4 min read

When is an emergency visit necessary for your pet?


Published: 10/9/2020

It isn’t always easy to tell when our furry family members are sick. Knowing what to do with a sick pupper can be stressful, especially given our pets can’t verbally tell us when something’s wrong. 

Being hyper-vigilant and observant about changes in your pet’s behavior can save them from a potential pet emergency!

So how do you know when your pet needs to get help? 

Here are signs to look out for to see if it’s time to take your pet to the vet:

Changes in breathing

If your best furry furriend is struggling to breathe, they may not be taking in enough air to supply their body with oxygen. For example, if your pet displays clinical signs such as wheezing, raspy/choking sounds, or open-mouthed breathing, it might indicate that a foreign body is lodged in the throat, or a severe allergic reaction. 

Pale or blue mucous membranes

Peering into your pet’s gums is an important way to see if they have adequate oxygenation if your furry friend has difficulty breathing. The gums should be pink and moist. Pale, blue, or gray gums typically indicate an emergency.

Inability to stand or walk

Witnessing your dog become suddenly weak in the legs and unable to stand on their own can be very concerning and scary. Any dog can suddenly become unbalanced or paralyzed, although some can be affected more easily than others due to their age or breed.

One red flag indicator to signal you should call the vet immediately is if your pet is scooting or dragging their rear on the floor. A dragging or scooting rear indicates that your dog may have worms, blocked or infected anal glands, a urinary tract infection, or diarrhea.

Excessive bleeding

If your pet is bleeding, one quick, temporary fix is applying constant pressure with a gauze or a clean towel to an actively bleeding injury. If bleeding does not stop in five minutes, keep pressure on the wound and get your pet to a veterinarian immediately.

Inability to urinate

Pets who are “blocked,” or unable to urinate, often strain, repeatedly attempt to urinate and are uncomfortable. 

Pet owners may often observe increased drinking or urination in their pets. This could be caused by several conditions, including a urinary tract infection, urinary stones, diabetes, or hypo/hyperthyroidism. If left untreated, the condition can cause more serious complications. It’s best to seek veterinary care as soon as possible!

Distended or Bloated abdomen

Your pet’s stomach may seem bloated once in awhile due to eating too much or eating something they’re not supposed to, but a hard, swollen belly is not normal. Gastric dilation volvulus (GDV), or life-threatening gas distension of the stomach, is a condition that develops when a pet eats too much or swallows too much air and the swollen stomach rotates and traps the gas inside the stomach.

If your pet’s not acting normal, has a bloated belly, tries to vomit, circles like they cannot get comfortable, and has trouble breathing,  you need to get your dog to a veterinary emergency hospital right away.


Occasional vomiting isn’t unusual for dogs. Animals may vomit to get rid of something that doesn’t agree with them. But some vomiting should concern you. Seek immediate veterinary attention if your dog:

  • Vomits frequently or several times in a row

  • Vomits blood

  • Has a fever


A single seizure is not likely to be life-threatening, but immediate medical care is warranted if a seizure is your pet’s first, lasts longer than three minutes, or is one of several in 24 hours. These are called cluster seizures.  

Seizures can be caused by several underlying issues, including electrolyte imbalance, metabolic conditions, toxin ingestion, a brain mass, or epilepsy. Your best bet is seeking veterinary advice to stop the pet from seizing, to understand the underlying cause for the condition, and to potentially treat or prevent future seizures. 


Pets who experience trauma, such as being hit by a car or another blunt force, or falling from an elevated surface, should be examined immediately. Your pet may not appear hurt, but internal bleeding or neurological damage may not be immediately apparent.

Penetrating wound

Ouch! Bites, stab wounds, gunshot wounds, or other penetrating wounds often require antibiotic treatment to avoid infection. If the wound punctures with the thoracic cavity, air will surround the lungs and make breathing difficult. A wound that enters the abdominal cavity can cause peritonitis or abdominal infection.

Heat exhaustion

Prolonged exposure to high temperatures and humidity can cause overheating, or heat exhaustion. Signs of heat exhaustion include excessive panting, difficulty breathing, pale gums, vomiting, diarrhea, disorientation, collapse, and seizure.

If your pet shows any of these mild heat exhaustion signs, take them inside, offer them a drink of cool water, and apply towels soaked in cool water to their body. If they don’t improve in 10 minutes, seek immediate veterinary care.

Don’t delay if you decide your pet needs emergency care. Go with your instinct if you think your pup is hurting -- take them to the vet!

Unsure about the symptoms? 

Use Wag! Health to chat with a vet for fast answers to your pet care questions. Although it isn’t a replacement for a regular vet visit, it allows Pet Parents to easily connect with licensed veterinarians for expert advice. Our team of veterinarians is here 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to answer any questions you have--at low cost.

Read more about How To Prepare For a Pet Emergency.

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