has a delivery of a dead baby, have your pet evaluated at your veterinarian or an emergency animal hospital immediately to decrease the chances of the mother or the babies dying.
Eye Injuries
Some animals are predisposed to serious eye problems. The obvious eye injury is when the eye is out of its socket. This should be treated as an emergency as every minute counts if the pet’s sight is to be saved. On the other hand, even the smallest eye injury can develop into an infected wound and loss of vision. Never gamble with your pet’s eyesight — always seek immediate treatment, even for minor eye injuries.
Heat Stress or Heatstroke
When pets are left in a hot environment or exercise in hot weather with or without water, they can experience an increase in their body temperature. As their body temperature begins to exceed normal, they will begin to pant, act lethargic, become restless and experience heat stress. As their body temperature continues to increase, they can start to stagger, their gums may be bright red or purple, and begin to have blood in their stool. When they start showing these symptoms, they are experiencing a heatstroke. If heatstroke is left untreated, multi-organ failure and death may result. If your pet shows any signs of heat stress or stroke have them immediately evaluated by a veterinarian.
Inability to Urinate or Pass Feces (or obvious pain associated with urinating or passing stool)
Straining to urinate is a symptom of more than just a urinary tract infection. Many pets will strain to urinate if they have crystals or stones in their bladder. Inflammation, blood clots, and cancer may also cause urethral obstruction (inability to urinate). The majority of the time, urethral obstruction is seen in male cats. However, urethral obstruction can occur in any type or gender of pet. Cats that have a urethral obstruction may appear constipated, make frequent trips to the litter box attempting to urinate with no urine produced, crying or meowing, licking at hind end and may become very lethargic or depressed. The lack of urination becomes painful and can quickly lead to heart and electrolyte abnormalities and/or rupture of the urinary bladder. If a pet is straining and is unable to pass any urine, it is a life threatening emergency that needs to be addressed by a veterinarian immediately.

When a pet is straining to pass stool or is unable to pass stool the pet may have a gastrointestinal obstruction. Gastrointestinal obstruction is a surgical emergency. Signs of blockage include repeated vomiting, loss of appetite, dullness, abdominal pain (dogs with belly pain sometimes adopt a bowing posture), and, if the obstruction is near the rectum, straining to pass stool.

If your pet shows these signs, bring him to the veterinary hospital immediately. Possible causes of gastrointestinal obstruction include a foreign object stuck within the gastrointestinal tract, intussusception (when the intestines telescope upon themselves causing the loss of circulation to the tissues), and constipation due to a large volume of stool that can become lodged in the lower bowels, colon or rectum and prevent the passage of stool. If your pet is straining to pass stool or shows any of the above symptoms, it is a life threatening emergency that needs to be assessed by a veterinarian immediately.

Lameness or the Inability to Move Extremities
Lameness, or pain of extremities/inability to move extremities, in pets can be caused by neurological problems (brain tumor, blood clots, stroke), trauma to the extremity (hit by car, stepped on, falls) or long-term chronic problems (arthritis, hip dysplasia). If your pet experiences any sudden lameness or the inability to move its limbs, the pet needs to be evaluated by a veterinarian as soon as possible to find out the cause and decrease long-term damage.
Pain or Severe Anxiety
Pets show pain in a variety of ways including pacing, agitation, panting, bowing, restlessness, vocalizing, rapid heart rate, and sometimes aggression. There are many causes of pain in pets including trauma, illness, neurological problems, etc. If your pet is acting in a strange way, and you suspect pain, have your pet evaluated by your veterinarian or an emergency animal hospital as soon as possible to find and treat the cause of the pain.
Seizures are episodes of abnormal electrical activity within the brain. They can be triggered by problems within the brain itself such as epilepsy, brain tumors, or brain swelling or other illnesses such as low blood sugar, electrolyte disturbances, etc. Seizures can occur once or in clusters over a period of time. Additionally, they may last for many minutes or just a short amount of time. For these reasons, any seizure may be life threatening. If your pet has a seizure, seek veterinary care immediately. Remember that pets that have suffered a seizure may have a period of time where they are not themselves. Please handle these pets carefully to prevent a bite.
Toxin Ingestion
It is common, especially in dogs, for pets to eat things that they shouldn’t or get into toxins in their environment. Toxins can be inhaled, absorbed through the skin, or ingested. Some common household toxins in pets include rat poison, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (Rimadyl, Deramax, Advil, etc.), Tylenol, lilies, moldy food, cold medicine, antifreeze, xylitol, chocolate, grapes/raisins, etc. If your pet ingests something that they shouldn’t, it is very important to have them examined and treated appropriately. Please contact your veterinarian or an emergency animal hospital immediately. You may also contact the Pet Poison Helpline for assistance/recommendations at 1-800-213-6680.
Vomiting or Diarrhea
Vomiting and diarrhea are some of the most common emergencies pets can have. Repeated continuous vomiting or diarrhea with or without blood have multiple causes in our pets. Some causes include eating something like the garbage, an intestinal obstruction, metabolic disease, bacterial or viral infection, etc. No matter what the cause, vomiting and diarrhea can lead to dehydration. Vomiting and diarrhea should be evaluated by a veterinarian if there is blood in the stool, if the vomiting or diarrhea persists beyond six to twelve hours or if your pet becomes weak or unresponsive. If your pet has severe vomiting or diarrhea, have them evaluated by your veterinarian or an emergency animal hospital as soon as possible. If you notice your pet frequently trying to vomit without producing any material, your pet may have the early indications of Gastric Dilation and Volvulus (GDV) get to a veterinarian immediately.

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