What is a Veterinary Emergency?

The Not So Magnificent 7: Common Reasons Your Pet Needs Emergency Care

Like children, the curious nature of pets can get them into trouble, and it can be challenging to know when they require immediate veterinary care. However, knowing when and how to quickly react will ensure the best chances of a positive outcome. Our Madison Veterinary Emergency team hopes you never have to confront a life-threatening emergency with your pet. However, if they experience any of the following seven common emergencies, or any concern not listed here, we are ready to help.

#1: Your pet has repeat vomiting and diarrhea
Gastrointestinal (GI) problems are one of the most common reasons for a veterinary visit. In some cases, an occasional loose stool or a single vomiting episode after your pet eats something they shouldn’t have may not be cause for concern. However, ongoing episodes of vomiting and diarrhea can be dangerous and cause electrolyte imbalances and dehydration, which can be life-threatening. Additionally, if your dog appears to be retching without producing any vomitus, or if their abdomen appears swollen, then they may be experiencing a gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV), or bloat. GDV is caused by excess air trapped in the stomach and often occurs after a recent meal. Other causes for excess vomiting and diarrhea, which require immediate attention, include:

  • Ingestion of a foreign object, or blockage
  • Pancreatitis
  • Viral disease (e.g., parvovirus)
  • Toxin ingestion
  • Cancer
  • Liver or kidney failure
  • Metabolic disease (e.g., Addison’s, Cushing’s)

#2: Your pet has ingested a toxin
Pets explore the world with their mouth and paws. However, their curious nature can get them in trouble if they ingest a toxic food or substance. Many common household products, foods, or medications can lead to severe vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, kidney failure, or death in some cases. Call our Madison Veterinary Emergency clinic or the ASPCA poison control if your pet accidentally ingests a toxin, including:

  • Toxic foods (e.g., grapes, chocolate, onions, or sugar-free foods containing xylitol)
  • Toxic plants (e.g., lilies, marijuana)
  • Insecticides or rodenticides
  • Cleaning products (e.g., bleach)
  • Antifreeze
  • Human medications (e.g., ibuprofen, anti-depression medication)

#3: Your pet has experienced blunt trauma or has a bite wound
Pets who have suffered a trauma, like being hit by a car or falling from any height, often have multiple injuries, including some that may not be immediately obvious. In some cases, an injured pet may experience internal bleeding or have a broken bone that may cause minor external signs at first, but can progress to more severe internal problems or injuries. It is critical to bring your pet for an immediate veterinary examination if they have experienced any trauma. Additionally, pets who have been bitten by another animal should be immediately examined by your veterinarian. Bite wounds may appear minor on the skin surface, but some may involve torn layers of skin or muscle, or may deeply penetrate into the body cavities.

#4: Your pet is straining during elimination
Pets who vocalize during elimination attempts or who have multiple unsuccessful attempts to completely urinate or defecate may be suffering from constipation or a life-threatening urinary blockage. Male cats are most at risk for urinary blockages, which can be deadly without treatment. Other common causes for straining include bladder stones, urinary tract infections, inflammation, stress, or cancer. Straining caused by fecal or urinary blockages is painful to pets, so do not hesitate to bring your pet in for emergency veterinary care if they are struggling to eliminate.

#5: Your pet is having difficulty breathing or has labored breathing
Most pets will have an increased breathing rate after an intense game of fetch or after their morning walk. However, if your pet is excessively panting when they are at rest, bring them in for immediate veterinary care. Common causes for breathing problems may include allergic reactions, trauma, heart failure, lung infections, cancer, or toxin exposure. Pets also may experience an increased breathing effort when they are experiencing pain. Bring your pet for immediate veterinary evaluation if they are showing any of the following signs:

  • Pale, gray, or blue-tinged gums, which occur when pets are not receiving adequate oxygen
  • Wheezing
  • Gagging
  • Abdominal muscle contraction while heavily breathing
  • Open-mouth breathing or panting in cats

#6: Your pet is having an allergic reaction
Pets, like people, can be hypersensitive, or allergic, to certain medications, foods, grasses, or insect bites. In rare cases, some pets may experience an allergic reaction to vaccinations.
Pets with a severe allergy may be at risk for anaphylaxis, which can be deadly without immediate veterinary treatment. Bring your pet in for emergency care if they are showing any of the following allergic reaction signs:

  • Fever
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Swelling of the face or muzzle
  • Hives or severe skin redness
  • Extreme itching
  • Excessive drooling
  • Vomiting or diarrhea

#7: Your pet is having a seizure
Observing your pet having a seizure can be frightening, but never attempt to restrain them until they are no longer jerking, shaking, or having convulsions to avoid being bitten accidentally. Bring your pet in for immediate veterinary care if you observe them having one or multiple seizures, so that they can be closely observed and receive immediate treatment. Seizures may be a result of problems within their nervous system, including epilepsy, cancer, or brain swelling. However, seizures also may be a sign of a secondary problem, like low blood sugar, toxin ingestion, liver disease, or kidney failure.

Call our Madison Veterinary Emergency office if you are concerned that your pet’s health is at risk or if they are experiencing a medical emergency. We are always here to help.