10 Times You Should Take Your Pet To The Emergency Room, According To An ER Vet

STAT! 🏥

pet emergency room

Whenever your pet’s sick, you want to make sure he gets the best treatment and starts his recovery as soon as possible. And as an overprotective pet parent, every issue might feel ER-worthy.

But when should you absolutely rush your BFF to the emergency room?

We spoke with Dr. Tannetje Crocker, an emergency doctor at Veterinary Emergency Group in Fort Worth, Texas, to find out which health issues require a trip to the ER every time.

Quotes were edited for length and clarity.

1. Respiratory distress

This looks like: rapid or labored breathing

“Respiratory distress includes increased respiratory rate of over 60 bpm, open-mouth breathing in any cat, increased effort when breathing in or out, or purple color to tongue or gums when breathing faster. Cats are obligate nose breathers. If they are breathing through their mouth, it indicates they are not oxygenating adequately and need immediate help.”

How the ER will treat your pet

“Most of the time, we start supplemental oxygen when they first present to us. We often need to lightly sedate them to decrease the respiratory effort and rate, then if they are stable, we do imaging with either an ultrasound or radiographs to determine the cause of the issue.

If there is fluid present, we may remove it or administer a diuretic. If there is a mass or infection present, we treat accordingly.”

2. Bites or deep cuts

This looks like: deep wounds or large lacerations

“The most common complication that arises from any break in the skin is infection. If the wound is over the chest or abdomen, you can also see penetration into those cavities causing internal bleeding or infection, which can be life threatening.”

How the ER vet will treat your pet

Superficial bites or lacerations in the ER are cleaned thoroughly and the patient is placed on antibiotics and pain medication. For more significant injuries, the pet patient often needs to be anesthetized so the wounds can be thoroughly cleaned, explored and sutured closed. Then they are also placed on antibiotics and pain medications.”

3. Extreme vomiting

This looks like: vomiting a lot or vomiting blood

Pets that are vomiting a lot could have either medical or surgical causes. Medical causes would be things like toxin ingestion, anaphylactic reaction, pancreatitis, kidney or liver failure, and severe gastroenteritis. Surgical causes would be in the ingestion of a foreign object, bloat, cystotomy.

If a dog’s vomiting on an empty stomach, I am more concerned for a blockage of the intestinal system. It can also indicate severe kidney or liver failure.”

How the ER vet will treat your pet

“A thorough exam, history and diagnostic tests give us insight into the reason the pet is vomiting. With baseline bloodwork, and often radiographs, we can determine if the patient needs a surgical or medical treatment of the vomiting.”

4. Heat stroke

This looks like: lethargy, rapid panting, diarrhea and a temperature over 104 degrees Fahrenheit

Heat stroke can be life threatening in pets. There are numerous complications that can occur in a pet if it is not addressed and the temperature is brought down immediately.

The extreme temperature shock to the system causes severe issues in the intestinal tract that can occur within a few hours of the heat stroke occurring.”

How the ER vet will treat your pet

“When heat stroke pets present to the ER, we first focus on reducing the fever with IV fluids and fans. After the temperature is improved, we focus on the complications that can occur by supporting the gastrointestinal system and circulatory system.”

5. Back injury

This looks like: mobility issues, stiffness and vocalization

“The most common back injury we see in pets is intervertebral disc disease, or what is commonly called a ‘slipped or ruptured disc.’ The disc ruptures into the spinal canal, putting pressure on the spinal cord. This pressure prevents signals [getting] from the brain to the legs. So the pets present as weak or completely unable to use their legs normally.”

How the ER vet will treat your pet

“Acute back injuries in the ER are treated with pain management and client education. One of the main ways to treat this issue is to confine and restrict the pet at home. If the pet patient has no movement in the hind end, they are often referred to a surgeon for assessment as they may need back surgery.”

6. Internal bleeding

This looks like: weakness, breathing issues and a swollen abdomen

“The most common things that we see causing internal blood loss in pets are trauma, like hit by car cases or ruptured tumors from the spleen or liver. Less commonly, we can see bleeding with rat bait ingestion.”

How the ER vet will treat your pet

“Any bleeding that occurs from a ruptured splenic or liver mass needs to be addressed surgically. The pet patient needs surgery to remove the organ. For other causes, you may need to give the pet patient blood products and buy them time while the body stops the bleeding on its own.”

7. Ingesting a toxic substance

This looks like: gastrointestinal issues, behavioral changes and tremors

“Ideally, if you know your pet has ingested something, you will immediately call Pet Poison Control, and for a minimal fee they can tell you next steps. Those may include visiting your closest veterinary ER and having them induce the pet to vomit, hospitalizing them for supportive care, or just monitoring them at home.”

How the ER vet will treat your pet

“There are two reasons it is important to take your pet to the ER if they ingest something toxic.

One is that often they can be induced to vomit up the toxin, and that will decrease the chances of any side effects. Once they eat something, the clock starts ticking and you only have a short window to treat them and prevent absorption of the toxin into their system.

The second reason is that many toxins will cause internal issues that can take 72 hours to show up clinically. So often owners will think their pets are OK, and then find out there are severe side effects to the toxin. It is worth the time and investment to have them examined and discuss the toxin and veterinary recommendations.”

8. Parvovirus

This looks like: body temperature abnormalities, gastrointestinal issues and behavioral changes

“Parvo is a very aggressive virus that can cause extreme dehydration and sepsis from constant vomiting and diarrhea. Puppies can die rapidly if infected with parvo. They are vomiting and having diarrhea.”

How the ER vet will treat your pet

“Often parvo puppies need to be hospitalized for aggressive supportive care. The mainstay of treatment is anti-nausea, IV fluid support, GI protectants, antibiotics and sometimes blood products like plasma. They need constant monitoring and are often hospitalized multiple days for treatment.”

9. Hypoglycemia (aka low blood sugar)

This looks like: behavioral changes, mobility issues and involuntary movements

“If pets present for hypoglycemia, they have a blood glucose [level] of less than 70. This can happen for a variety of reasons. In young puppies and kittens, they are often not getting fed often [enough] to maintain their blood glucose.”

How the ER vet will treat your pet

“We can administer Dextrose, which can immediately increase the blood glucose levels. This can be done as often as needed until the pet stabilizes.”

10. Continuous seizures

This looks like: convulsing and possibly foaming at the mouth

“Short-term seizures can be caused by certain toxins, hypoglycemia, infection in the brain, or viruses like distemper. Epilepsy is a common cause of seizures in any age dog or cat. In older pets, one cause of seizures can be a brain tumor and is only diagnosed with advanced imaging.”

How the ER vet will treat your pet

“If a pet is actively seizing, or is having several seizures in a row, they need to go to the closest veterinary ER. Epilepsy can often be controlled with lifelong medication.”

So if your pet is suffering from any of these 10 things, make sure you get him to the ER right away.