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Dog Emergency Care - Dog Emergencies: When And How To Act

How do I determine if I need to take my dog to the hospital for an emergency?

We'll go through symptoms and a list of those things, but if you're worried about your dog and it is not doing its normal breathing functions or being responsive to you, then that would be a concern that it may be an emergency. If you have to question that, then take him in and put your mind to rest because you'll just be worried about it, and we don't want you to have regrets.

Dr. Nichola Gaither
Animal Hospital of Statesville

What are some signs and symptoms that my dog might be experiencing in an emergency?

We have a couple of situations that we will talk about one at a time.

Apparent paralysis:

This would be more likely in certain breeds, such as long-back breeds like Doxins or Bassets. They may go down in the rear end or not be able to use those back legs. Time is of the essence as far as treatment and prognosis for that go. Older pets may have lost some of their mobility or function if there's trauma.

Broken bones:

If you have a broken bone, it's really painful, so letting your pet sit overnight or until your regular vet opens up is really not fair to them. So seek the nearest emergency facility, or if it's during business hours, call your regular veterinarian so they can provide help. Not only treatment but also pain medication will be provided.


In general, bloat is where the stomach fills with gas, which can be uncomfortable at the minimum and can be life-threatening at most. The stomach doesn't like to be filled with gas, so sometimes, that emergency situation can happen when the stomach twists and cuts off vital circulation to certain parts of the body, which can be life-threatening. If your dog is showing signs of bloat, get them taken care of right away because it hurts a lot.

A change in body temperature:

We're coming up in summer, so changes in body temperature where they're overheated can be life-threatening to them. It can cause them to not only start to, for lack of a better term, melt internally, but can cause them to have seizures or to be unconscious. The other extreme would be them being too cold. We don't see that often here unless it's maybe a young puppy or a senior dog. At both ends of the age spectrum, dogs cannot always regulate their body temperature, so if they've gotten wet or been left in an area that's not insulated or protected from the elements, their body temperatures can drop.

Difficulty standing:

That could be due to trauma, or it could be due to something neurologic. It could even be that they were exposed to something toxic. So if they're not able to stand or to walk straight, I think that would be an immediate emergency.

Excessive diarrhea, blood in stool, or both:

The occasional loose stool is maybe not an emergency. You don't need to necessarily come straight in, but extreme diarrhea causes dehydration, and if there's blood, that can be a sign of a more serious cause. For our young puppies, we always worry about the parvovirus. For young or older patients, it could be something infectious, and all of those, if not treated appropriately, could be life-threatening.

Excessive vomiting or blood in the vomit:

It depends on the reason for that vomiting. If they are an adventurous chewer or a younger or older dog that ate something they shouldn't that gets stuck, they could vomit excessively, and that could rupture internally. All of those things could be an emergency if it's not just a self-resolving short episode.

Insect stings or bites:

Those can be mild, but the emergency situation would be if they are allergic and have an anaphylactic response or just a very painful response. We've seen that in patients, and the sooner they're seen for an emergency situation, the better the prognosis.

Loss of consciousness:

If they have lost consciousness, that is an emergency in itself. If they're not responding to you, that's not good.

Pale gums:

The question asked earlier was about signs of shock, and pale or sticky gums could mean that they're not circulating their blood well or that they're bleeding internally or externally, which affects circulation and could be life-threatening.


Some seizures can be mild, but any seizure can look really scary, especially if you've never experienced it before. Even if it is something that may not be an emergency, if that's new to your pet and they've never had one before, it's better to get checked out soon and let your veterinarian decide whether that's something that needs treatment immediately or whether it can be monitored because if it's an emergency and you wait on it, the prognosis can be not as good.

What is the difference between a seizure and convulsions?

A convulsion is more of a muscular contraction or tremoring, and seizures are more of a misfiring of the brain signals.

