Thankfully not all trips to the vet are an emergency, but sometimes they definitely are. And the longer your pet is deprived of medical attention in these situations, the more difficult it may be for your vet to save their life.
Here are 9 common emergent situations that warrant an immediate trip to your vet:
1) Unable to pass urine. There are numerous reasons why an animal may not be able to empty their bladder eg. A urinary tract infection, tumors in the bladder, bladder stones/sediment blocking the urethra, urethral spasms, trauma. Male cats and dogs are especially prone to bladder blockage as they have long narrow urethras compared to females. So if you see your male cat or dog straining to urinate or unable to pass urine, they need to be assessed immediately. Otherwise they risk bladder rupture, sepsis, and even death.
2) Excessive vomiting. Sometimes pets just vomit occasionally, and that can be normal. However if fluffy is vomiting over 3-4 times in a 12 hour period and not eating, she needs to be seen right away. Animals become dehydrated quickly just like us when we’re ill. Vomiting can be a sign of many different types of problems, but the more common issues include a gastrointestinal blockage, poison ingestion, pancreatitis, or severe infection.
3) Collapsing, losing consciousness, shaking, or seizure-like activity. Any of these clinical signs need to be investigated as soon as possible. Collapse and seizures can indicate a serious systemic illness and/or a prolonged lack of oxygen to the brain. Stabilization and assessment within that same hour may be crucial to your pet’s survival.
4) Unable to use one or both back and/or front legs. This symptom (especially if suddenly noticed) can indicate severe trauma to the spine or spinal cord, severe systemic illness, or a clot blocking the blood supply to a limb/limbs. If not addressed within a crucial 12-24 hour window, these clinical signs may worsen and even become permanent.
5) Facial swelling. This can happen with a bee sting or an allergic reaction. The swelling can be mild or become pronounced very quickly. It’s important to get treatment ASAP in case swelling spreads to your pet’s airway, causing difficulty breathing and even collapse.
6) Difficulty breathing. There are many different reasons why a pet may have difficulty breathing, but at the first sign of an increased respiratory rate (10-35 breaths per minute is relatively normal), excessive coughing and/or wheezing/struggling to breath, a vet needs to examine your pet for the underlying cause immediately.
7) Ingestion of any human medication/drugs, poisons, or slug bait/rat poison, or chocolate. Dogs and cats process chocolate and medications differently than humans, so ingesting a few chocolate Easter eggs or grandad’s heart meds can be life-threatening. Rat poisons can cause massive internal bleeding or severe neurological signs and death. The sooner you get your pet to the vet after he’s eaten any of these, the greater the chances are that we can counteract their affects.
8) Abnormal vulval discharge. Every 6-12 months your female dog may come into heat if she hasn’t been spayed. It’s normal to see some bloody discharge for a few days/weeks coinciding with her heat. However if you see a yellow, green, black, and/or smelly discharge from her vagina at any time, this may indicate a life-threatening infection of her uterus, called pyometra, that needs to be treated right away. Without surgically removing her uterus, she can become septic and die. While usually seen in dogs, I’ve also seen this in cats! (One of the many reasons why we encourage you to spay your pet.)
9) Severe trauma eg. Hit by a car, kicked by a horse, bite wounds, excessive bleeding. Even if there aren’t outward signs of trauma, internal injuries can be devestating and might not even be noticed for hours after the inciting event. And while bite wounds sometimes only look like small punctures, they can extend deep into tissue, sometimes penetrating into the abdomen or even a lung. They’re also prone to getting infected, so all bite wounds should be checked out by your vet.
This list is by no means comprehensive, but it goes over common emergencies that vets see on a weekly basis. If in any doubt, the best thing to do is call your veterinary professional for advice.