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Is My Pet having an Emergency?

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Identifying whether your pet needs emergency care can be a stressful and scary call. There are times when clients come in to our hospital in the middle of the night and their cat would have been fine if they waited until the morning, but there have also been times a client brought in a pup whose condition wouldn’t have been nearly as critical if they wouldn’t have waited until morning. 

Your pet can’t talk to you to let you know where it hurts or what level their pain is on a scale from 1 to 10.  So how can you know if they’re in need of emergency care if they’re not experiencing heavy bleeding or other visual signs of extreme trauma? We’ve put together a list of a few things you can check for to find out if your pet is stable or if you need to seek immediate help. 

Please note, this list is not exhaustive but does cover some important ways that you can assess your pet’s condition from home. 

Check Respiration

Do they appear to be breathing normally or do things look different? 

  • Look at the chest. Count the number of times the chest rises and falls in 60 seconds. 
  • Dogs at rest have a normal respiration rate of 10-35 breaths per minute. For cats, that number is somewhere between 20-30.
  • In cats specifically, open-mouth breathing is often a sign of respiratory distress.

Check Temperature

Chances are, you have a digital thermometer at home. You may want to add one to be used only on your pets (you probably won’t want to use it on humans after using it on your pup or cat). 

  • Taking a cat or dog’s temperature is often a two-person job. If you have two people, have on person restrain (a hugging type restraint of typically works) and one person inserts the thermometer. 
  • Lubricate the end of the thermometer with petroleum jelly or something similar. Lift up the tail of your pup or cat and insert it into the anus. Digital thermometers only take a few seconds to get a reading. 
  • A temp of 101-102.5 degrees is normal for both cats and dogs. If the temp is 103 call your vet. If it’s 104 or above seek emergency care right away. 

Excessive bleeding

If your dog has a bleeding wound, the first step is to apply pressure with something clean (gauze if you have it available). If the bleeding doesn’t stop within about 15 minutes, call the vet. Ears on both cats and dogs tend to bleed a lot. They’re full of blood vessels close to the skin so a cut on the ears will bleed much more than a cut of the same size on another part of the body. If ears are bleeding (we’re talking about a cut to the outside of the ear, not something causing the ear canal to bleed) after 15 minutes it still may not be an emergency. 

Check Gums

Lift up your cat or dog’s lips and check the color of their gums. Pink gums mean that they’re getting enough oxygen. White or yellow gums mean the opposite. White or yellow gums are indicative of an emergency. 

Ingestion of Toxins

There are many things that are unhealthy for your pet to ingest. Some cause mild stomach discomfort and some can be fatal. 

Chocolate is one of the most well-known toxins for dogs. Ingesting one small piece of chocolate is not good for your dog, but it doesn’t usually warrant a trip to the E.R.  If your dog has eaten chocolate, call your vet to discuss how serious of a condition it may be based on how much was eaten. 

If your cat or dog has ingested the following, seek immediate care: rat poison, anti-freeze, Tylenol, ibuprofen, antidepressants, blood pressure medications, anad xylitol (an artificial sweetener).  There are other serious household toxins to cats and dogs, but those are some of the most common.  

Lack of bodily control

This could be a number of things, from not being able to walk to loss of bowel control. If your dog or cat can’t walk or is defecating and/or urinating with seemingly no regard to where they are, it’s a good idea to bring them in. This loss of bowel control is different from a cat (or dog) refusing to use the litter box. 

Refusing to use the litter box can be due to a number of factors from stress, urinary tract infection, or another health issue your cat is trying to tell you about. It is worth making an appointment if your cat stops using the litter box (after trying adding another litter box to your home), but it’s not an emergency in and of itself. 

Signs you should make an appointment, but it can wait

Changes in normal behavior are the biggest ways we can watch our pets to see if we should make an appointment. Here are some specific changes to keep an eye out for. 

Changes in going to the bathroom.

Since our pets eat the same food every day (close to the same), their stool should be pretty consistent. If you notice a change in your pet when it comes to going to the bathroom that lasts for more than 24 hours, consider making an appointment.  If they’re defecating and/or urinating significantly more or less than normal this could be a sign of an intestinal problem or possibly a urinary tract infection among other things. 

Persistent Coughing (dogs)

This could be a sign of kennel cough or another upper respiratory issue.

Changes in Eating Habits.

Every dog differs in their eating habits so you need to know your specific dog. If your pup normally gobbles down his food as soon as you set it out and he hasn’t eaten for 24 hours, you may want to call the vet. 

Lethargy or Weakness

This symptom is rarely seen alone. Chances are if your cat or dog is moving around much less than usual, they may have a fever, lower respiratory rate, and/or are eating less. Check for other symptoms. If no other symptoms are present, but lethargy persists for more than 24 hours, call your vet.

Whether or not you’re a current or future client, we hope that this could be a helpful resource. Having a little information can go a long way in helping better care for your pet.