As dog owners and pet parents ourselves, we know how stressful it is when our furry family members experience an emergency situation.
Recognizing an emergency can be difficult. If you think your pet is experiencing an emergency but are not sure, call your veterinarian or the nearest 24 hour veterinary hospital as soon as you suspect a problem. There are no "dumb" or "bad" questions when dealing with your pet's health. They are there to help you help you assess whether your animal needs to be seen.
We have compiled this page to include short list of tips and articles so you may learn how to respond when the unexpected occurs.
Be Prepared for Emergencies
Prepare for Pet Emergencies. Make sure you have the telephone numbers of your veterinarian and a nearby 24 hour emergency hospital handy. Be aware of the things in your home that could be toxic to your pet, both to prevent poisioning and to recognize what could be the cause of a sudden illness. Acetaminophen or other human medicines, grapes and raisins, and plants such as lilies are among the many household items that can be toxic to your animals.
Put together a pet first aid kit, two if you travel with your dog. Both the AVMA and the University of Illinois have good articles listing the items a first aid kit should include, bee stings, coughing and choking, heat stroke, and poisioning.
Learn to identify emergency situations and toxic substances. Learn how to recognize if your pet is sick, diagnose whether a situation is an emergency. Please click on the "Animal Poison Control" link below to learn more.
Dog First Aid Book: Purchase the Dog First Aid Book with DVD for $16.95 directly from the American Red Cross.
Take a Class in Pet First Aid: Take a pet first aid class from the American Red Cross. Courses are available at many Red Cross chapters on how to care for your pet. Visit Redcross.org/en/takeaclass or call 1-800 RED CROSS to see when classes are available.
Please review the AVMA's First Aid Tips for Pet Owners for more information.
If your pet is exhibiting any of the following symptoms, please seek veterinary consultation and/or care as soon as possible:
- Allergic reactions/hives
- Difficulty breathing, nonstop coughing, gagging, or choking
- Difficulty urinating/not producing urine
- Difficulty walking or prolonged lameness
- Collapse, seizures, not conscious
- Ingestion of toxins or foreign objects
- Persistent vomiting, diarrhea and/or decreased appetite
- Punctures or bite wounds
- Severe bleeding
- Trauma, such as being hit by a car or falling
- Unusual behavior/lethargy
- Seizures and/or staggering
- Heat sterss or heatstroke
- Severe vomiting or diarrhea—more than two episodes in a 24 hour period, or either of these combined with obvious illness of the other problems listed here
- Refusal to drink for 24 hours or more
There are a variety of online resources to help you understand the causes, symptoms and treatment for these emergencies. However, please call your veterinarian or the nearest 24 hour veterinary hospital first if you suspect your pet of having a medical emergency.
Links to Basic First Aid Tips for Pets:Animal Poison Control Center
Articles and Tips for Specific First Aid Emergencies:
If you suspect a poisioning has occurred, contact your veterinarian or a 24 hour emergency veterinary hospital as soon as possible. Acetaminophen or other human medicines, grapes and raisins, xylitol and plants such as lilies are among the many household items that can be toxic to your animals.
The most common sign of this injury is a swollen muzzle. It is advisable to call your veterinarian to determine if treatment is necessary. Most dogs do not have a problem with bee stings, but some have respiratory difficulty and all need to be watched carefully for 24 hours.
- Dogs can externally bleed from arteries (bright red and pumping,), from veins (darker red, not pumping), from capillaries (oozing) and from a mixture of these. Please consider muzzling your pet prior to treating your pet as pets may bite because of panic or pain. If the bleeding is profuse or does not stop within five minutes, please take your dog directly to your veterinarian or the nearest veterinary emergency center.
- Press a clean, thick gauze pad over the wound, and keep pressure over the wound with your hand until the blood starts clotting. This will often take several minutes for the clot to be strong enough to stop the bleeding. Instead of checking it every few seconds to see if it has clotted, hold pressure on it for a minimum of three minutes and then check it.
- If bleeding is severe and on the legs, apply a tourniquet (using an elastic band or gauze) between the wound and the body, and apply a bandage and pressure over the wound. Loosen the tourniquet for 20 seconds every 15-20 minutes. Severe bleeding can quickly be life-threatening—get your animal to a veterinarian immediately if this occurs.
