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How to Recognize and Respond to a Pet Emergency

Updated: Apr 25, 2019



As a pet parent, it’s likely you'll experience an emergency at least once during your pet’s life. The question is when do you seek immediate medical attention, and when can an emergency wait until the next morning. Our very own Jeanne Salem weighs in, admitting that “knowing what an emergency is and how to handle it is very important. I have struggled with that myself.” Understandably, many pet owners might not know how to recognize and respond to a pet emergency.


While it’s impossible to predict when your pet will have an emergency or life-threatening condition, being informed and prepared can help ensure the best possible outcome for your furry one.


Is it an emergency?

According to United Veterinary Specialty & Emergency, pet emergencies for which you should seek immediate medical care include difficulty breathing, bleeding (from any part of the body) that does not stop quickly with pressure alone, the appearance of a bloated, distended or swollen abdomen, pain noted while touching the abdomen, major trauma (falls, car accidents, large wounds, possibly broken bones), and ingestion of toxic substances.


Recognizing an emergency

Unfortunately, you might not always be present when an emergency strikes. To make matters worse, knowing when a health problem is a serious concern can be a tough call. Recognizing an emergency can be a matter of being vigilant and aware of what’s going on with your pet. Listen to your gut when something feels off with your pet’s behavior. For example, a common sign of distress like pacing can indicate your pet is in severe pain. Know that this is always an emergency. If your pet is exhibiting this or other symptoms of agony, don't let them suffer and take them to the vet.


Let’s take a closer look at some common symptoms of pet emergencies that require immediate medical attention:

  • Difficulty breathing, choking, or constant coughing and gagging

  • Seizures

  • Difficulty urinating or passing stool, or obvious pain associated with urinating or passing stool

  • Severe and repeated vomiting and diarrhea, especially if the liquid appears bloody

  • Blunt force trauma

  • Severe bleeding or bleeding that doesn't stop within five minutes

  • Bleeding from nose, mouth, rectum, coughing up blood, or blood in urine

  • Severe pain or extreme anxiety

  • Heat stress or heatstroke

  • Refusal to drink for 24 hours or more

  • Sudden weakness in or dragging back legs

  • Unconsciousness

These are just some of the common symptoms that require immediate medical attention, and not meant to list out every possible emergency scenario. Therefore, if you can’t tell whether your pet needs emergency attention, it’s always advisable to call your veterinarian at the very minimum.


Responding to an emergency

Seeing your pet's health threatened in an emergency situation can be incredibly stressful and chaotic.

  • Try to remain calm, as doing so and speaking in a calm tone can help soothe your suffering pet. Equally important is to be cautious when moving your pet, as animals in pain will often bite. If your pet is injured or becomes severely ill:

  • Remain calm

  • Do NOT attempt home remedies

  • Call your veterinarian or the nearest emergency clinic

  • Be cautious when moving your pet, animals in pain often become aggressive

  • Have your pets records and medications readily available in case of an emergency

  • If you suspect your pet may have ingested something, including a poison or toxic substance such as antifreeze, xylitol, chocolate, rodent poison, etc., save the packaging to show your veterinarian

As a precaution, remember that if you are unsure or have any concerns regarding your pet's health it’s always best to consult your veterinarian. The ASPCA also offers the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) mobile app, which is great tool with resources for pet parents in the event of an emergency.


How to safely transport your sick or injured pet

An animal that is injured or in extreme pain, may act aggressively. Before attempting to move them, you'll need to protect yourself and then support your pet’s neck and back in case they’ve suffered a spinal injury.


The ASPCA recommends the following advice for transporting injured animals:


“For dogs: Approach your dog slowly and calmly; kneel down and say his name. If the dog shows aggression, call for help. If he’s passive, fashion a makeshift stretcher and gently lift him onto it. Take care to support his neck and back in case he’s suffered any spinal injuries.


For cats: Gently place a blanket or towel over the cat’s head to prevent biting; then slowly lift the cat and place her in an open-topped carrier or box. Take care to support the cat’s head and avoid twisting her neck in case she’s suffered a spinal injury.”


However, if you don’t feel comfortable transporting your pet, another option is to enlist the help of a reliable pet transport service like 360 Pet Cab, which offers local emergency pet transport. With professional emergency medical technicians (EMT) and registered veterinary technicians (RVT) trained in safely transporting ill and injured pets, 360 Pet Cab can help relieve some of the stress that comes with transporting your pet in an emergency. 360 Pet Cab can also be reached at 833-738-2838.

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