Caring for your four-legged companion brings joy, comfort, and love into the lives of pet owners. However, determining the steps to take when your pet is injured, or their behavior seems different, can be terrifying and confusing. Most pets will experience a veterinary emergency in their lifetime, when a quick response time will help ensure the best chance of a positive outcome. Our Liberty Veterinary Hospital team wants to ensure you can recognize the clinical signs of a veterinary emergency, so we describe some of the most common signs in pets. However, never hesitate to contact us immediately if you are worried about your pet, whether or not they are experiencing the signs included below.

#1: Your pet is vomiting, retching, or bloating

Most pet owners have experienced the unpleasant task of cleaning up their pet’s vomit from the newly washed floor or carpet. However, how do you know if you need to rush them for immediate veterinary care, or they have simply ingested their favorite treat too quickly? Vomiting can indicate many underlying conditions, some that do not constitute an emergency, but some that are life-threatening. Large-breed and deep-chested dogs are most at risk for bloat, or life-threatening gastrointestinal dilatation and volvulus (GDV), which can occur following a large meal that was quickly ingested. Dogs with GDV will attempt to vomit, or retch, without producing any vomitus. If your pet appears nauseous or has a distended abdomen, take them for immediate veterinary care. Tips to further evaluate the seriousness of your pet’s vomiting include:

  • If your pet is still active, alert, and not vomiting continuously, simply monitoring the situation is probably safe.
  • If your pet is lethargic or reluctant to move around after vomiting, this indicates a more serious situation that should be evaluated immediately. 
  • If your pet is continuously vomiting, their vomiting does not improve in 24 hours, or they are vomiting blood, an immediate veterinary visit is warranted. 

#2: Your pet is bleeding, or severely injured

Pets who take an unplanned outdoor adventure, or those determined to chase the pesky squirrel across the street, are at risk of being hit by a car, or breaking bones. If your pet has a minor cut or abrasion, simply apply direct pressure to the wound with a clean towel or gauze. However, if your pet is experiencing the following, bring them for immediate veterinary care: 

  • Bleeding that does not stop after five minutes
  • Puncture wounds from another animal
  • Hit by a car, whether or not outward signs of an injury are obvious
  • Exposed bone, tissue, or muscles
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Inability to stand or walk normally
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Bleeding from any orifice
  • Pale, blue, or bright red gums
  • Vocalizing or biting when touched

#3: Your pet ingested a toxic food, chemical, or human medication

Many common household items and foods are the culprits in veterinary emergencies, including chocolate, raisins, sugar-free treats and toothpaste with xylitol, house plants, insect poison, cleaning products, and human medications. In fact, according to the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, more than 40% of calls in 2019 were attributed to medication poisoning. Toxicity signs may not be immediately obvious, so if your pet eats something other than their pet food or treats, call our office, the ASPCA poison control, or the Pet Poison Helpline to determine the danger of the ingested item. Although they are not considered toxic foods, avoid sharing your steak, burger, or other fatty foods with your pet. Pets cannot properly digest rich, fatty foods, which can cause gastrointestinal distress and inflammation, including pancreatitis, a potentially deadly inflammatory condition that can cause vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, and dehydration.

#4: Your pet is straining

Pets who make multiple attempts to eliminate without success, or who vocalize while attempting to urinate or defecate, may be experiencing a painful urinary blockage or constipation. Straining to urinate is always considered a medical emergency. Male cats are especially prone to urinary blockages that, without treatment, can cause death. Urinary blockages are caused by the presence of urinary stones or inflammatory debris that can obstruct your pet’s urethra and prevent their bladder from releasing urine. Additionally, toxins normally eliminated in the urine can build up in your pet’s body, and cause significant illness.

#5: Your pet is having a allergic reaction

Pets, like people, can be hypersensitive to certain foreign substances, proteins, grasses, or insect stings, and are at risk for severe, or anaphylactic reactions. The most common allergic reaction sign is swelling and hives on your pet’s face or body, although severe reactions may include vomiting, diarrhea, fever, breathing difficulty, and collapse. Bring your pet for immediate veterinary care if they have an insect bite, or are experiencing any allergic reaction signs, to prevent a life-threatening illness. 

#6: Your pet’s breathing is labored

Many pets are their human’s workout companions, and you and your pet will often breathe heavily after your morning run. However, if your pet is excessively panting, and they have not been exercising or playing, bring them for immediate veterinary care. Other signs of breathing difficulty that require immediate veterinary care include:

  • Gagging
  • Continuous coughing
  • Wheezing 
  • Open-mouth breathing, or panting, in cats
  • Pale, grey, or blue-tinged gums
  • Abdominal muscle contraction while heavily breathing 

Our Liberty Veterinary Hospital team understands how worrisome it can be when your pet is injured, or when they suddenly become sick. Call our office if you have any concerns about your pet’s health, or bring them to the closest veterinary emergency hospital, if it’s after hours.