Common Emergencies That Can Land Your Pet in the Emergency Room

January 29, 2020
Common Emergencies That Can Land Your Pet in the Emergency Room
At our Care Center locations, our emergency departments treat pet emergencies daily. In an emergency situation, prompt treatment can mean the difference between life and death for your pet, and your ability to recognize an emergency can save her life. Be aware of these common emergencies, so you can seek help for your pet if she suddenly becomes ill.


If your pet is hit by a car or subjected to another trauma, she could suffer from a variety of injuries, such as broken bones, skin lacerations, or organ damage. A pet who experiences a traumatic accident should be examined immediately by a veterinarian, whether or not she has obvious injuries. Internal organ damage or hemorrhage may not be immediately apparent, and your pet’s condition can acutely deteriorate to a life-threatening emergency. 

ToxicityCare Center Common Pet Emergencies

Pets’ curious nature can expose them to many toxic substances. Unsuspecting owners may also expose their pets to toxins with foods and medications that are safe for human use, but dangerous to pets. Ensure you don’t accidentally create a pet emergency—know which materials are dangerous to your pet, including these seemingly innocent examples:
  • Chocolate
  • Grapes and raisins
  • Garlic and onions
  • Xylitol, an artificial sweetener commonly found in sugar-free gum and other foods
  • Ibuprofen (i.e., Advil, Motrin)
  • Naproxen (i.e., Aleve)
  • Acetaminophen (i.e., Tylenol)
To learn about other potential pet toxins, refer to the ASPCA animal poison control center or pet poison helpline.

Allergic reaction

Various allergens, such as insect bites, vaccines, and medications, can affect pets, who can quickly develop dangerous complications. Watch for common signs of an allergic reaction, which include:
  • Development of hives over your pet’s face or trunk
  • Itching
  • Vomiting
  • Trouble breathing
  • Unconsciousness
If your pet develops allergic reaction signs, take her to the veterinarian immediately, as severe reactions can be deadly. 

Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD)

IVDD causes a disc between a pet’s vertebrae to degenerate and compress the spinal cord, and in severe cases, can cause acute paralysis of the pet’s back legs. Treatment involves surgical spinal-cord decompression by a veterinary specialist, and the procedure must be performed within hours of onset for function return. If your pet becomes suddenly paralyzed, rush her to Care Center’s emergency department immediately for the best chance of a full recovery.


A number of conditions cause vomiting in pets, and although many are not emergencies, those such as pancreatitis, GI obstruction, and intussusception can progress to life-threatening dehydration and sepsis if not treated. If your pet vomits for more than 24 hours, also has abdominal pain, is extremely lethargic, refuses to eat, or cannot keep food or water down, you should seek immediate medical care. 

Gastric dilation volvulus (GDV)

Pet EmergenciesGDV develops when a dog’s stomach dilates with gas (i.e., bloat) and rotates, trapping gas inside, and cutting off blood flow to stomach tissue. GDV occurs most often in large, deep-chested dogs, and causes clinical signs that include:
  • Abdominal distension
  • Retching
  • Severe discomfort
  • Pale mucous membranes
  • Difficulty breathing
GDV causes a number of life-threatening complications, including shock, sepsis, tissue necrosis, and lung compression. Prompt surgical decompression is required to prevent death, so seek immediate emergency medical care if your dog develops GDV signs. 

Urethral blockage

Urethral blockage can occur in dogs or cats who have urinary disease, such as bladder stones or chronic urinary inflammation. If a stone or urethral plug lodges in your pet’s urethra, she cannot urinate, and toxins will accumulate in her body. Unfortunately, many owners do not monitor their pet’s bathroom habits, and are unaware their pet’s urethra is blocked until they become obviously sick. Urethral blockage occurs most commonly in male cats, although any dog or cat can be affected, and may develop clinical signs such as:
  • Inability to urinate
  • Abdominal pain
  • Lethargy
  • Decreased appetite
  • Vomiting 
  • Unconsciousness 
A blocked urethra must be cleared under anesthesia, and without prompt treatment, will quickly progress to life-threatening illness.  


Many owners assume that their pet who has a seizure has epilepsy. Although epilepsy is a common seizure disorder, many other conditions—some of them life-threatening—can also cause seizures. Conditions such as toxicity, head trauma, hypoglycemia, and hypocalcemia must be treated immediately, before they become deadly. If your pet has a seizure, take her to a veterinarian immediately to rule out these dangerous causes. 

Difficulty breathing

Difficulty breathing, or dyspnea, typically is caused by heart or lung disease, such as congestive heart failure, pneumonia, or fluid in the thoracic cavity (i.e., pleural effusion). Dyspnea is always considered an emergency, and a pet who is having trouble breathing should be evaluated immediately, because inadequate oxygen intake can cause dangerous consequences. Pale or blue-tinged mucous membranes also indicate low blood-oxygen levels, and are an emergency.  If you think your pet is suffering from an emergency, contact us immediately, or bring her directly to our emergency department.