Your pet is acting abnormally. Is this a one-off event, or do they need emergency care? To help you understand when to take immediate action, Southwest Vet has prepared a list of common pet emergencies. 

#1: Pets with obvious trauma

Obvious trauma should be obvious, right? Unconsciousness, bleeding, broken bones, and visible injury should immediately be addressed by a veterinary professional. But, surprisingly, pets can walk away from significant physical events (e.g., hit by car, fall from a height, or concussive injury) with no visible harm. Although these pets look OK, they may have  internal injuries, such as bleeding and organ damage. Without rapid assessment and imaging (e.g., ultrasound or X-rays) pets can die suddenly hours or days after the event. 

If your pet has suffered a known physical trauma, have them evaluated by a veterinarian as soon as possible—no matter how they seem.

#2: Pets in respiratory distress

Pets who are struggling to breathe may extend their neck, breathe through an open mouth, gasp, and wheeze. Their gums and tongue may turn blue, purple, or grey, because they are oxygen deficient. If you can do so safely, check your pet’s mouth for visible obstruction (e.g., ball or chew toy). 

Respiratory distress can be caused by airway blockage or narrowing. Shock, blood loss, lung, heart, and diaphragm issues can also deprive pets of oxygen. Prolonged low oxygen levels can result in permanent organ or brain damage, and death.

#3: Pets with new, prolonged, or repeated seizures

A seizure can be frightening and confusing for both pet and owner. Seizures lasting longer than two minutes require veterinary attention, and those lasting five minutes or longer can cause irreversible damage.

If your pet returns to normal after a seizure that lasts less than two minutes, they are stable, and can wait for a regular appointment. Multiple seizures close together, or one prolonged seizure, are automatic qualifications for emergency care.

#4: Lethargic puppies and kittens

Puppies and kittens are especially vulnerable to dangerous viruses and can deteriorate quickly, because of their small size and undeveloped immune system. If your puppy or kitten is acting abnormally, refuses to eat or drink, or is experiencing vomiting or diarrhea, emergency care is recommended.

#5: Pets with excessive vomiting or heaving

Repeated vomiting, which can lead to rapid dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, and weakness, is always a concern. Pets with bloody or coffee-colored vomit may be anemic. If your pet is frequently vomiting, emergency stabilization with intravenous fluids and medication are essential until a diagnosis can be determined.

Heaving (i.e., unproductive vomiting) is a classic sign for canine bloat or gastric dilation volvulus. Bloat is a spontaneous condition where the stomach fills with gas (i.e., dilates) and flips or rotates (i.e., volvulus), cutting off circulation, and causing extreme pain and organ damage. Emergency surgery is the only treatment.

#6: Pets with white or pale pink gums

Healthy pet gums are bubble gum pink, unless they are naturally pigmented. White or pale gums occur when pets are in shock, or have experienced significant blood loss. These pets are in a critical state, and may pass away quickly from cardiac arrest.

Familiarize yourself with your pet’s normal coloration, as pets can vary slightly. If your pet is pigmented, look at the inside of their ears and eyelids—this may help you detect color change during an emergency. 

#7: Pets exposed to toxins

Many everyday items in our homes and yards are toxic to pets. Medications, foods, plants and flowers, rodent bait, and household items are common causes for toxin-related pet illnesses.

If you know or suspect your pet has been exposed to a toxin, don’t wait for visible illness. Seek emergency veterinary care and take the product—or a picture of the product label—with you.

#8: Pets with excessive weakness or sudden paralysis

Uncoordinated walking, limb-dragging, and stumbling can indicate spinal cord compression caused by herniated disc material or a blood clot. Because the window of time in which surgical correction can restore normal mobility is narrow, have your pet seen right away.

#9: Pets who are unable to urinate

If your pet is repeatedly straining to urinate, producing little or no urine, or crying out in pain, their urethra may be blocked by a bladder stone. Untreated blockage results in bladder rupture and severe metabolic imbalance because of the trapped waste products in the bloodstream. Cats are most commonly affected, although urinary blockage can also occur in dogs.

Emergency treatment includes urinary catheterization to push the stone back into the bladder, followed by a cystotomy surgery to remove the bladder stones.

#10: Pets with eye injuries or sudden swelling

Ocular injuries are incredibly painful, and can result in vision or eye loss if treatment is delayed. Common emergency conditions include foreign objects in the eye, proptosis (i.e., displacement of the eye from its socket), and glaucoma. Cherry eye, a common problem characterized by a pink bulge of tissue in the inside corner of the eye, is not considered an emergency, although it does warrant a veterinary appointment.

If your pet’s eye is bulging, swollen, or visibly injured, seek emergency attention.

Emergencies come in many forms and presentations. If you’re uncertain about your pet’s status, call Southwest Vet. Our skilled and compassionate team can triage your pet’s condition over the phone and determine whether you should bring in your pet or schedule an appointment, or refer you to our emergency partners for expert critical care: Austin Veterinary Emergency and Specialty at 512-343-2837, or Central Texas Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Hospital, 512-892-9038.