sick dog going to the emergency vet

Knowing when to take your dog to an emergency vet

Dr Amelia Bunker, Resident Veterinarian - Knose Pet Insurance

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Dr. Amelia Bunker

Dr. Amelia Bunker (BVSc), our resident veterinarian at Knose, blends her passion for animal care with her expertise in veterinary science. Her journey from mixed practice clinics to insurance expert motivates her dedication to animal welfare, both in her professional role and as a pet owner.

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If you’re reading this, you’ve probably started researching the strange behaviour of your dog and it’s put you in a panic. When your dog starts to hide, refuses to eat, acts lethargic, or displaying weird behaviour, then you know something is up. Good news— you’ve come to the right place. We’re here to help you decide when to take your dog to an emergency vet.

emergency vet nurse taking care of a labrador dog
Pet emergencies often return costly vet bills. Contact us for assistance in handling these vet bills.

When to seek emergency vet assistance

We’ll walk you through some of the more serious symptoms of a medical pet emergency which means you should get them to the emergency vet straight away. According to most veterinarians, although some cases may not always be as dire and can wait until your next vet appointment, other subtle signs may be more serious, which when ignored, can be life-threatening.

If you need to consult right away, why not try the Knose Pet Health Hotline? Find out if you need to take your pet to the emergency vet, ask specific questions or get general advice, any time day or night. It doesn’t replace your local vet, but it does give you 24/7 access to expert advice and peace of mind for those times when a vet visit isn’t practical.

Dog emergency signs to watch out for 

1. Signs of pain 

Aside from crying out in pain or sudden jerking responses when you touch certain areas of your dog’s body (e.g. limbs, abdominal, and back), anxiety or restlessness can be a sign of pain. Some dogs are also visibly unable to move or walk at all or can be seen limping or dragging their back legs. It’s best to take your dog to the emergency vet if it is affecting your dog’s daily routine.

2. Seizures in dogs

Tremors or seizures are caused by uncontrollable bursts of activity in your dog’s brain. It can be seen as a muscle twitch or uncontrollable shaking and can last for a minute or more. Other signs can also include collapsing, muscle jerking, stiffening, drooling, tongue chewing, foaming at the mouth or losing consciousness. Seizures are often caused by poisoning, liver or kidney disease, head injuries, strokes, or cancer. 

It is already considered dangerous if your dog’s seizure lasts two to five minutes. Observe and monitor the length of their seizure. Any more than 5 minutes is a pet emergency. While your dog is having a seizure, do not move them unless they are in a dangerous location where they might hurt themselves. Just hold and comfort the dog until he regains consciousness, then take him to the emergency vet. Make sure to put towels down in the car to avoid a mess. 

3. Coughing, vomiting, and diarrhoea

You know something is wrong when your dog is constantly coughing and unable to sleep at all through the night. Certain bacteria, viruses, and fungi can infect your dog’s upper respiratory tract leading to pneumonia or bronchitis. Coughing can also be a sign of heart disease. 

Diarrhoea in dogs can often be attributed to parasites, certain food allergies, and intolerances or stress. Although vomiting is fairly common in dogs, repeated vomiting for more than two or three times can be serious and could be a sign that your dog has ingested a toxic substance or has another underlying medical condition that needs to be checked. 

For puppies with diarrhoea or vomiting not resolving or getting worse within a 12 hour period, it is important that you take them to the emergency vet. They can dehydrate very quickly leading to further damage of internal organs. Check out our infographic or our blog on dog dehydration to know more about it.

 Infographic on dog dehydration signs - Knose
Infographic on dog dehydration signs

Visit an emergency vet as soon as possible if your dog is showing signs of blood in their vomit or diarrhoea.

4. Dog breathing problems

It may be normal to see your dog panting heavily after a long run.  But when do you consider a dog’s heavy breathing a pet emergency? Dog breathing problems can quickly become life-threatening and is usually caused by lung and respiratory problems. A dog’s heavy breathing can also be indicative of other problems such as obesity, heartworms, tumours, heart problems, allergies, or injury and trauma. 

