If you think your pet is sick, they probably are. Pets don’t constantly play up to get attention, so if they’re unwell, they show it.
And despite getting help fast could be the difference between life and death for your pet, knowing when to take action is a skill that comes only with time and experience.
However, being informed about potential risks will make it easier for you to identify the signs of an upcoming medical crisis in your pet before things get worse.
Below are the top ten most common veterinary emergencies in pets. You might not recognize them now, but once you read through this list, you’ll never forget them again.
1. Persistent Vomiting & Diarrhea
Vomiting and diarrhea are often early signs of a digestive tract upset. But if persistent or if it occurs with other signs, like decreased appetite, abdominal pain and/or lethargy, you should be alert and most probably take action.
It could also be a sign of parasites, food allergies or other diseases. But your pet’s life could be at risk for eating something toxic, having an intestinal obstruction or a viral or bacterial infection.
Persistent vomiting and diarrhea can lead to dehydration, especially in small or younger pets, and metabolic disturbances, so it is important to take your pet to the vet as soon as possible.
Remember to keep track of the amount and color of the stool, as well as the presence of blood. Abdominal distension and repeated, unproductive attempts at vomiting are often an early indication of Gastric Dilatation and/or Volvulus (when a loop of intestine twists around itself and the mesentery that supplies it, causing a bowel obstruction). If so, do not wait – get to the emergency vet immediately.
Heatstroke is a condition that occurs from an extremely high body temperature and is more frequent in dogs, due to their greater exposure.
The most common causes are keeping your pet in a hot car, walking during the hottest hours, going to the beach or intensively exercising your pet on a hot summer day, among others.
Signs can vary from heavy panting, excessive salivation, collapse, and weakness to death. If you suspect your dog is having early signs of heatstroke, get him inside immediately, take his temperature to confirm it, and put him in the coolest possible environment.
But if symptoms seem to get worse, reach the emergency vet as soon as possible, because if left untreated, heatstroke can progress to a fatal condition.
Falling from windows, jumping from high heights, being run over by cars, fighting other animals are likely causes of trauma that will probably need in most cases an urgent visit to the emergency vet.
These all could lead to fractures, lacerations and/or soft tissue trauma (injuries to the skin, muscle, tendons and ligaments), causing one or more bleeding focus. So when transporting your pet to the vet, if possible, try to reduce your pet’s movements and put pressure on these bleeding points.
4. Respiratory distress
Respiratory distress could be a sign of a heart or respiratory problem, or even a more serious condition, like feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), a viral and fatal disease that affects mostly younger cats.
So if your pet’s breathing suddenly changes without warning, this is a sign that something is very wrong. Be aware of:
open mouth breathing (in cats),
increased breathing rate,
or increased breathing effort.
Breathing problems can range from a progressive cough to the inability to breathe at all, so if you notice any of the signs described above, you should take them to the emergency vet straight away.
Some seizure signs are more obvious than others but are often very brief. If a seizure is occurring, you may notice muscles twitching or uncontrollable spasms, but sometimes you will only see loss of consciousness, drooling or atypical eye movements.
Repeated or prolonged seizures can lead to organ damage and even death if left untreated.
In case your pet has just had their first seizure, is seizuring for more than a couple of minutes or has had multiple seizures within a short period of time, seek veterinary attention immediately.
Fainting or syncope is when the heart rate slows down and lowers blood pressure, which causes the animal to faint.
This could be due to a heart problem, low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), low levels of calcium (hypocalcemia) or sodium (hyponatremia) in the blood, medications that affect blood pressure or your pet could have eaten something toxic.
In many cases, a collapse episode only occurs once, while in other cases the episodes become frequent enough to affect a patient’s quality of life.
Either way, if your pet faints or has a sudden blackout, get veterinary help immediately.
7. Urinary obstruction
Urinary obstruction is an acute obstruction of the urinary tract most commonly affecting male cats (especially the neutered ones).
It can be caused by stones, but is usually due to a plug of inflammatory debris and crystals.The underlying cause is sometimes unknown but it may be related to a urinary tract infection, stress, genetic factors or diet.
If your cat looks for the litter box too often or tries to urinate outside of it, or if your pet urinates little or not at all each time, sometimes even vocalizing, the urinary tract may be blocked and immediate veterinary assistance is needed.
8. Acute constipation/Bowel obstruction
If your pet struggles to poop and starts to push harder, it’s definitely a sign of constipation.
When left untreated, they may become impacted – they’ll get so backed up that they’ll be unable to pass the poop and it’ll start to back up into their system, causing an intestinal blockage.
So if your pet doesn’t poop for two days (two days being one day longer than their usual bowel movement frequency), take him to the emergency vet.
9. Acute allergic reaction/Anaphylaxis
Pets can also be allergic to all sorts of things, from mild irritations through to full blown anaphylaxis, a serious allergic reaction that is rapid in onset and can prove fatal.
Symptoms typically come on over minutes to hours, with your pet showing signs of swelling of the location where a bite occurred, itchiness, sneezing, congested and uncomfortable, but in severe cases they may show:
rapid heart rate,
increased body temperature,
vomiting and/or diarrhea,
shock, unconsciousness and collapse.
If your pet begins to swell or shows any other signs of a bad allergic reaction, call the emergency vet right away. If you know what bit or what is the origin of the allergy, you should let the vet know this as well.
If your pet has ingested something toxic, you’ll know it. They’ll start to show signs of toxicity, like vomiting, diarrhea, drooling, excessive salivation, difficulty breathing and lethargy.
These signs are dependent on how a particular substance affects your pet’s body and how much was ingested, inhaled or even absorbed through the skin (for instance, as is deworming spot-ons).
In severe cases, they can also develop neurological signs, such as wobbliness, tremors and convulsions, that can evolve to coma and death.
So even if you aren’t sure what your pet has eaten or inhaled, don’t wait to find out. If you notice any of the signs mentioned above, get to the emergency vet as soon as possible.
There are a lot of potential common pet emergencies to keep in mind, however, just because pet emergencies can happen, that doesn’t mean they necessarily will.
It’s important to be prepared, but don’t spend too much time worrying about them, otherwise you and your pet will not be able to enjoy each other’s company.
The best thing is to take time locating a good quality emergency vet before you ever need one. This way, you’ll know who to call or where to go if anything goes wrong in the future.
PETABLE app has a feature called “In case of Emergency”, that allows you to find Veterinary Clinics and Hospitals in your vicinity and call or navigate to them with one simple click. Besides, is free for iOS and Android: