We all hope it never happens, but sometimes a beloved pet suddenly falls ill or is injured. Then we are faced with another dilemma—does the pet need emergency care, can the situation wait until our office is open, or will they get better on their own? Here are seven conditions (and some extra situations) that always require immediate veterinary treatment.

#1: Your pet is having difficulty breathing

If you think your pet isn’t breathing normally, do not wait to seek veterinary care. Pets who are struggling to get air into their lungs may produce loud noises with each breath, stretch out their necks, or flare their nostrils. They often breathe more rapidly than usual and put a lot of effort into each respiration. Bring your pet to Airway Animal Clinic or an emergency hospital right away if your pet appears to be in respiratory distress.

#2: Obvious trauma in pets

If your cat or dog is bleeding heavily from a wound, they need emergency veterinary care as soon as possible. If your pet gets hit by a car, you may not see blood, but they need immediate veterinary care right away because they may be bleeding internally, have ruptured organs, or be in shock. The same is true if your pet is attacked by another animal because what often appears to be a small tooth puncture can hide extensive damage under the skin. Broken bones and falls from high places also require veterinary care quickly, whether or not an external injury is apparent.

#3: Bloat in dogs and cats 

Bloat is another true emergency that occurs more often in dogs than in cats. A bloated animal has large amounts of air or food trapped in their stomach, and their abdomen will often appear swollen and hard as if they swallowed a basketball. Some bloated dogs and cats will retch repeatedly without bringing anything up and may experience respiratory distress because their stomach is so full that their lungs can’t expand fully. Bloat must also be treated immediately to prevent GDV (i.e., gastric dilatation and volvulus), another life-threatening complication where the stomach starts to twist on itself. GDV is a surgical emergency that rapidly becomes fatal if untreated.

#4: Toxin ingestion in pets

If you discover your dog or cat has eaten your personal medication, prescription or otherwise; ingested rat poison; swallowed antifreeze or household cleansers; or eaten chocolate, raisins, grapes, or food that contains the sweetener xylitol, bring them to our clinic as soon as possible. Never try to treat them at home. If you are not certain whether the substance your pet has eaten is toxic, call us or the Pet Poison Hotline right away. If possible, bring us the labeled bottle that contained the substance and any uneaten material.  

#5: Difficulty urinating or defecating

If your cat is going in and out of the litter box repeatedly without urinating or passing stool, or your dog is posturing as if they need to urinate or defecate but cannot produce anything, contact our hospital immediately. Obstructions to urine flow or fecal output are not only extremely painful, but also often life-threatening.

#6: Pets showing brain or spinal cord disease signs  

Pets showing signs of any of these conditions—seizures, spinal cord disease, paralysis, or unconsciousness—all need emergency care. Pets having seizures may lose consciousness and bladder and/or bowel control, or make paddling motions. Afterward, they may seem confused or be blind. With spinal cord disease, some animals may show weakness in their hind legs and have difficulty standing. Paralysis can develop, and may affect only the hind legs, or all four legs. An unconscious animal who cannot be roused always constitutes an emergency. 

#7:  Eye injuries in pets 

If your pet is keeping an eye closed or tearing excessively, they require a veterinary consultation as soon as possible. Eyes that are bulging outward or have suddenly become cloudy or misshapen are also emergencies. Eye injuries and diseases are not only painful, but can also rapidly result in loss of vision. 

Miscellaneous emergencies

Some emergencies don’t fit neatly into categories. Here are some other problems that require immediate veterinary attention, if your pet:

  • Does not drink anything for more than 24 hours
  • Has had more than two episodes of severe vomiting and diarrhea in 12 hours
  • Is constantly coughing or retching/gagging 
  • Is obviously in pain with signs such as whimpering, groaning, shaking, or hunching over
  • Is suffering from heat stress
  • Has been bitten by a snake
  • Is pregnant, and has been in labor for 30 minutes without delivering a puppy or kitten

If you’re uncertain whether your pet is experiencing an emergency, always err on the side of caution and contact us right away. We’re happy to advise you on next steps. We sincerely hope you and your pet never experience any of these scary situations, but if you do, the Airway Animal Clinic team is ready to help.