Pet Toxins Urgent Care

Pet Emergencies – What You Need to Know

Pet Emergencies

First let me say this: If you notice any abnormal signs or symptoms with your pet, call your family veterinarian or a veterinary emergency hospital right away.

Now let’s get into it. I practiced at an emergency hospital for pets for almost ten years. It’s a hard job and it is even harder trying to save furry family members that have been hit by a car, or delivering a cancer diagnosis to worried owners.

Your pet depends on you to notice when something is wrong with them. They are not able to verbally communicate with us, but usually, you will observe that they are not going about their routine as normal.

 When cats are sick, they like to hide under beds or in closets. If your cat is normally a social butterfly, and you suddenly can’t find him or her, or find them in a random spot in your house or apartment, that can be the first sign that something is up.

Dogs too will hide when they aren’t feeling well, and sometimes they will become lethargic or stop eating. Of course, there are several other ways in which a dog may show you that they are sick, but my main point is that they will show you behavior that (if you are observant) can tip you off that they may need a check-up.

In other instances, their symptoms are very obvious (vomiting, limping or even a skin wound).

I’m going to provide a list of common emergency signs and symptoms that you should watch for in your pet. This list is by no means comprehensive, but it contains pertinent information as to what to keep an eye out for and what you should or should not do in certain situations.


Diarrhea could be a sign of something mild (like eating a few pieces of bacon), or it could be a sign of something more serious going on. Contact a Veterinarian if:

  • The diarrhea lasts for more than 24 hours.
  • There is blood in the diarrhea.
  • Your pet is also vomiting, lethargic, weak, or not eating.


Vomiting can be a symptom to be concerned about. Seek veterinary care immediately if:

  • Your pet is having non-productive vomiting (also called dry heaving or retching).
  • Blood is seen or what looks like black coffee grounds in the vomit.
  • Your pet vomits several times and/or has difficulty breathing after vomiting.


Signs include:

  • Not being able to stand
  • Uncontrollable shaking and tremors
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Abnormal facial movements and/or twitching
  • Paddling while lying on their side as if swimming

Do not restrain your pet or try to put your fingers in their mouth to grab the tongue. Move them to a soft surface and away from any furniture or objects that could fall and cause injury.

Toxins and Poisons

Symptoms of a toxin ingestion may include:

  • Vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Disorientation
  • Drooling
  • Seizures

If you know what your pet has ingested, make sure to take the packaging with you, or have a picture of it on your phone to show the Veterinarian. If you do not have the packaging and your pet vomits, take a picture of the vomit with your cell phone or bring the vomit with you in a leakproof bag.

You can also call the ASPCA Poison Control at 888-426-4435 or Pet Poison Helpline. A consultation fee may apply.

Heat stroke and Dehydration

I wrote an article on heat stroke but just to reiterate, below are some signs of heat exhaustion:

  • Lethargy
  • Excessive panting
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Weakness or the inability to stand

Move your pet to a cooler area immediately and use tepid water to cool them down with lukewarm or tepid water before taking them to a Veterinarian. 

Limping, lameness, or suspected broken bones

What to look for:

  • A leg that is at an abnormal angle, swollen or fractured
  • Your dog or cat is suddenly not bearing weight on a leg

Be careful when handling your pet as they could be in pain and may bite. Do not attempt to pull or set the leg. You could make things worse

If possible, carry them to your vehicle and get them to a Veterinarian right away.

Breathing: Rapid, Shallow, Trouble Breathing

Fast or shallow breathing is definitely a cause for concern, especially if the pet is at rest and has not been running or moving around. Check your pet’s gum or tongue color if they will allow it. Gum color that is white, blue, purple, or gray is abnormal, especially if they have collapsed and seem to be distressed.

Head Tilt, Circling

Circling to the right or left and/or a consistent head tilt can be signs of a serious disease like inflammation, infection or lesion in the brain.

Eyes: Injuries, Infections, Pawing at eyes

Signs of infection or irritation include:

Redness or swelling

Excessive tearing


Discharge (yellow, green, red, or gray in color)

Different sized pupils

If you know that the irritation is caused by dirt, debris, or a chemical, immediately flush the eye with sterile saline solution for 5 minutes and call your Vet.

Arching back, lethargic, restless, bloated, or distended abdomen

The above symptoms, if seen, are cause for concern, especially if it is in addition to lethargy, pacing or unable to get comfortable, whining or vocalization, vomiting and/or diarrhea.

Do not give your pet food or water as it could cause vomiting and make it worse.


You may immediately flush the area with cool water for 3-5 minutes. Apply a cool compress or ice pack wrapped in a thin towel or cloth to the burned area for 5-10 minutes. NEVER apply an ice pack directly to a pet’s skin.

Bites from Snakes and Insects

Snake bites: If you’re outside with your dog and you hear a yelp and notice immediate swelling anywhere on their body, call your Vet. The most common places dogs get bitten by a snake are on the nose, muzzle or chest area. If you happen to see the snake, try to remember what it looks like so you can describe it to the Vet, or take a quick picture of it with your cell phone (from a safe distance). 

Insects: Signs of an allergic reaction to an insect bite include

  • Vomiting
  • Swollen eyelids or muzzle
  • Hives
  • Fever
  • Labored breathing
  • Diarrhea
  • Chewing at feet

Bite wounds, Bleeding, Cuts and Lacerations

If you cannot get to a veterinary clinic immediately, you may gently flush wounds with a saline solution. A soft wrap or bandage can be lightly placed over any large wound (you can make one out of a small towel, sock, and athletic tape). Apply gentle pressure to stop bleeding. DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES USE A TOURNIQUET.

Also, do not apply any topical solutions or medications like hydrogen peroxide, alcohol, or antibiotic ointment unless directed to do so by a Veterinarian.

Abnormal Urination

Any type of abnormal urination (especially in a cat) has the potential to be a life-threatening emergency. Look for these signs in your pet:

Last but not least ( only because I live in Florida so this isn’t an issue here)…

Cold Weather and Frostbite

Signs of Frostbite include:

  • Lethargy
  • Weakness or the inability to stand
  • Excessive and persistent shivering
  • Discolored patches of skin that are pale or blue

As mentioned above, if you see any of these symptoms in your pet, it is very important to either call your family veterinarian or take him or her to an emergency pet hospital as soon as possible. They will be triaged (evaluated by a veterinary professional) and the doctor will discuss what tests and treatment may be needed. It is best to remain calm, give as much pertinent information about your pet as you can, and be patient while your pet is being worked on. It is a good idea to bookmark this page or print it out and put it in your pet first aid kit or keep it handy for anyone petsitting for you.

For the love of pets,

Dr. Gina

Dr. Georgina Ushi is a veterinarian and freelance medical writer. She received her Doctorate from the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine in 2009. She currently works in the Tampa Bay area, providing compassionate care to dogs and cats. Alongside her clinical work, Dr. Ushi consults for pet well-being brands and writes health articles for her blog, Pet Health Love. She is passionate about sharing her knowledge to educate and inspire fellow pet owners. Dr. Ushi’s professional interests include emergency and critical care, wildlife medicine, nutrition, and hospice and palliative care.

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