What defines a pet emergency? When your pet is sick or painful, you naturally feel that they deserve immediate treatment. However, if they are stable, many conditions can wait to be addressed at a scheduled appointment during normal business hours. Best Friends Veterinary Care triages incoming appointments by severity, to care for life-threatening emergencies as they arrive.

Use the following list as a guide to what constitutes a veterinary emergency. Your cooperation allows us to provide top-level care to true emergency cases, and scheduled appointments. If you are unsure of your pet’s condition, call us immediately.

#1: Pets who have experienced trauma

Trauma (e.g., hit by a car, or a fall from a height) can cause internal injuries in pets that cannot immediately be noticed. Whether or not your pet “seems fine,” they should be seen immediately. Pets who can still walk after being hit by a car or falling from a height may be bleeding internally. Our veterinarians will assess your pet for external and internal damage, and address their injuries right away.

#2: Pets with breathing difficulties

While run-of-the-mill respiratory conditions are not seen commonly in dogs and cats, respiratory distress is an emergency. Common respiratory distress signs include gasping, open-mouth breathing, blue or purple gums and tongue, and extending the neck. 

#3: Pets who cannot urinate

If your dog or cat is crying out while urinating, or passing only a small amount of urine, bloody urine, or no urine, they may have a urinary blockage. Untreated, this can lead to rupture of the urinary bladder and septic shock. Male cats are most at risk for urinary obstruction, although dogs also can be affected. Treatment involves passing a urinary catheter to empty the bladder, and surgery to remove the obstruction, which is often a calcified stone lodged in the urethra.

#4: Pets who are having seizures

Seizures are frightening for pets and their owners. If your pet has had one seizure, schedule an appointment for an examination and blood work. Repeated seizures (i.e., cluster seizures) or seizures lasting longer than two minutes are considered emergencies. Seizures lasting longer than five minutes are life-threatening. 

#5: Pets who cannot walk or are uncoordinated

If your pet is walking abnormally, lacking coordination, or dragging their limbs, they may have a spinal compression caused by a herniated disc or a blood clot. The blockage in your pet’s spine can cause severe nerve pain and dysfunction. These conditions require emergency treatment and surgery to save your pet’s mobility. 

#6: Pets with pale gums

A healthy pet’s gums are bubble-gum pink and moist. If you press your finger against the gum, it will blanch (i.e., turn white), but the color should return in one to two seconds. Pets with pale pink, grey, or white gums may not blanch at all. These pets are experiencing anemia (i.e., low red blood cells) shock, or internal bleeding. Pets may have a tumor, organ rupture, liver laceration, or spleen damage. 

#7: Pets with gaping wounds

You cannot tell the depth of an open wound by visual inspection. Punctures and lacerations can have deep effects and involve your pet’s internal organs. Do not assume a wound is stable because your pet’s bleeding has stopped. Bring your pet in for an emergency examination, so we may assess the wound, run blood work, and take X-rays to check for internal bleeding.

#8: Pets with repeated vomiting or diarrhea

Dietary indiscretion can cause a bout of gastrointestinal distress. However, persistent or bloody vomiting or diarrhea puts your pet at risk for dehydration and anemia. 

Unproductive vomiting or retching is a classic sign of bloat (i.e., gastric dilation volvulus [GDV]). Bloat happens when a dog’s stomach fills with gas and rotates, cutting off circulation. Large- and giant-breed dogs are most commonly affected. Bloat requires emergency surgical correction.  

#9: Pets attacked by dogs

Dog attack victims should be seen immediately. Ear and eye trauma are common, and bite wounds hidden under your pet’s thick coat can cause significant bruising, infection, and internal injury. Large dogs frequently shake small dogs and cats, often causing neck, spine, and limb injuries. 

#10: Pets who have ingested toxins

Many everyday items are toxic to pets, and toxin ingestion often requires life-saving hospitalization. Pets who consume toxic substances can suffer permanent damage or death from bleeding disorders, dangerous arrhythmias, seizures, and liver or kidney damage. If you suspect your pet has ingested a toxin, bring the product packaging or a picture of the label when you come to the hospital, so we can see which toxin is causing the problem, and immediately begin treatment. The most common pet toxins include:

  • Human medications (e.g., ibuprofen, aspirin, prescription medications)
  • Rodent bait and insecticides
  • Toxic foods
  • Poisonous plants (e.g., lilies are toxic to cats)

Best Friends Veterinary Care offers compassionate, modern care for your pet during expected and unexpected times. By scheduling an appointment for a non-emergent issue, you allow us to see the pets who need immediate assistance. We give every pet our absolute best, every single time. 

If your pet’s condition is not listed here, call us for triage assistance. For after-hours emergencies, consult our emergency center resource page.