Rapid breathing or difficulty breathing:

That would definitely be an emergency that could happen if your pet had trauma. They could have difficulty breathing if they were to develop some fluid or heart arrhythmia. Breathing is important, as we know, so any excessively labored breathing or rapid respiration rate would be an emergency. If they get hot, they're going to pant, but if they pant excessively and it's not really very hot outside, that's definitely a concern. Panting in dogs is much more common than panting in cats. Panting is not necessarily an emergency sign, but if it is continuous and they don't ever seem to be able to calm down, then I would say that's something worth getting checked out.

A toxin exposure:

The sooner that we know about whatever they might have been exposed to, the more likely we can either make them eliminate that by causing them to vomit or institute treatment. So we need to know the type of toxic exposure they had, the product, and the ingredient. There is a certain ingredient in rat poison that interferes with the clotting system. You're not going to see that for the first few days, so your pet may ingest that, and they may seem just fine until they are bleeding internally. A lot of times, they'll be a little too far along to be treated, or they'll need much more expensive treatment to help them.

Weak or rapid pulse, and where do you take a dog's pulse?

There are different places where you can check their pulse. You could check their heart rate by placing your hand on their chest. Their pulses can also be taken on the back side of the paw. You can check that on the inside of the back leg in the femoral area. You can also check that under the tongue if your pet would allow that, but you may want to be careful about that area. Those could be things on a general wellness exam that you could ask your veterinarian and be educated about prior to needing to know that in an emergency situation.

Is it best to call an emergency hospital first before coming in?

It's always great for anyone to know that you're coming, so I would say yes because if it's an emergency, they need to know and prepare. They need to be able to say that they can handle that emergency based on the number of patients they already have in their hospital and the staffing that they have available. We would always answer according to what's in the best interest of your pet. So if we say yes, come on in, we're able to take care of your pet, and if we direct you to one of the surrounding 24-hour hospitals because we're not a 24-hour emergency hospital, then it may be because this pet doesn't just need to be seen for an initial appointment and maybe we are close to closing. We may say go on to the emergency clinic where they are able to provide that continued care.

Should I give my dog first aid at home?

Yes, there are a lot of things you can do depending on the type of emergency situation. If your pet is bleeding, there are certain things you can do to apply pressure before coming in to try to stop that. If they've ingested something, we might talk to you about having them vomit at home if you're not able to come in, depending on the type of product or chemical that they ingested. We wouldn't have them vomit a chemical, but depending on what they ingested, we might tell you to do that at home. Checking with us first is always important. Don't just assume that you should make them vomit because if you vomit something caustic, it causes damage on the way back up. Always call your vet and follow their instructions as to what to do, whether to come in or give them something ahead of time.

If you have an emergency kit, there may be other things you can provide. If they're getting overheated, maybe you could provide some cooling while you're on the way to the hospital. There are certain things you could do at home that could help them. Your veterinarian can give you advice as to what to do in those situations.

What should I have in my first aid kit?

We're going to make a video so that you can see what you need to have in a first aid kit, and you want to keep that up to date too. Always have that available, especially now that we're getting into hurricane season. It's nice to have that stuff ready to go.

How do you perform CPR on a dog?

I would hope that if you need to perform CPR on a dog, you're already on the way to an emergency clinic or to a hospital that's open, and someone's driving you. The basics are the same for a person: you want to try to get the heart pumping, and you want to provide oxygen, although there are a couple of changes they've recommended for people now. Our postures are different, and our chests are shaped differently than theirs. Depending on the size of the dog, it might be as easy as cupping your hands around both sides of the chest and just providing that pressure for the heart.

If you have a very large dog, they should be on their side with you over the top of them, just pressing on one side of their chest because their chest isn't shaped like ours. If you were going to provide air for them, it's kind of the opposite of what we do with people. You want to shut their mouth and breathe through their nose because that's easier.

How will a veterinarian treat my dog in an emergency situation?

It depends on the emergency. Initially, we will want to know the history, any medical conditions your pet may have, and any medications your pet may have or already took, so have a list that you keep on hand. Based on the physical exam, we'll provide the necessary treatment depending on what we feel is going on with your pet.

Why is prompt treatment in an emergency so important to my dog's health?