When your dog has heavy breathing, you may notice fast, laboured breaths, a wide-open mouth and an extended tongue. You may also notice pale or bluish gums, panting, or your dog coughing a foamy, frothy liquid. 

A definite sign of a heavy breathing problem in your dog is when they have a resting respiratory rate greater than 60 breaths per minute. Healthy dogs have a resting respiratory rate of 20 to 34 breaths per minute. 

Once you notice that your dog may be breathing weird, make sure to observe, monitor, and document their behaviour. It will be helpful to the local vets when you visit the emergency vet.

5. Inability to urinate or defecate

Check if your dog has a distended or bloated abdomen. They may be straining or squatting to urinate without producing much urine or the urine itself is discoloured, it could be a sign of a urinary obstruction which can be life-threatening. 

If your dog is unable to urinate, wastes in its body can reach toxic and dangerous levels very quickly. In most dogs, urinary obstructions are caused by bladder stones, urethral stones, and cancer. It is considered a pet emergency and you need to seek emergency vet care right away. 

dog needs emergency vet
Loss of appetite, consciousness, and balance, among other things are signs of a distressed dog.

6. Unconsciousness or loss of balance

Should your dog collapse, lose consciousness or their balance, seek medical care right away. It could be caused by tick attachment which can lead to ataxia or paralysis of the feet and legs that moves upwards. These can also be a symptom of a more serious heart problem or a medical condition that needs treatment. 

As with most cases, you always need to watch out for symptoms that last for more than a few days. For instance, if your dog refuses to eat or move at all or is significantly growing worse. Almost all these cases warrant a trip to an emergency vet.

7. Bloat or gastric dilatation & volvulus 

This is where your dog’s stomach becomes distended and twisted, usually after a large meal. Your dog will seem restless and sick, often all they will bring up is white foam. They will show signs of discomfort and pain, and their heart and breathing rate will increase.

Other symptoms to watch out for 

  • Fever or persistent lethargy
  • Any trauma or significant amounts of bleeding
  • Any poisoning or toxin ingestion
  • Abnormal discharge
  • Abnormal odour
  • Squinting, bulging, or painful eyeballs

What can you do in a pet emergency?

In a pet emergency, always approach your dog calmly and slowly. Avoid putting your hand anywhere near their mouth. It is important to note that when dogs are distressed, they may act aggressively. Once they are calm, it may be best to put a muzzle on their mouth to protect yourself from any accidental biting. 

Avoid moving them and keep them as comfortable as possible while making sure their area is clean and secure.  Remove sharp objects within the vicinity that can cause them additional harm or injury. If your dog is bleeding, try to put some pressure on the wound. In case of choking, try to check if you can remove the blockage yourself, otherwise head straight to an emergency vet. 

If your dog is calm and passive and allows you to touch them, take extra care when lifting or transporting them. Make sure to always support their neck and back if they have any injuries. 

It is best to call the emergency vet prior to transporting your pet so they know what to expect and can prep things ahead of time for serious medical emergencies.

border collie with a male vet
Pet insurance provides our furry friends with the best care possible.

Ensure your pet with 24/7 vet care

Especially in dire times, a 24/7 vet is the best care possible for a dog that is struggling with symptoms. If your dog is exhibiting any of these symptoms, contact your nearest 24/7 veterinarian or animal care office immediately.  

Still not sure if you need to rush off to the emergency vet?

Our Knose 24/7 Pet Health Hotline is another line of defence in your pet’s wellbeing. Find out if you need to take your pet to the vet, ask specific questions or get general advice. It doesn’t replace your local vet, but it does give you 24/7 access to expert advice and peace of mind for those times when a vet visit isn’t practical.

If you’re looking for a way to better manage your pet’s vet care bills, contact us at Knose. You can also get a quick quote without picking up the phone.

We also provide individualised pet care plans that may prevent certain emergencies. We’ve partnered with vet clinics and hospitals around Australia, to provide custom wellness plans. Find a vet near you.

More resources related to pet emergencies:

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