Dr. Mary Manspeaker and her pup

Highlights from Scary Things Can Happen: How to Respond in Emergency Situations

Reading Time: 5 MIN

What Makes an Emergency?

An emergency is a situation in which your pet needs immediate attention in order to prevent suffering, worsening of disease, or death. Sometimes, an emergency situation is not always obvious.

What are the Most Common Animal Emergencies?


Trauma is a very common reason for pets to end up at an emergency center. Examples of trauma can include motor vehicle accidents, getting stepped on, jumping or falling off surfaces, and animal attacks. The typical clinical signs that occur with trauma include but are not limited to bleeding, seizures, head trauma, broken bones, paralysis, puncture wounds, and difficulty breathing.


Seizures are also very common for unscheduled vet visits.  A seizure typically lasts seconds and involves uncontrollable body movements caused by a neurologic disturbance. Often, the issue is you don’t know how long one will last when they occur, so it’s always good to get your pet to the vet quickly. Usually, when you arrive your pet will not be seizing, but the veterinarian will be able to assess your pet and make recommendations for future prevention.



There are lots of different toxins that are harmful to dogs and cats, such as people food, medications, insecticides, and antifreeze. For example, xylitol is an artificial sweetener added to chewing gum and other foods. It is extremely toxic to pets, so make sure you check your foods. Even products like yogurt can contain xylitol. Check out xylitol free, safe peanut butter for your pup here. Grapes and raisins are toxic, but the toxic dose is unknown, so it’s best to just avoid giving those to pets. Also, garlic and chocolate are toxic and best to completely avoid.

Clinical toxicity can vary greatly. Some of the most common symptoms are vomiting and diarrhea. If the substance is highly toxic, it can cause organ failure.

Allergic Reactions

Allergic reactions are common for overnight or weekend emergencies. These include things like insect stings and some drug reactions. Most common symptoms include hives, difficulty breathing, swelling, and redness of the skin. It is not common for a pet to die due to an allergic reaction, but the symptoms are dramatic. Allergic reactions can be delayed, sometimes happening hours or even days later, but most happen quickly.

medical condition


Bloat is a true emergency and occurs when the stomach distends. Certain large breeds are predisposed to bloat, like deep chested dog breeds. Other causes can be stress and overeating or swallowing air. Clinical signs include retching, salivating, distended abdomen, and stomach pain. A pet will not get better without veterinarian intervention.


For cats, vomiting hairballs is normal. You’ll want to recognize whether your cat is vomiting with hair or not. Regurgitating is not vomiting and involves throwing up undigested food. Does your pet always eat grass or is it new behavior? That can be one way to determine underlying issues.


Diarrhea can be caused by a variety of factors, including diet, parasites, viral infection, toxins, and organ dysfunction. Clinical signs include loose, runny stool, straining to defecate with no results, and accidents in the house. For less severe cases of diarrhea, pumpkin can help lessen symptoms.

Inability to Stand

A sudden inability to stand can be caused by adrenal disease, ruptured spleen, tick paralysis, vestibular disease, and more. It’s important that older dogs see their veterinarian more frequently so that when something like vestibular disease occurs, it is easier for the veterinarian to diagnose.

Heat Stress

Heat stress is something seen too often. Causes are high environmental temperatures, such as a dog chained outside or kept in a hot car. Pugs and other short nosed breeds are more prone to heat stress. If not caught quickly enough, heat stress can be fatal.

Respiratory Emergencies

Respiratory emergencies can cause unscheduled vet visits. Reverse sneezing is not an emergency. It looks scary but it’s a normal phenomenon. Cats if having trouble breathing will typically be quiet so it’s important to pay close attention to any abnormal behavior.

What to do When Faced With an Emergency?

Stay calm so that you can think clearly.

Be safe. An injured pet may bite or scratch while in pain. Use a towel wrap to secure an injured pet. Always keep this in mind before grabbing an injured or sick pet.

Try to assess the situation. Is your pet having trouble breathing? Is there ongoing blood loss? Does your pet seem in pain? These are questions that your veterinarian will ask.

If you need to move your pet, you can place your pet on a towel to move, similar to a stretcher. You will need two people for this.

It’s good to have your pet’s medical history available if you are going to another vet in an emergency.

Always call the vet ahead of time.

Make sure you secure your pet when driving.

Keep a first aid kit on hand at all times. These items will come in handy in an emergency. Make sure you have Benadryl 25 mg tablets. Also, items like Wondercide Skin Tonic, Vetericyn Eye Wash, and Vetericyn Antimicrobial Gel are important additions to any first aid kit.

Try to secure an emergency fund, because emergency services are expensive. Look into buying pet insurance. Some, but not all services are reimbursed. Typically, you have to pay in full and then the pet insurance company reimburses you afterward. The average cost of emergency treatment is around $3,000 so try to make sure you have that available if possible.

Dr. Manspeaker’s Responses to Unanswered Questions from Class

How important is it for your dog to see a vet during their pregnancy and how many puppies does a mom typically have with a first litter?

It is important for a mom to see a vet during pregnancy because you want to make sure she is at a healthy weight at all times and does not need deworming. As far as the number of pups, it depends on the type of dog. Typically, small breed dogs have fewer puppies than large breed dogs. Your veterinarian can do x-rays or ultrasounds to give you an estimate of how many.

Do you have any experience using Adaptil and Compsure for anxious pets?

Yes, they both work well and are a great starting point to reducing anxiety.

What is the best location for taking a cat’s temperature with a laser thermometer?

The inside of the ear where there is no hair or on the belly would be best. Laser thermometers are not as accurate as rectal thermometers, so you may want to compare the two.

Can you recommend any advice for separation anxiety for my dog? 

Separation anxiety can be managed with behavior modification and environmental enrichment, but it can also be severe enough where the pet needs meds to control the anxiety. I suggest documenting the behavior and discussing with your vet. It may be a good first step to start with behavioral modification and environmental enrichment.




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