by Dr. Jennifer Coates
How can you tell whether your dog’s injury or illness calls for an emergency veterinary visit?
Dogs seem to get sick or injured at the worst possible times. Of course this is not their fault, but nonetheless, it does often put owners in the position of having to decide whether an after-hours visit to the veterinarian is truly necessary.
Jana’s note: I can absolutely attest to that. Bad things do seem to consistently happen after hours, on the weekends or during holidays. That includes complications even from minor medical procedures. We made it a policy to always schedule thing for early in the week just because of that.
Visiting an emergency veterinary clinic is scary and costs are higher but …
This is not simply a matter of convenience. Seeing a veterinarian on an emergency basis is not ideal. Costs are generally higher and you will probably be dealing with a veterinarian who does not know you, your dog or have access to his medical records. These concerns should never stop you from seeking veterinary attention when it is truly necessary, but under the right circumstances, waiting until you can see your regular veterinarian is better for everyone.
Jana’s note: This is more than anecdotal. The one time we had to take Jasmine to an emergency clinic turned out a complete horror. However, not seeking immediate veterinary attention would have cost her life.
If your dog is a victim of any of the conditions listed below, take him to the veterinarian immediately.
Even if your dog looks to be in relatively good shape, all of these conditions are potentially life-threatening and his condition could rapidly worsen. Call the veterinary clinic to let them know you are on your way and to get advice about any first aid that you could provide.
Top 10 Emergency Conditions
- Any type of serious trauma (e.g., hit by a car, a fall from a moving vehicle, car accidents, gunshots or deep puncture wounds)
- Difficulty giving birth
- Animal bites, including snake strikes by an unknown species
- Burns (chemical or thermal)
- Near drowning
- Smoke or carbon monoxide inhalation
- Obviously broken bones
- Exposure to extreme cold or hot temperatures
- Ingestion of a possible poison (including human and pet medications)
Confusion often arises, however, when an owner observes their dog’s symptoms but is unsure of the underlying cause.
The following clinical signs warrant an immediate call to a veterinarian no matter the time of day or night.
Top 10 Symptoms of an Emergency
- Difficulty breathing
- Severe pain in any part of the body
- Profuse vomiting, particularly associated with an inability to keep down water, blood in the vomit, depression or pain
- Profuse diarrhea
- Unsuccessful straining to urinate
- Repeated unsuccessful attempts at vomiting, especially if associated with an enlarged abdomen
- A severely depressed attitude or unresponsiveness
- Extreme weakness or wobbliness
- Large amounts of blood in the stool
- Bleeding that drips or pools (a “smear” here and there is probably not an emergency)
If you are unsure of your dog’s condition, it is always safer to make a phone call than to “wait and see.” Talking to a veterinarian about your dog’s symptoms will certainly help you determine whether or not you need to bring him in immediately or if he can wait until your regular clinic is open for business.
Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog: The Big Picture