What to Expect When Your Pet Has an Emergency

Stefanie Sullivan, DVM


Emergencies can be scary, especially when they involve your beloved pet.

It is always wise to contact the emergency clinic or your Veterinarian to let them know you are on your way, so they can be prepared for your arrival. It helps to have a copy of their medical records on hand as well as any medications they may be taking. If your pet ingested a toxin or medication, information on the toxin or medication can help us treat them more quickly and appropriately. For instance, when it was ingested, how much, the milligram and name of the medication or toxin. You can always bring the package or medicine bottle with you.

When moving or transporting an injured animal (especially in the case of trauma), minimize motion of its head, neck, and spine. A flat, firm surface of wood, cardboard, or thick fabric can be used to provide support. If the animal acts confused or disoriented after trauma, keep the head level or slightly elevated during transport. If the pet is painful or scared, they may attempt to bite. A shoestring or strip of cloth may be used as a muzzle. This will protect you from getting bitten when moving the animal.

Placing cats in boxes can minimize stress during transport. The box should have holes large enough so that you can see the cat.


In emergency medicine, the most life-threatening problems are treated first. When you arrive at the veterinary hospital, the veterinary staff will make a rapid assessment of your pet’s physical condition and assign priority of care to each problem. They will ask about the current situation and probably for a brief medical history. Several observed problems or a history of problems may warrant immediate treatment regardless of physical findings. In these cases, we may take your pet straight to the back to get started on treatments. This ensures that your pet has the best chance it can. An IV catheter may be placed, and we may start diagnostics (blood work, x-rays, blood pressure, etc.) to get a better idea of what may be the cause for your pet’s signs and symptoms. We will keep you informed of their progression and prognosis.

Emergency patients present special challenges because underlying problems may not be evident for 24 to 48 hours. Many variables contribute to the overall success of emergency treatment, including the severity of the illness or injury, the amount of blood or fluid lost, age of the animal, previous health problems, and time delay in beginning therapy.

Below are a few reasons to rush your pet in to the ER or your Veterinarian.

Severe trauma (hit by car, dog fight, etc.)
Heat exhaustion or stroke
Frostbite or exposure to cold from prolonged periods
Near drowning
Electric shock
Profuse bleeding that doesn’t stop with five minutes
Painful eyes, squinting, pupils that are different sizes or larger/smaller than normal
Protruding eyeball
Frequent vomiting/diarrhea, with or without blood
Retching or unproductive vomiting, particularly if the stomach or abdomen looks distended
Difficulty breathing, nonstop coughing, choking or strangulation
Collapse or unconsciousness
Paralysis or severe neck/back pain
Painful or bloated abdomen
Cluster of seizure within 24-hour period or a seizure that does not stop after several minutes
Prolonged labor or difficulty giving birth
Suspected poisoning, insect bite reaction, snake bites, etc.
Extreme lethargy
Prolapsed rectum or uterus
Fracture bones, severe lameness, or inability to move legs

First aid kits can come in handy until you are able to get medical care for your pet. You can purchase a ready-made pet first aid kit or make one yourself. A pet first aid kit generally includes basic items similar to those of a human first aid kit. The first aid kit should have a secure lid and be kept where you can find it quickly.

Here are a few items recommended

Muzzle (a shoelace or strip of cloth can work well in a pinch)
Bandage materials (gauze, sterile pads, stretch bandage, bandage tape)
Duct tape or packing tape
Small scissors
Cotton balls or swabs
Saline solution
Antibiotic ointment
Tweezers or forceps
Bulb syringe
Thermometer (for rectal use)
Lubricating jelly
Disposable gloves

If you ever find your pets in an emergency situation, we are always here to help. We are open 24/7 to ensure your pet gets the treatment they need and deserve.