What to Do in Case of a Dog Emergency
There are times when you are certain that your dog has an emergency (e.g., hit by a car), and there are times when you are very concerned but not convinced that it is an emergency requiring immediate care. When in doubt, head to our emergency hospital. If possible, call on your way to let us know the type of emergency and if you will need assistance getting into the building and your E.T.A.
Do your best to remain calm and have a driver and a passenger hold the dog while you drive. We are staffed and equipped to handle all types of emergencies. Emergencies are very stressful, and it is important that you do your best to remain calm. Your dog will be soothed by your ability to remain calm and speak and a calming tone to him or her while driving it to the hospital.
Some types of situations may concern you, but you may not be sure whether your dog needs immediate care. In these cases, it is still best to err on the side of caution. Please call or just come into the emergency veterinary hospital. If you decide to call, our staff will do our best to help you decide the best course. Unfortunately, dogs will quite often mask symptoms, and so it may be difficult to determine the seriousness of the illness. We are here for you and will take care of your dog in the best way possible.
Dog Emergencies That Require Immediate Veterinary Attention
We have compiled the following list of emergency situations in order to help you decide whether or not your dog requires emergency care:
- Difficulty Breathing: This may be the most serious of all non-trauma-induced injuries, as hypoxia (low oxygen levels) and the events that follow can lead to respiratory arrest and possibly death if not treated quickly. In addition, when this is occurring, your dog is suffering and panicked. Difficulty breathing is an immediate emergency. It may arise slowly or acutely. Regardless, when you notice any of these symptoms, your dog is in trouble and needs veterinary care. Symptoms include labored breathing (this can be subtle, but it looks like your dog's chest is moving faster and more pronounced while breathing), making alarming noises, or a puffing of the lips. If you see or suspect these symptoms, seek immediate emergency dog care.
- Restlessness: Simply put, restlessness is when your dog cannot get comfortable. Restlessness can be a sign of many urgent or emergency situations. It can include excessive panting, inability to lie down comfortably, abdominal distension, or unsuccessful attempts to vomit. Restlessness can also be a primary sign of GDV.
- GDV and bloat are two of the most urgently life-threatening situations a dog can face. It is generally seen in deep-chested large breed dogs such as German Shepherds, Great Danes, and Standard Poodles. Some dogs will exhibit all of these symptoms, but others may only pant and act restless. It is essential for your dog to receive emergency care if you witness any of these symptoms.
- Seizures: Although a solitary seizure may not be life-threatening, seizures often come in clusters and can become progressive. Seizures have many causes, including ingestion of a toxic substance or medication. If your dog has never had a seizure and is not currently under the care of a veterinarian for a seizure disorder, we recommend seeking immediate medical attention.
- Collapse or Profound Weakness: These can be symptoms of a major illness like internal bleeding, anaphylactic shock, certain poisons, an endocrine condition, and some types of organ failure. No matter the cause, seek emergency dog clinic care immediately if your dog collapses or seems to be uncharacteristically weak.
- Major Trauma: It is essential to seek immediate medical attention if you have reason to suspect hemorrhaging or if your dog has fallen, been struck by a car, or gets into a dogfight. Remember, some dogs hide their injuries as an instinctual defense mechanism, so if something has happened that will cause you to suspect major trauma, seek immediate medical attention.
- Dog Fight: All dogs should be seen by a veterinarian after a dog fight. The bite wounds or puncture wounds on the outside of a dog are usually just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the amount of damage the dog may have sustained during the fight. This is especially important when a small dog has been attacked by a larger dog. A puncture wound on the skin may involve severe damage on the inside of the dog's abdomen or lungs, which include a lacerated liver or spleen, which will cause internal bleeding or a punctured lung which will cause hypoxia, and death if not treated.
- Protracted Vomiting or Diarrhea: If your dog vomits once or has a single loose bowel movement, he or she may not require any treatment other than a few hours of resting the stomach and a day or two of bland food. However, repeated vomiting and diarrhea, especially with the presence of blood, can rapidly lead to life-threatening dehydration. This can also be a symptom of major problems such as gastrointestinal obstruction.
- Struggling to Urinate: This could signify a bladder infection, which is painful but not life-threatening. However, this could also represent obstruction of the urinary tract by bladder stones, which is a very urgent condition. Because of this, if you do notice that your dog is struggling to urinate, seek urgent veterinary care.
