emergency dog care - chihuahua in red blanket

Emergency Dog Care

Canine-nine-nine: Does your Dog require Emergency Dog Care?

When your dog is ill, do you adopt the “Wait and see” attitude or phone the vet immediately?

As a pet parent it can be difficult to know if your dog’s problem is urgent or can be monitored for a while. To highlight the importance of deciding what is a dog emergency correctly, what would you do in the following situation?

Your dog has just come in from playing in the garden. He looks a little sheepish and retches, but nothing comes up. He keeps retching repeatedly…but nothing comes up. It’s late and you have an important meeting tomorrow…

Should you:

  1. Phone the vet as an dog emergency
  2. Go to bed as normal and check him in the morning
  3. Stay up and watch him for a couple of hours

How many of you answered (A) – Phone the vet as an dog emergency?

This is the correct answer because non-productive retching is a classic sign of bloat and gastric torsion. Without treatment this is 100% fatal. Even with prompt surgical correction the survival rate varies between 25 – 50%, with those seen soonest standing a better chance of recovery. You simply cannot wait and must act immediately.

Ultimately, you are the best judge and if something about your pet’s behaviour makes you uneasy, then always phone the vet. Describing the symptoms may be all it takes to put your mind at ease or know you must take the dog to the clinic.

But to further help let’s take a look at some common dog emergencies, by the way the signs and symptoms.

Common Dog Emergencies: Signs and Symptoms


  • Haemorrhage: Heavy uncontrolled blood loss is an emergency. Apply pressure to stem the flow and then phone the vet alert them you’re on the way.
  • Blood in Faeces: The greater the volume of blood, the more urgent the problem. A few spots of blood on a solid stool merits a vet check that day, but passing bloody diarrhoea is an emergency.
  • Blood in Urine: Blood in a puddle means a same day visit, but when accompanied by straining get straight on the phone.


  • Breathing: Rapid shallow breathing or heavy, laboured breathing, especially if the dog’s flanks move in addition to the chest or his gums tinged with blue – is a definite blue light emergency. Keep the dog calm and carry him to the car.
  • Confusion: Restlessness, pacing, or seeming confused can be signs both of pain or a neurological problem. Urgent attention is needed.
  • Fits: Most seizures last a few minutes so don’t attempt to move him, but make sure he is safe. Once the fit is over, phone the vet who will most likely want to stabilize the dog to reduce the risk of another fit in the near future.
  • Retching: Already mentioned, repeated retching that does not result in vomit being produced is a sign of gastric dilation and volvulus (GDV) – a serious emergency needing immediate action.


  • Broken Bones: Bones sticking through the skin or a leg at a crazy angle are definite emergencies.
  • Eaten Poison: Including chocolate, raisins, and rat bait, prompt treatment within 2 hours of ingestion greatly improves the outcome.
  • Eye Injury: A closed eye can hide a multitude of problems from a simple ulcer to a penetrating injury. Don’t take risks with eyes and get it checked urgently.
  • Heat Stroke: If conscious carry the dog to a cool place, offer water, wet his coat, and if he’s not improving within 5 minutes, phone as an emergency. This happens more often than not when people leave a dog in a hot car.
  • Trauma: If the dog is clipped by a car, seek emergency advice. Whilst he might appear bright, there could be internal injuries that cause collapse later.


  • Bladder: If your dog is straining check if (s)he is passing urine. If there’s no wet spot get the dog seen as an emergency, if there is a small puddle of blood-stained urine then the same day will do.
  • Bowel: Straining is not unusual with diarrhoea or constipation. If no blood is present then a same day check will do, whilst bloody diarrhoea is an emergency.
  • Whelping: The female dog who is actively straining for an hour with no puppy passed, or has weak contractions for 2 hours with no puppy, needs to see the vet.


  • Allergic Reactions: Allergies to insect or plants can result in bumpy skin or a swollen face. Of these, a swollen face is an emergency as the airway may become narrowed.
  • Belly: A tummy that swells within minutes to hours is an emergency. A slowly growing belly over several days should be seen urgently.
  • Paws: Swollen paws rarely life-threatening but could be due to allergy, infection, or heart / kidney disease and a same day appointment is ideal.


  • Collapse: Sudden collapse has many causes ranging from sore joints to heart disease. If the dog does not recover swiftly then phone as an emergency.
  • Drunken Staggering: A sign of neurological disease, stroke, or high blood pressure. Yep, this is an emergency.
  • Not Eating or Drinking: A dog that doesn’t eat for over 24 hours, should be seen the same day. A dog that refuses to drink for several hours, especially if accompanied by lethargy, vomiting, diarrhoea, or breathing difficulties should be seen urgently.
  • Unconsciousness: Emergency! Check the dog is breathing and has a pulse. Administer CPR if not, and then phone for help.

Hopefully you will never be in the situation of needing emergency assistance for your dog, but even so it pays to be prepared. If you don’t already know it, put your vet’s out-of-hours number in your mobile and be sure to know where dog emergencies are treated (It’s not necessarily the same location as your regular vet clinic). Also have details of your local 24 hour dog emergency hospital in your phone ready to go, just in case.

Have you ever been in the situation where emergency dog care was required?

Please share what you learnt by leaving a comment below.


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