- Symptoms: bleeding from nose, mouth, rectum, coughing up blood, blood in urine, pale gums, collapse, weak and rapid pulse.
- Keep your dog as warm and quiet as possible and transport immediately to a veterinarian.
If your animal isn't breathing, call your veterinarian or the closest 24 hour emergency veterinary hospital immediately. You can place your mouth over their nose and give three quick breaths in order to help stimulate their breathing. It is important to distinguish between coughing, gagging, and choking.
- Coughing can occur for a number of reasons. It is often brought on by strenuous exercise and goes away once your pet has settled down.
- Gagging may occur if your pet swallows incorrectly, getting food caught in the trachea.
- Choking can be caused by either an obstruction of or a defect in the trachea.
- Symptoms of choking include difficulty breathing, excessive pawing at the month, choking sounds when breathing or coughing, blue-tinged lips/tongue.
- Look into the pet's mouth to see if a foreign object is visible. If you see an object, gently try to remove it, but be careful not to push the object further down the throat. DO NOT pull hard or fight the animal to remove the object, as this may cause further injury and/or cause your pet to bite as a reflex to experiencing pain.
- DO NOT spend a lot of time trying to remove the object—get your pet to a veterinarian immediately.
Pet owners should remember that the inside of a car can quickly reach 120 degrees in warm weather and should not leave their animals in the car, even during short trips. This can quickly lead to heat stroke. The signs of heat stroke include:
- Heavy panting and being unable to calm down, even when lying down.
- The pet's gums may be brick red, they may have a fast pulse rate, or they may not be able to get up. If someone suspects their pet has heat stroke, they should take the pet's temperature rectally. If the temperature is above 105 degrees Fahrenheit, they should cool the animal down. The easiest way to do this is by using the water hose. Stop cooling the animal when the temperature reaches 103 degrees. Bring the pet to the veterinarian immediately as heat stroke can lead to severe organ dysfunction and damage.
For a dog that has been hit by a car, you need to get the dog on a firm surface, such as a piece of plywood. If that is not available, put it in a blanket. The goal is to move the animal in one piece with a minimal amount of motion. The animal should be transported to your veterinarian or a 24 hour emergency veterinary clinic AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.
This condition can be caused by a number of different factors, including but not limited to degenerative ligament condition, or slipping of the knee cap while walking. Sudden changes are likely to be caused by ligament ruptures, twists, or impact injury. If your pet is limping or has developed an irregular step, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian for evaluation before it develops into a chronic, painful condition. In many cases, medication can be prescribed to correct your dog or cat's walk while also easing any pain they are experiencing.
If your pet is experiencing a seizure, try to stay calm and keep clear. If you try to hold your dog or cat down, you may cause injury. Also keep your fingers away from your pet's mouth, as their reflexes may cause them to bite without any real awareness of their actions. Try to take note of how long the seizure lasts and the activity your pet was engaged in prior to it occurring. These details may help in diagnosing the condition if they form a noticeable pattern.
If your pet has experienced a seizure, take him or her to a veterinarian for examination as soon as possible. This will help narrow down the cause of the incident and in most cases help prevent it from happening again in the future. Remember:
- Keep your pet away from any objects (including furniture) that might hurt it. Do not try to restrain the pet.
- Time the seizure (they usually last 2-3 minutes).
- After the seizure has stopped, keep your pet as warm and quiet as possible and contact your veterinarian.
If your dog or cat has come into contact with or ingested toxic material, two organizations are available for 24/7 support. The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (1-888-426-4435) and the Pet Poison Hotline (1-800-213-6680) will instruct you on the proper course of action to take depending on the severity of the situation. The top ten toxins reported in 2011 helpline calls to look out for, as reported by AAHA-affiliated site healtypet.com are:
- Foods such as chocolate, xylitol, grapes, and raisins
- Insecticides (including flea and tick treatments)
- Direct contact with mouse or rat poisons, or secondary reception through eating rodents that have died from the toxin
- Human anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen and naproxen
- Household cleaning products
- Antidepressant drugs (Paxil, Prozac, Celexa, Effexor)
- Fertilizers (including bone mean, blood meal, and iron-based products)
- Acetaminophen (active ingredient in many OTC human cold remedies)
- Amphetamine based drugs including Adderall and Concerta
- Veterinary anti-inflammatory medications (cases involving chew tablets are most common, including Rimadyl, Deramaxx, and Previcox.