Signs That Your Family Pet May Need a Trip to the Emergency Room

Oct 20, 2017

pet emergencyBy Allison Sande, DVM, DACVIM (Small Animal Internal Medicine), DACVECC

You should never feel hesitant or embarrassed to call a veterinarian if you are concerned about the health of your pet. Veterinarians and their staff are trained to handle emergencies and provide guidance. By asking some basic questions about your pet over the phone, the hospital staff member will be able to tell you if you should bring your pet to the hospital immediately for evaluation or if it is safe to wait for a scheduled examination with your veterinarian.

Common Signs

If you notice any of the following signs your pet may need immediate attention. In these situations, please contact or visit your local veterinary emergency hospital right away.

  • Your pet is not breathing or you cannot feel a heartbeat.
  • Your pet has experienced any type of trauma, such as being hit by a car or blunt object, being attacked by another animal, or falling more than a few feet.
  • Your pet collapses.
  • Your pet is unconscious and you cannot rouse him/her.
  • Your pet has a seizure lasting more than 3 minutes, or more than 2 seizures within a 24-hour period.
  • Your pet is having difficulty breathing.
  • Your pet’s abdomen is swollen and hard to the touch, or s/he is gagging and trying to vomit.
  • Your pet ingested or may have ingested a toxin or poisonous substance.
  • Your pet suddenly cannot stand or walk.
  • Your pet is straining to urinate or unable to urinate.
  • Your pet has suddenly pale or discolored gums.
  • Your pet has been vomiting or has had diarrhea for more than 24 hours.
  • Your pet is bleeding or there is blood in his/her urine or feces.
  • Your pet’s eye appears red, swollen or cloudy, or s/he is suddenly blind.
  • Your pet develops hives or facial swelling.
  • Your pet suffers heat stroke.
  • You suspect your pet has a broken bone.
  • Your pregnant pet has a fetus stuck in the birth canal or has gone more than 3-4 hours between delivering.

What To Do

If you notice any of the signs above, or if you suspect a different serious problem, contact a veterinary professional directly; do not leave a voicemail or use email. If you are unable to reach someone, then bring your dog to your nearest emergency hospital.

Where To Go

Primary Care Veterinarian

It is important for your pet to have a primary care veterinarian, also known as a general practice veterinarian. This doctor provides ongoing preventative care to keep your pet healthy and is available to diagnose and treat many illnesses and injuries during regular business hours. If advanced or emergent care is ever needed, your primary care veterinarian will refer you to the appropriate veterinary specialist, such as those here at Red Bank Veterinary Hospital (RBVH). However, if your veterinarian’s office is closed, or if your pet’s illness or injury is severe, you should immediately proceed to an emergency hospital.

Emergency Hospital

Emergency hospitals have trained veterinarians and technicians, as well as equipment available to provide care for urgent and potentially life-threatening injuries and illnesses when your family veterinarian is unavailable. Some emergency hospitals are only open evenings and weekends, while others are open 24 hours a day, 7 days per week. RBVH is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year (including all holidays). At RBVH, your pet has access to specialists in emergency and critical care, anesthesiology and pain management, avian and exotics, cardiology, clinical nutrition, dentistry & oral surgery, dermatology and allergy, diagnostic imaging, internal medicine, interventional radiology and endoscopy, neurology and neurosurgery, oncology (medical/radiation), ophthalmology, and surgery (orthopedic/soft tissue). You can call us anytime at 732-747-3636. No appointment is ever needed for an emergency visit.

Be Prepared

Having a pet means that, unfortunately, the unexpected may happen at any time. The best way to handle a pet emergency is to be prepared. Here are some important recommendations:

  • Keep the phone numbers and addresses of your primary care veterinarian and the nearest 24-hour emergency veterinary hospital next to the phone or in a highly visible place such as on the refrigerator.
  • Organize your pet’s medication information (drug names and doses), medical records and vaccination history, microchip number, as well as collars and tags; keep these items in a centralized and easy-to-remember location. Keep a recent photo of your pet available as well in case your pet gets lost.
  • Learn basic animal first aid from a local community organization or here at RBVH during a scheduled client seminar.
  • Have a first aid kit prepared. First aid care is not a substitute for proper veterinary care, but it may stabilize your pet until s/he receives treatment. You may purchase preassembled kits online, through some pet supply stores, or assemble your own. Visit for a list of recommended items to have included.
  • Purchase pet health insurance. Pet insurance companies have a variety of plans that reimburse you for veterinary bills up to 80-90%. If pet insurance is not an option, you can be financially prepared by setting aside a sum of money each month in a savings account specifically dedicated to your pets medical costs. You can also apply for CareCredit, a healthcare financing credit card available for veterinary services.
  • If you leave your pet at a boarding facility or with a caregiver, always leave the phone numbers of your veterinarian and preferred emergency hospital. Also, always leave information where you can be reached in case of an emergency. Leave written (signed) authorization and advanced medical directives with any surrogate decision-makers regarding your pet’s care for times you are unavailable.
  • If traveling with your pet, be sure to bring his/her medications and copies of all medical records/vaccination history. Research 24-hour emergency veterinary hospitals in the area(s) that you will be visiting or traveling through. If needed, you may find AAHA-accredited hospitals in those areas by visiting the hospital locator on the AAHA website. Keep these phone numbers and addresses readily available in case of an emergency on your trip.

ASPCA Poison Control Hotline

If you suspect that your pet has ingested any hazardous substances including human medications, food, home or garden products, poisonous plants, or other harmful objects, please contact the ASPCA’s 24-hour emergency poison hotline at 1-888-426-4435. A $65 consult fee may be applied. Keep this phone number in a convenient, easy to find place at home. For a comprehensive list of hazards and toxins, you may visit

Safe Transport

Once you have decided to bring your pet to the hospital for emergency treatment, be sure that you know where you are going and how to best transport your pet safely.

It is important to handle ill or injured pets carefully. Remember that they may be in distress or pain and so their behavior might be unusual or even frightening. Try your best to remain calm; this may help your pet react in a more cooperative and less aggressive manner. If you have any questions about moving your ill/injured pet, please call us.

Be sure to keep small animals, especially cats, confined to a pet carrier or enclosed container during transport in order to reduce the risk of further injury. It is just as important to confine larger dogs’ movements as well. You can use a board, sled, door, large blanket, or throw rug to serve as a stretcher if needed. Restrain your pet or carrier with a safety belt for maximum security. You may also cover your pet with a blanket as pets may go into shock, just as people do, following an injury.

If possible contact the emergency room to let them know you are bringing your pet in so that the staff can assist you when you arrive.

And Remember

Red Bank Veterinary Hospital is a 24-hour Emergency and Specialty Hospital as well as a Level I Trauma Center. We are staffed with skilled and compassionate doctors 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. Please call us at (732) 747-3636 with questions or for information about our specific locations across New Jersey.