September 5, 2016


Is This a Veterinary Emergency? How do I Know?

by Aili V. Heintz, DVM

You wake up in the middle of the night to the sound of your dog throwing up next to your bed. You are tired and sleepy while you clean up the mess, and your mind starts to race. Why did he throw up? Did he get into something? Should I be worried? Is this a veterinary emergency? Every worst-case scenario runs through your tired mind.sick pet

We have probably all questioned the severity of a pet’s illness or injury. What constitutes a veterinary emergency? And what do you do if your vet clinic is closed?

Obvious Veterinary Emergencies

Some emergency situations are obvious, for example:

  • being hit by a car
  • having a large open wound; or
  • bleeding profusely without stopping

In these situations, get help for your pet immediately! If your veterinary clinic is closed when the emergency occurs, go to the nearest emergency veterinary facility. Most cities and towns have at least one local emergency vet clinic that is open during nights, weekends, and holidays.

Not-so-obvious Situations

Other health problems can be trickier to decipher. For instance, vomiting and diarrhea can be from a single episode of digestive upset.  These symptoms may also signal more severe health problems.

There is no rule of thumb that says one episode of vomiting is okay, but two episodes constitute an emergency. However, you can look for other signs to assess the situation.

Factors to Consider

As you try to determine your pet’s situation, make note of these other indicators:

  • the activity level of your pet
    • Is your pet suddenly lethargic?
  • the color of gums
    • Pink, moist gums are healthy; gray gums are not.
  • food and water consumption
    • Has your pet stopped eating or drinking?
  • signs of pain
    • Does your pet wince or nip when touched?

If your pet is acting normal and has had only one episode of vomiting or diarrhea, you can probably wait until the morning to see your veterinarian. However, if your pet doesn’t seem “right” or the symptoms continue, call the emergency veterinary clinic.  A veterinary professional can help you determine the severity of a situation.

No one knows your pet like you do. Trust your instincts. If a situation worries you, call your vet’s office.  If your regular office is closed, contact an emergency veterinary clinic.

The Emergency Veterinary Clinic

An emergency clinic it is well-equipped to handle after-hours situations. Emergency clinics have the necessary staff to treat your pet immediately.  If necessary, they can also monitor your pet overnight. In addition, emergency clinics have diagnostic equipment and laboratories to identify sources of illness or injury. decreased appetite

If your pet is treated and released from the emergency center, call your veterinary office to notify your doctor of the situation. The emergency clinic will usually send medical records to your regular veterinarian as well.

If your pet needs continued care, you may be able to transfer your pet to your regular veterinary office once it opens. In addition, your regular veterinarian may recommend further diagnostic tests or treatments.

Be Prepared

Locate the emergency clinic that is closest to your house before a veterinary emergency occurs. Keep the phone numbers accessible for both your veterinary office and the emergency clinic. Knowing who to call and where to go can help to make things less stressful should a pet emergency occur.