What Constitutes a Pet Emergency?

Almost every pet will experience a veterinary emergency in its lifetime. These can range from simple illnesses to more critical conditions. These situations can be overwhelming for you and your pet. When faced with these situations, the typical response would be to run to your cell phone or a computer and look up your pet’s symptoms on Google (Bing, etc.). Unfortunately, without a veterinary diagnosis, you will likely get a long list of possible (and impossible) causes of your pet’s condition. So, how do you determine what needs to be seen right away and what can wait until tomorrow? Consider the list of common pet medical emergencies below to help guide your decision.

  • REPEATED VOMITING AND DIARRHEA: Repeated vomiting and diarrhea are veterinary emergencies since your pet may become dehydrated from the loss of fluid. These symptoms may indicate that you pet has a serious underlying problem. If your pet develops additional serious symptoms alongside vomiting and diarrhea, such as lethargy, collapsing, or if blood presents in the stool or vomit, it’s important to call your veterinarian immediately.
  • BLEEDING: Your pet may have been hit by a car, bitten by another animal, or otherwise injured and is bleeding. Traumatic injuries are not always apparent initially. But can result in serious internal injuries. The extent of bite wounds can be hidden under the fur. Always use caution when handling an injured pet as they may bite reflexively when they are in pain. Do not give your pet over-the-counter pain medications.
  • DIFFICULTY BREATHING: Loud or unusual breathing can signal a serious emergency for your pet. Excessive panting or sudden onset of continuous coughing, open mouth breathing, pale or blue gums is a cause for serious concern. Your pet may not be getting enough oxygen and could collapse and faint. A pet that has fainted or collapsed should be taken to the nearest emergency clinic immediately.
  • SEIZURE: A seizure is an electrical disturbance in the brain and may have numerous causes. If your pet has never had a seizure before, has a seizure lasting for longer than two minutes, or multiple seizures in one day, they need emergency medical treatment. During your pet’s seizure, speak to them calmly and keep your hands away from their mouth, because their uncontrolled muscle contractions and disorientation could cause them to accidentally bite.
  • EYE INJURIES: Eye injuries and diseases are not only painful but can also rapidly result in loss of vision. Eyes are extremely sensitive, and any injuries can be an emergency. If your pet is squinting or pawing at their eye, tearing excessively, or the eye is bulging outward or has suddenly become cloudy, they should be evaluated immediately.
  • STRAINING TO URINATE OR DEFECATE: Obstructions to urine flow or fecal output are not only extremely painful, but often life-threatening. A pet who is having trouble urinating can indicate a urinary tract infection, inflammation, or a blockage with urinary stones, and is an emergency. If urine outflow is completely blocked, the urinary bladder can rupture, while an infection can cause severe discomfort. If your pet is posturing as if they need to urinate or defecate but cannot produce anything, contact the emergency hospital immediately.

Here are some other situations that may require immediate veterinary attention. If your pet:

  • Is in pain with signs such as whimpering, groaning, tremoring, or hunching over
  • Experiencing and allergic reaction with swelling of the face, hives over the body, difficulty breathing or collapse from anaphylaxis
  • Is suffering from heat exhaustion
  • Has been bitten by a snake
  • Is pregnant, and has been in labor for more than 30 minutes without delivering a puppy or kitten

If you’re uncertain whether your pet is experiencing an emergency, contact our Just 4 Pets Wellness Center team for guidance on your pet’s condition. We are happy to advise you on what next steps you should take.


Dr. Tillman is a 2002 graduate of Tuskegee University School of Veterinary Medicine. Her veterinary practice and work experience focus on the health and wellness of pets in Southwest Florida. She is the owner of Just 4 Pets Wellness Center and can be reached at 239-270-5721.

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