For FDA Recall Information:


303-678-VETS (8387)

We have many other poison and emergency handouts;
see our Education & Resource area and the Pet Library area. 

What Is An Emergency?

            Nobody ever wants to have the animal become sick when the veterinarian’s office is closed.   It is impossible to list every possible problem you may encounter; hopefully you’ll never have the need for emergency care after hours.   Even as a veterinarian we may have trouble deciding if and when the pet needs to be seen by the information provided over the phone.  With some common sense and a few guidelines you may be able to decide if and when an emergency arrives.  As a general rule if you feel the problem is an emergency, go with your gut feelings and seek medical care or advice.

            An obvious emergency is an animal hit by a car or a similar serious trauma.  This patient may be bleeding internally and the signs of shock may not show up for 2-3 hours later.  Any animal that is very weak needs medical attention.  An animal which has collapsed and appears to be non-responsive and/or in shock needs immediate attention.  Especially the large breeds of dogs can have heart attacks, properly called ventricular fibrillations.  Puncture wounds to the chest or abdomen; such as in a big dog biting a little dog, are emergencies.  Open bone fractures and bleeding are also indications to seek attention.  A few minor cuts or bite wounds can wait, yet an ear or paw laceration usually will bleed till the wound is closed up by various surgical methods.  Eye trauma and problems, unless a mild infection, are usually emergencies which cannot wait till the next day.

            Dogs commonly get into garbage.  Gastroenteritis then occurs and the body‘s response is to get the rotten food out of there, either by vomiting or diarrhea.  Severe vomiting or diarrhea, such as blood in either case, requires medical attention.  Vomiting over 1x/hour indicates a problem.   Sometimes we see dogs that appear to try to vomit, yet only saliva if anything comes out.  These usually are large breeds of dogs that may have a twisted stomach, also called bloat, GVT or GVD; this condition cannot wait even 1 hour for a medical exam.  Choke or colic in a horse should be seen within a couple of hours or less, depending upon the severity.  Livestock who have ingested more than 1# of grain per 100# body weight need to be treated promptly for grain overload. A bloated ruminant is an acute emergency.  You know your pet as well as anyone.  Usually by just looking at their eyes you can decide if they are severely sick.  When one is in severe pain the anxiety look is usually apparent.  A very depressed animal will have a far off look, and be non-responsive.

            All animals can develop bladder infections.  With male cats this can be a problem because the urethra can be blocked and they cannot urinate.  Any male cat that is acting constipated, not urinating and howling indicates an exam.  Male cattle and sheep also can be blocked, and their signs are kicking at their abdomen and straining to urinate.  A blocked urinary tract is very rare in female animals.  Bladder infections are not emergencies, unless the patient’s temperature is over 104 degrees, which indicates a possible kidney infection.

            Coughing can be due to infections, heart problems or other conditions.  Constant coughing over 3-4x a minute indicates a medical exam.   A dog seizure less than 3-4 minutes where the patient returns to normal, is not an emergency.  A call to the veterinarian is indicated if this is the first seizure or if the patient has seizured more than 2x a day, or if the seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes in duration. 

            There are a few simple tests you can do at home.  Always look at the color of the gums of any patient who may appear sick.  If the color is blue or white this is an emergency.  One should be able to see the color is pink, push on the gums and watch the color return to the area within 2 seconds.  Try to get into the habit of cupping your pet’s chest, or sliding your hand up into the armpit of larger animals.  The heartbeat varies with the size of the animal, such as 40 times/minute for a horse to 180 for a cat; the smaller the animal the faster the heart rate normally is.  If the heartbeat is very fast and/or not consistent in rhythm an exam is indicated.    If the gums have bruises this indicates a prompt exam is also needed.  If you pinch up the skin on a patient’s neck you should release it and the skin should return to normal within a couple of seconds; a longer period of time may indicate dehydration.  With livestock this dehydration skin test is not accurate, and a blood test needs to be performed to verify dehydration (or anemia).   Take the temperature rectally of all animals you think are sick, except birds whose normal temperatures can be 105 degrees F normally; reptiles and amphibians that are not warm-blooded will have their body registering at room temperature.  Some pocket pets, such as sugar gliders, can have a normal rectal temperature in the 90’s.  The normal temperature of an animal is 100-102 degrees.  A normal horse can be as low as 98 degrees and sheep can be 103 degrees.  A call to the emergency veterinarian is indicated if the temperature is below 98 degrees or over 104 degrees.  Placing your hand on a patient’s skin and/or nose will not determine accurately the temperature of a patient.  The ear thermometers are not very accurate in animals, compared to humans who have a different anatomy of the ear.     

            Some emergencies occur before the animal shows signs of sickness.   A patient who has eaten mouse or rat poisoning can wait a few hours for treatment, yet if the patient is not treated promptly they may bleed to death 2-4 days later.  Antifreeze, brake and transmission fluid ingestion is a medical emergency that should not wait a few hours.  After 4-6 hours of ingesting ethylene glycol (antifreeze) there is usually irreversible kidney damage and the signs may not show up for 1-2 days later. Giving Tylenol to a cat is an emergency; ibuprofen and naproxen or high doses of aspirin to any pet requires a call to the veterinarian.  Chocolate, mouse poisoning, tobacco and other products are toxic to pets. 

            It is always best to call for advice when an animal has ingested a poison.  If the patient is vomiting, and you feel it is from them eating a poison, by attempting to induce vomiting can worsen the problem; especially if the animal is trying to vomit from a twisted intestine or stomach.  Fortunately most vomiting patients do not have serious intestinal problems or have not ingested a foreign body.  Without professional advice you never want to induce vomiting if the patient has ingested a foreign body or a string.  Patients who have ingested acids, oils, alkaline solutions or tranquilizers and drugs that have calmed the patient should not be induced to vomit.  At home you can use 1/2-1 teaspoon of Ipecac syrup, 1 teaspoon of mustard, 1 teaspoon of salt, or 1 teaspoon of hydrogen peroxide, per average size dog, to induce vomiting.  Animals who are very sick or depressed should not be induced to vomit.   If in doubt a national poison center’s phone number is 1-888-232-8870, 900-680-0000 and/or 888-426-4435.  If your pet ingested a pill of an unknown type, you first should search the Internet for “pill indentify) and look at the,, site(s); then call poison control.

            We cannot list all of the possible emergencies that can occur.  Prompt attention is needed if an animal in strong labor over 1/2 hour with no baby(s), has a temperature over 105 degrees, trouble breathing, electrocution, swollen stomach, ingesting a string over 6”, heat stroke, fly strike, poisonous snake bites and other obvious problems.   Prolapses, where the tissue from inside the body is coming out of the vagina, rectum or other areas are also emergencies.


The Staff at the Nelson Road Veterinary Clinic




            We have many other poisoning and emergency type of handouts.  For more information from the Internet go into the Client Education link.