Some emergencies can be life-threatening, so prompt treatment can help prevent them from having a fatality. The sooner that they're treated, the better the prognosis.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at 704-802-1280, or you can email us at [email protected]. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can. Don't forget to follow us on social media Facebook, Instagram

Dog Emergency Care - FAQs

Dr. Nichola Gaither
Animal Hospital of Statesville

How can I find out quickly if my dog has ingested something poisonous?

If your pet has access to something that's poisonous, always err on the side of caution and assume it may have ingested that or been exposed to it. That would be rule number one. Additionally, some symptoms that you may see with your pet are vomiting, seizures, or excessive drooling. There are many different symptoms depending on what the product was. You may not know precisely what caused it, but if you are suspicious, seek help immediately.

Who can I contact regarding possible dog poisoning?

Call your vet if they're open, ask their advice, and go from there. Having the most information about what they could have gotten into, whether it's a certain poison meant for mice or rats or whether it's a cleaning agent, not just knowing it's the one that comes in the brown bottle, but also the name and the ingredients therein is very helpful.

If my dog has been poisoned, do I need to take my dog to the hospital or can I just make him throw up?

It depends. The safest thing to do would be to seek emergency care by your veterinarian because they should be trained to know what's best for your pet.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at 704-802-1280, or you can email us at [email protected]. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can. Don't forget to follow us on social media Facebook, Instagram

Dog Emergency Care - FAQs 2

Dr. Nichola Gaither
Animal Hospital of Statesville

What is the best way to transport my pet to the hospital in an emergency?

The best way to transport your pet to the hospital in an emergency depends on the type of emergency. The quickest, safest way is preferable. If they're hurt or injured, you want to move them around the least amount possible. This could involve putting a sheet under them. We also have to consider how to get them into the facility safely. If they have a broken leg or if they're in pain, the less we have to maneuver them, the better for everyone involved. This could mean placing them on a heavy sheet that can bear their weight. If they're small, you could put them in a crate and carry them in.

How will I know if my dog can be seen right away in an emergency?

The best thing to do would be to call, whether it's your regular veterinarian or the emergency 24-hour hospital. Giving them some information will help them advise where the best place for your pet to be seen is. We often have multiple pet emergencies at our hospital even though we're not solely an emergency hospital, so we might refer you to an actual emergency hospital if we're not equipped to treat your pet best. We'll always suggest the best thing for your pet.

What happens when my dog arrives at the hospital?

The first thing we'll do is perform a physical exam and get a history from you as to why you're at the clinic.

What should I bring with me for a dog emergency appointment?

Any pertinent medical history, any medications they may be receiving. It's great to grab those bottles to let us know because you may not always know the name of the medication or the actual milligrams or how often you're giving it. The more medical information you can give us, the better. For instance, if your pet has been exposed to something harmful, it would be very helpful if you can bring that to the hospital.

What will treatment be like for my dog at the emergency hospital?

It always depends on the nature of the emergency. But initially, we would try to stabilize your pet. This may involve an IV catheter and fluids, or pain management. Pain management can go a long way in making your pet feel more comfortable so that we are able to treat them.

What diagnostic tests will my dog need during an emergency visit?

It may need a blood screen to check out certain things that could be going on with the organs. We may want to take x-rays to determine if anything is broken if they got hurt. Or we may perform an ultrasound if we're concerned that something may be bleeding internally.

What questions should I ask my veterinarian when my dog experiences an emergency?

Ask any questions that you have. We want you to be informed about what's going on with your pet so that you can take care of them in their normal home environment. You may want to ask about the go-home instructions and prognosis, particularly if there are any financial concerns. A prognosis involves how likely your pet is to recover and what the recovery would look like. Can you expect your pet to go back to normal or do you have to prepare for a new normal going forward? Another consideration is whether you are capable of caring for your pet through such a time, which may require time or financial investment.

How will you determine if a pet needs surgery?

Surgery might be needed if your pet has a broken bone, internal issues, or external lacerations. The surgery could range from a sedation and a suture to a major surgery, depending on the condition.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at 704-802-1280, or you can email us at [email protected]. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can. Don't forget to follow us on social media Facebook, Instagram

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