- Not Eating or Drinking: This is a judgment call on your part. Your dog will not finish every bit of kibble in his or her bowl every time. However, if he or she goes for an extended period of time, like 24 hours or more, without eating or drinking, then seek medical attention.
- Coughing: Excessive and repeated coughing could be a symptom of kennel cough or eating bug bait. When in doubt, the safest course of action is a veterinary visit
- Loss of Use of Rear Legs: This is especially common in Dachshunds, Corgis, and other breeds with short legs and long backs. It can be a sign of injury to the spinal cord. This paralysis or partial paralysis is usually very painful, and rapid treatment can make a big difference in the outcome. This is an emergency situation, and you should seek immediate care for it.
- Severe Pain: This is always an emergency. If your dog is restless, hiding, vocalizing, panting, profoundly limping, or exhibiting other symptoms of agony, don't let him or her suffer, and seek immediate emergency dog care.
- Known Exposure to Toxins: We discuss this more in-depth in its own section on this page, but if you know or suspect your dog has ingested toxins or medications, contact the ASPCA Poison Control Hotline or an emergency dog clinic immediately
Tips for Getting to a Dog Emergency Room Safely
Although your dog might be very well behaved and trained, please remember that in an emergency situation, their instinct, as well as feelings of pain or fear, could lead them to bite you if you attempt to secure them. If your dog needs to be transported to a dog emergency room, you have a responsibility to ensure no subsequent injuries occur to any party. Follow these tips for safely transporting your canine companion to an emergency dog clinic:
- Approach your dog slowly and calmly.
- Kneel down and say his or her name
- If your dog shows aggression, you may need someone to aid you in securing and transporting your dog. Towels may be used around the head or neck to attempt to keep the dog from biting while you move it.
- If he or she is passive, fashion a makeshift stretcher and gently lift him or her onto it.
- Take care to support the neck and back in case they have suffered any spinal injuries.
Once secured, immediately transport him or her to an emergency dog clinic. If possible, call ahead to alert the staff to your pending arrival so they can adequately prepare while you are en route.
First Aid for Dogs
Sometimes, it is necessary to perform first aid in order to stabilize your dog before transporting it to an emergency clinic. Other times, first aid for dogs can be performed at home in order to save their life and buy you enough time to make the trip to a 24-hour dog hospital. Some first aid techniques you can use on dogs include:
- For external bleeding due to trauma, try to elevate the affected area and apply direct pressure to the wound. This could include constructing a makeshift tourniquet to isolate an affected limb. Most importantly, apply firm pressure with towels and keep pressure applied until you arrive at an emergency hospital. Placing pressure over a wound will help to stop the loss of blood.
- For choking emergencies, place your fingers in your dog's mouth to see if you can remove the blockage. Be careful not to push the blockage farther back into the throat, and mind your fingers to ensure they're not bitten due to fear on the part of your dog.
- If you cannot remove the object, perform a modified Heimlich maneuver by giving a sharp rap to your dog's chest. This should help dislodge the object. We recommend learning how to perform this maneuver beforehand in order to minimize the risk of injury in the case of an actual dog emergency.
We recommend learning various ways to perform first aid for dogs. The only way to be prepared in an emergency situation is to educate yourself before any emergency occurs.
How to Perform CPR on Your Dog
It is a very good idea to know how to perform CPR on both humans and animals because you never know when you might need to use it to save a life. Performing CPR on your dog may be necessary if he or she remains unconscious after you have removed an obstruction. If a dog emergency like this occurs, take the following steps to perform CPR on your beloved canine companion:
- First, check to see if he or she is breathing.
- If not, place him or her on their side and perform artificial respiration by extending the head and neck, holding the jaws closed, and blowing into the nostrils once every three seconds
- Make sure no air escapes between your mouth and their nose
- If you don't feel a heartbeat, incorporate cardiac massage while administering artificial respiration. This includes three quick, firm chest compressions for every respiration until your dog resumes breathing on his or her own
What to Do if Your Dog Eats Something Poisonous
If you see your dog ingest a toxic substance, or even if you suspect that he or she has, it is important to seek emergency dog care immediately.
Go directly to the veterinarian. Bring the bottle or know the type of medication or poison ingested. Call on your way in and tell them what the dog ingested and how long ago it was ingested, and the amount.