When our pets are ill, they cannot tell us how bad they feel, making us question whether they are experiencing a veterinary emergency or a condition that can wait for a regular veterinary appointment. Sometimes an emergency is obvious, but at other times, your pet’s adverse health condition may seem vague. Learn to recognize hallmark emergency signs that you should never ignore—conditions that generally worsen if your pet does not receive immediate veterinary care, and will cause them suffering and distress. If you have ever struggled to decide if your pet’s condition required immediate veterinary care, check out our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Nederland team’s guide to common veterinary emergencies.
Respiratory distress in pets
Pets in respiratory distress are struggling to breathe normally, and their panic and fear may worsen the condition. Respiratory distress signs may include:
- Active choking
- Increased respiratory rate or effort
- Excessive panting
- Persistent gagging, gasping, or wheezing
- Open-mouth breathing
- Head and neck extension
- Abnormal gum color
- Flared nostrils
Numerous conditions cause respiratory distress in the upper or lower airway, including an obstruction or collapse, heart failure, lung fluid, cancer, shock, heatstroke, lung injury or collapse, internal bleeding, and more. While your veterinarian determines and addresses the underlying cause of your pet’s respiratory distress, they will stabilize them by providing oxygen therapy and anti-anxiety medication.
Unproductive vomiting in dogs
Persistent gagging, retching, and unproductive vomiting is a classic gastric dilatation volvulus (GDV) sign. GDV is a condition that can quickly become fatal, and requires life-saving surgery. During GDV, a dog’s stomach fills with gas and twists on its axis, which blocks blood flow and stomach contents, creating pressure on vital organs and major vessels. All dogs are susceptible to bloat, but deep-chested large- and giant-breed dogs are considered high risk. Act quickly if your dog displays any of these signs:
- Dry heaving or retching
- Excessive drooling
- Restlessness or pacing
- Painful, swollen, and hard abdomen
Bleeding in pets
Heavy bleeding can have an external or internal cause. Uncontrolled blood loss can rapidly lead to shock, poor oxygenation, organ failure, and death. If your pet has a bleeding wound, carefully apply direct pressure to the site, and immediately contact Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Nederland for further instructions. Internal bleeding quickly becomes fatal, and can cause your pet notable suffering. Emergency stabilization for internal bleeding is critical to relieve your pet’s pain and anxiety. Internal bleeding is usually less obvious than external bleeding, but signs may include:
- Unexplained lethargy
- Sudden collapse
- Pale or white gums
- Labored breathing
- Bleeding from the mouth, nose, or anus
Inability to urinate in cats
Feline urethral obstruction occurs when a calcified stone or mucus-like plug lodges in a cat’s urethra—the narrow tube that transports urine from the kidneys, through the urethra, and out the body. As the bladder becomes overfilled with urine, toxins accumulate in the kidneys, and the bladder can rupture.
Although any cat is susceptible to urethral obstruction, the condition is most common in middle-aged male cats because of their narrow J-shaped urethra. Affected cats experience extreme pain and agitation. Feline urethral obstruction signs include:
- Straining to urinate
- Frequent trips to the litter box
- Little to no urine output
- Behavior changes
Emergency surgery is required to remove the urethral obstruction, and an affected cat must be given fluids to correct any electrolyte imbalances. If your cat has had a urethral obstruction emergency, your veterinarian will likely recommend corrective surgery to prevent a recurrence.
Blunt trauma in pets
Traumatic events (e.g., hit by a car, fall from a height, animal attack) are always considered emergencies. Although your pet may appear fine after experiencing a blunt trauma, their adrenaline kicks in, and may mask potential life-threatening internal injuries, which may not be apparent until their condition is critical.
If your pet experiences blunt trauma, do not wait and see how they feel—bring them immediately to Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Nederland, so our team can evaluate them for internal injuries.
Sudden paralysis in pets
Sudden (i.e., acute) paralysis or extreme weakness indicates your pet may have a serious neurologic condition such as intervertebral disc herniation, spinal stroke (i.e., embolism), or a tumor compressing the spine. Advanced imaging, such as computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), is necessary for your veterinarian to make an accurate diagnosis. If herniated disc material is pressing on your pet’s spinal cord, your veterinarian will likely recommend emergency decompression surgery to eliminate their pain and restore their mobility. For the best surgical outcome, your pet’s procedure should be performed within 24 to 72 hours of their initial paralysis signs.
Toxin ingestion in pets
Household toxin exposure and ingestion commonly cause pets serious injury and death. If you know or suspect your pet has consumed a toxin, do not wait to get them veterinary care, because their clinical signs may not appear until their condition is grave or irreversible. Immediately contact our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Nederland team, and provide them information about the toxin your pet has ingested, including the length of time the toxin has been in their system, brand, and approximate quantity.
Uncontrollable seizures in pets
One isolated seizure is typically not an emergency, but ensure your pet receives immediate veterinary attention if they experience a seizure lasting longer than five minutes, multiple seizures close together with no break in between, or a seizure after a traumatic event or toxin ingestion.
If your pet is seizing, note the time so that you can track the seizure’s progression, move your pet to a safe location (e.g., the floor, and away from stairs), and contact our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Nederland team.
Can your pet’s condition wait? Contact our triage team
You may not always be certain whether your pet is experiencing an emergency. That’s why our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Nederland triage team is always available to assess your pet’s status over the phone. Don’t leave your pet’s health to chance—contact us for all your pet’s routine and emergency health care needs.