6 July 2020

For many pet parents, it’s hard to imagine a life without our dogs. They are an integral part of our lives and they make our houses feel more like home. They add a certain warmth to our space, and our homes feel a little empty without them in it. Which is why, if our dogs suddenly feel ill, act lethargic, or refuse to eat or play, we know something is up. 

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.

So how do you know the difference? 

In this article, we’ll walk you through some of the more serious symptoms of a medical emergency for your dog that means you should get them to the vet or to the vet ER straight away. 

Need a personalised answer right now? Why not try the Knose Pet Health Hotline? Find out if you need to take your pet to the ER, 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 Symptoms to Watch out for 

Signs of Pain 

Aside from crying out in pain or sudden jerking responses when you touch certain parts of their 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. 

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. 

Whilst a dog is having a seizure do not move him unless he is in a dangerous location where he might hurt himself. Just hold and comfort the dog until he regains consciousness, then take him to the vet. Make sure to put towels down in the car to avoid a mess. 

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. 

If your dog is a puppy, and has diarrhoea or vomiting that is not resolving or getting worse within a 12 hour period, it is important that you take them to the vet. They can dehydrate very quickly leading to further damage of internal organs. 

If your dog is showing signs of blood in their vomit or diarrhoea, they should be seen by a vet as soon as possible. 

Breathing Problems

It may be normal to see your dog panting after a long run but dog breathing problems can quickly become life-threatening. Usually caused by lung and respiratory problems, breathing problems can also be indicative of other problems such as obesity, heartworms, tumours, heart problems, allergies, or injury and trauma. 

When your dog has difficulty 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 sure sign of a 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. 

Inability to Urinate or Defecate

When your dog has a distended or bloated abdomen and is straining or squatting to urinate without producing much or discoloured, it could be a sign of a urinary obstruction which can be life-threatening. 

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

Unconsciousness or Loss of Balance

When your dog collapses, loses 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. It 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 with your dogs refusing to eat or move at all and significantly growing worse—almost all these cases warrant a trip to your vet or an animal ER.

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 try to be sick, often all they will bring up is a 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 an Emergency?

In an emergency, always approach your dog calmly and slowly. When they are injured or in pain, avoid putting your hand anywhere near their mouth so as to not get bitten. It is important to note that when dogs are in pain or are in distress so they may act aggressively because they do not understand the cause of the pain. When they are calm, it may be best to put a muzzle on their mouth to protect yourself from any accidental biting. 

When your dog is unwell, avoid moving them when possible and keep them as comfortable while making sure their area is clean and secure.  Try to 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. If they are choking, try to check if you can remove the blockage yourself, otherwise head straight to the animal ER. 

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 vet or emergency care prior to transporting your pet so they know what to expect and can prep things ahead of time for serious medical emergencies.

Is your dog exhibiting any of these symptoms or showing tell-tale signs of distress? Contact your nearest veterinarian or animal care office immediately.  

Still not sure if you need to rush off to ER?

The Knose 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, 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.

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

We also provide individualised pet care plans that amy prevent certain emergencies. They are tailored for your pet’s needs and give you some peace of mind.  Find your plan today.