How do you know when your dog’s health problem is life threatening and requires immediate veterinarian attention?
Here is a list of the top 10 most common dog emergencies seen in the vet ER:
1. Dog trauma
If your dog has sustained some form of trauma such as a fall, gunshot wound, getting hit by a car or is involved in a dog fight then immediate veterinary attention is needed. Even if your dog appears fine initially a check-up with your veterinarian is still necessary because sometimes injuries sustained from a traumatic event such as a ruptured lung, diaphragmatic hernia or internal bleeding will not manifest symptoms immediately. Wounds such as lacerations and bite wounds may be deeper than they appear and complications such as infection can result from delaying veterinary attention. Sometimes the traumatic event is not witnessed by the owner, if you find your dog limping, seemingly in pain or is just not acting right then it would be best to have her checked out.
2. Dog has difficulty breathing
Dyspnea is also known as difficulty breathing and can manifest as wheezing, choking, weak and raspy breathing or respiratory arrest. This can be caused by a foreign body in the throat, allergic reaction, heart disease or pulmonary disease. If there is a foreign body present it is important not to try and extract it yourself – doing so may lodge the object even deeper, completely obstructing the airway. Breathing problems almost always indicate major dog health problems so do not wait to take immediate action.
3. Dog neurological conditions
Neurological problems can manifest in your dog as disorientation, incoordination, severe lethargy, unresponsiveness, and coma. A normal healthy dog is bright, alert and responsive; any pronounced change in your dog’s mental status requires immediate veterinary attention. Lethargy and weakness can be seen with any serious illness and should never be ignored. Sometimes neurological disorders do not affect mentation (for instance loss of use of the hind limbs can sometimes be cause by a ruptured intervertebral disc). Again these are serious disorders that need prompt veterinary attention to achieve the most favorable outcome.
4. Dog seizures
Seizures are also considered a neurological condition but are so common in dogs it deserves its own category. Any dog that has never experienced a seizure before needs to be seen immediately. Signs associated with a seizure include uncontrollable shaking and tremors, loss of consciousness, paddling with the legs and possible loss of bowel or urinary control. The most common cause of seizures in dogs is epilepsy. If your dog is diagnosed as epileptic not every seizure will constitute an emergency. If your dog has multiple seizures within a 24-hour period or if a seizure lasts longer than a couple minutes then your epileptic dog may need immediate veterinary attention. Talk to your veterinarian more about how to manage epilepsy and what to watch for. Other causes of seizures include hypoglycemia in puppies, insulinoma in older dogs and toxicities in dogs of all ages.
5. Suspected or known toxic exposure
You found a chewed up rat bait while running some laundry down to the basement or you notice the bag of fertilizer in the garden shed has been ripped open. If you suspect your dog has gotten into something potentially toxic call the ASPCA animal poison control at (888) 426-4435 for immediate advice on what to do. A veterinary toxicologist may advise you to induce vomiting, seek immediate veterinary attention or simply monitor at home if the substance ingested turns out to be innocuous. Keep a bottle of hydrogen peroxide in the house at all times in case you are ever asked to induce vomiting.
6. Dog vomiting and dog diarrhea
Vomiting and diarrhea are common problems in dogs and while they can be signs of a serious dog health issues the majority of cases are simple gastric upset that typically resolves within 24 hours. If your dog is otherwise acting fine then rest the stomach by withholding food for 4 to 6 hours and make sure your dog has access to plenty of water so they can stay hydrated. If she develops additional clinical signs such as lethargy, weakness or seems to be in pain then immediate veterinary attention is indicated. Also if vomiting or diarrhea persists more than 24 hours OR you notice blood in the vomitus or the diarrheas then go see your veterinarian immediately. If your dog has a chronic medical problem such as diabetes and starts vomiting then it is not recommended to wait 24 hours and to seek veterinary attention as soon as possible.
7. Dog distended abdomen or abdominal pain
If you notice your dog’s abdomen is distended and she seems to be in pain and/or uncomfortable then a serious medical problem necessitating immediate veterinary care is likely. Abdominal distension may be accompanied by dry heaves, retching, weakness, collapse and difficulty breathing. Abdominal distension can be caused by air trapped in the stomach which can cause the stomach to twist over on itself. This condition is known as gastric dilatation-volvulus—or commonly “bloat” – and usually occurs in large breed dogs. This is life threatening if not treated and the sooner you go to the veterinarian the better your dog’s odds for a positive outcome will be. Other reasons for abdominal distension can be fluid distension (ascites) from heart disease and hemoabdomen from internal bleeding such as a ruptured spleen.
8. Dog ocular problems
Eye problems in dogs have a nasty tendency to deteriorate faster than problems in other areas. These problems can quickly escalate into loss of the eye and blindness if not treated especially glaucoma. Signs of ocular disease include redness of the eye, discharge, excessive tearing swelling, squinting and constant pawing at the eye. Even if it is just a foreign body in the eye or a superficial scratch on the cornea prompt veterinary treatment can prevent a minor problem from becoming a serious one.
9. Dog urinary problems
If you notice your dog is not producing any urine then go see your veterinarian as soon as possible. While much more common dog health problem in cats than dogs, urinary blockages do occur and are life-threatening. If you notice difficulty urinating or blood in the urine then see your veterinarian as soon as possible because it may indicate a urinary infection or urinary stones that can escalate to blockage if not treated.
10. Dog whelping emergencies
If your dog goes into labor and you notice that more than four hours pass without any puppies, strains for more than 30 minutes without results or more than two hours elapse between puppies then she may be experiencing dystocia. Call your veterinarian immediately for advice.
This list is by no means all inclusive of definite emergencies but is a compilation of the more common dog health emergencies seen. If there is something going on with your dog and you are not sure if it is an emergency or not, be aware that help is just a phone call away. Always have the number of your regular veterinarian, the ASPCA poison control and the number of your local 24-hour emergency clinic available. As a dog owner you know your dog best – if you suspect something is wrong do not hesitate to call. This one act can sometimes mean the difference between life and death. Never feel embarrassed about calling or being a worrywart because it is better to be safe than sorry.