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16 Signs to Seek Immediate Emergency Care for Your Pets


Americans share their lives and their homes with nearly 78 million pet dogs and 94 million cats. For many, these pets are just like furry members of the family. And why wouldn’t they be?

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Most pet owners (57 percent) said their pets are more likely than their significant other to give them a kiss when they return home, according to a survey conducted by Bissell Homecare, Inc. And 75 percent of pet owners say their pets are loyal companions and part of their family, according to Hartz's Human-Animal Bond Survey.

One in three pet owners would even take their pets to work with them if they could!

As you might suspect (or already know if you’re a pet owner yourself), when it comes to their pet’s health, most owners will spare no expense. In fact, Hartz’s survey found that 32 percent of pet owners say money is no object when it comes to their pets’ health, while 33 percent would take their pets to a special pet dentist or pet allergist.

So it goes without saying that when it comes to emergencies, pet owners want to be informed and ready to take action to save their pet’s life if a dangerous situation arises.

The first step to this is locating your nearest 24-hour emergency animal hospital, and becoming familiar with how to get there.

Next, you’ll need to know the signs to watch for ... signs that indicate your pet is in serious trouble and needs to get to a vet, fast.

Generally, cats and dogs do not make noise when they’re sick, unless they’re in extreme pain. Cats may purr if they’re sick (but they may also purr when they’re happy), while dogs may try to hide an illness from you, lest you cast them out of your family “pack.”


Dog owners spend an average of $225 on routine veterinary visits, while cat owners spend $203.

This is why being aware of the following signs and symptoms is extremely important for your pet’s health. As you’ll read, some are problems you might not expect, and catching them early can make the difference between life and death to your pet.

16 Signs Your Pet Needs Emergency Care

  1. Swollen, tight abdomen: This is a symptom of bloat in dogs. Bloat is the second leading killer in dogs (after cancer) and can kill a dog in less than an hour. Bloat occurs when a dog swallows too much air (from eating too fast, for instance) and the stomach swells, rotates and twists, blocking veins in the abdomen and leading to shock and organ damage. Other symptoms of bloat that should never be ignored include a hunched up appearance and numerous attempts to vomit (often unsuccessfully).

  1. Labored or rapid breathing

  1. Loss of consciousness

  1. Lethargy: This can be a sign of many life-threatening illnesses, including poisoning, rabies, brucellosis and more.

  1. Bloody diarrhea: Sometimes caused by bacterial infection from E. coli or campylobacter (dysentery in humans).

  1. Thick mucous from the anus (without a bowel movement): This may indicate a bowel obstruction, which can be life-threatening.

  1. Vomiting blood: May occur if your pet ate something sharp (that caused puncture wounds) or may indicate poisoning, ulcers, blood disorders or cancer.

  1. Collapse, paralysis or sudden inability to walk or stand: This could be due to shock, poisoning, electrocution or other causes.

  1. Heatstroke: Heavy panting, rapid pulse, vomiting and lethargy are all danger signs if your pet has been outdoors in hot weather. If you notice any of these, bring your pet inside and apply cool, wet towels. Get to the emergency vet immediately.

  1. Dehydration: If your pet has had severe diarrhea, he may be severely dehydrated. A sign of this is skin or fur that loses its elasticity and doesn't snap back when gently pulled.

  1. Excessive bleeding: This can be caused by a road accident, an attack by a wild or loose animal, or a fall.

  1. Seizures: This can result from a head injury or epilepsy.

  1. Unusual temperature or change in body temperature: A fever over 105 degrees F, or a temperature under 98 degrees F (hypothermia) needs immediate attention.

  1. Broken bones

  1. Pale gums

  1. Week or rapid pulse

Tips to Stabilize Your Pet During or Before Transport

If you notice any of the signs above, your pet needs emergency medical care. Ideally, you should have the location and phone number of your emergency vet clinic stored in an easily accessible place so you can access it quickly when you need it, and get to help as quickly as possible.

However, there may be cases when a bit of first aid can help stabilize your pet for transportation. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA):

  • For bleeding, try to elevate the area and apply pressure to the wound.

  • If your dog is choking, use your fingers to try to remove the blockage from his mouth. If you can’t remove it, give a sharp rap to his chest (a modified Heimlich maneuver) to help dislodge the object.

  • To perform CPR, put your dog on his side, hold his jaws closed and blow into his nostrils once every three seconds (making sure no air escapes either your mouth or the dog’s nose). If your dog has no heartbeat, also give three quick compressions to the chest for every respiration until your dog resume breathing on his own.

Recommended Reading

Dental Care for Pets: Do You Need to Brush Your Dog’s Teeth, Too?

Pet Obesity is Now the Leading Cause of Preventable Death in Dogs and Cats

How to Keep Your Dog’s Ears Clean and Healthy

Sources Emergency Care June 1, 2005

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