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Is This an Emergency?

04/02/2012 by Colleen Williams
April 2nd, 2012 by Colleen Williams

It’s always frightening when your pet becomes injured or ill. How do you tell if your pet’s condition is serious enough that it requires veterinary attention? Sometimes it’s difficult to know where the line is between an emergency and at-home treatment. Here’s an A to Z guide to knowing when a condition is urgent or not.



Most cases of diarrhea are not emergency situations, but if the condition continues for more than two to three days, see your vet; a food allergy, bacterial infection, or parasite could be the culprit. Diarrhea is sometimes accompanied by vomiting.

At-home treatment says do not feed your pet for 12 hours and give water in small doses to prevent dehydration. After 12 hours, feed your pet a “bland” diet of rice and chicken in small portions every one to two hours; continue this regimen until your pet’s stool returns to normal.


This condition can cause internal damage and blood clots – if you suspect your pet has heatstroke, seek immediate veterinary care. Take your pet’s temperature; anything above 103 degrees is abnormal and dangerous. Try to lower your pet’s body temperature with the following techniques:

  • Run a cool (not cold) bath or shower
  • Place ice packs or bags of frozen veggies on your pet’s head and abdomen
  • Hose your pet down with cool water
  • Massage your pet’s limbs and torso to improve circulation

Make sure your pet has lots of cold water to drink and keep him or her out of direct sunlight until you can reach a vet clinic.


In cold temperatures young pets and outdoor cats are especially susceptible to this condition. If your pet becomes wet in low temperatures, this also puts him or her at risk. Shivering is the main sign of hypothermia, but weakness, lethargy, and shallow breathing may also occur. It’s important to take your pet’s temperature; if it is below 98 degrees, seek emergency veterinary care. Wrap your pet in warmed blankets and place him or her in a heated room. You may use a hot water bottle or heating pad, but make sure it’s not come in direct contact with your pet’s skin.

Leg Injury

If your pet is limping or unable to put weight on a limb, there are several possible conditions. If the leg is at an unnatural angle and your pet cannot bear weight, it could be fractured or dislocated. Severe swelling and inability to bear weight can mean a severe muscle sprain or complete tear. Any visibly protruding bones accompanied by bleeding indicate a compound fracture; this is a serious injury and the animal can go into shock if proper treatment is not received.

Slight limping and minor swelling indicate a minor muscle sprain or tear. Apply ice or a cold compress to the affected leg and keep an eye on your pet, restricting movement. If the limping persists or worsens after one to two days, switch to warm compresses and make an appointment with your vet.


Any case of ingested poison is an emergency situation. Call your vet clinic or the Pet Poison Helpline at 800-213-6680. Do not force your pet to vomit or administer any medications without professional direction.

Inhaled poisons, such as insecticides, household chemicals, and smoke, can be very dangerous and cause seizures and vomiting. Take your pet to the nearest vet clinic immediately.

If it is a topical poison, at-home treatment will suffice unless the animal’s skin has been burned or appears heavily irritated. Wearing latex gloves, rub vegetable oil on the affected area to remove/loosen the substance. If the substance has hardened, trim away the fur. Next, wash the area with baby shampoo or unscented soap and then thoroughly rinse with warm water. If any burns, blisters, or rashes are present after washing, seek veterinary care.


If your pet is experiencing vomiting for more than 24 hours accompanied by dehydration, seek immediate veterinary attention. Symptoms of dehydration include dry, pale gums; sunken eyes; and thick saliva. If your pet collapses after vomiting or appears dehydrated at all, this is also cause for concern.

One episode of vomiting is not worrisome, but keep an eye on your pet. Keep your pet from eating for 12 hours, supplying water in small amounts to prevent dehydration.


No matter what type of injury or illness your pet has, the most important thing a pet parent can do is remain calm. Animals can sense stress and will become more nervous if they sense you are. Remain composed and try to soothe your pet until you can gain medical attention.