What to do when your pet has an emergency


It’s a moment you hope never happens. Your dog begins shaking and drooling – a seizure. Your cat vomits blood. Your pet gets run over, or attacked by another animal, or has something lodged in the throat. You hope you never have to deal with an emergency, but if you do, you want to be prepared. Here’s what to do when the unthinkable happens to your fur baby.

1. Know where the nearest 24-hour emergency vet is.
You should know where the nearest 24/7 emergency veterinary hospital is whether you’re at home, on vacation, or just visiting the dog park. If you leave your pet with a sitter, or if you have a dog walker come to your home at any time when you aren’t there, information for your regular vet and the nearest emergency vet should be available. Map out the route to the hospital and add the number to your phone, or save their website to your phone browser’s homepage.

2. Know the signs of a non-obvious emergency.
If your cat gets hit by a car, or you fall down the stairs and land on your dog’s leg, it’s obvious they need emergency care. But not all emergencies are so easy to recognize, including (but not limited to) choking, heatstroke, an insect bite or sting, or poisoning. Some signs your pet is experiencing a medical emergency include:

  • Pale gums
  • Rapid breathing
  • Weak or rapid pulse
  • Change in body temperature (for dogs and cats, normal temperature is between 100˚ and 102˚ F)
  • Difficulty standing
  • Apparent paralysis
  • Reluctance to put weight on a particular paw

Other  obvious signs include excessive bleeding, a seizure, loss of consciousness, excessive vomiting, and blood in the stool.

3. Know how to approach your pet.
When animals are injured, they may become aggressive or act differently than usual. Approach your pet slowly and calmly, and say his name and other reassuring phrases in a low, calm voice.

If you have an injured pet who is showing signs of aggression, protect yourself. Wrap your pet in a large blanket to stabilize him or her while moving. A thick blanket will also make it difficult for a cat or small dog to bite through the blanket and reach you. So long as your pet isn’t overheated or having trouble breathing, it is okay to apply a temporary muzzle during the move, to and from the car or into a carryable container. A piece of rubber or thick rope can be tied around the snout to temporarily hold the mouth closed. Do not leave it on beyond when you are moving your pet. It compromises breathing and puts your pet at risk for aspiration should your pet vomit.

You can purchase a pet stretcher to always keep on hand, but if you don’t have one, use a blanket or sheet. Be prepared to put in a little elbow grease, especially if your dog is a large breed. If you cannot move the dog on your own, don’t. Defer to your emergency veterinarian’s instructions and call someone for help.

4. Know what to do before you leave, or on the way to the hospital.
Hopefully, your pet is not in such bad shape that he can’t make it to the hospital, but in some instances, you may have to step in first. If your pet is bleeding profusely, for instance, elevate the injury and apply pressure to it.

If your pet is choking and not breathing, do a finger sweep to try to dislodge the item. To do this, use a hooked finger to sweep the throat for the foreign object and pull it out. However, if your pet is still breathing (even with difficulty), try to get him to the hospital without sticking your finger down his throat – you could lodge the item further down and block the remaining airway.

You also can ask your veterinarian at your next check-up to show you how to do the Heimlich maneuver on your pet, and how to perform CPR – it doesn’t hurt to be prepared.

Bottom line: try to make it to your regular vet or here if your pet is injured or compromised in any way, even if you aren’t sure it’s a major emergency. At the end of the day, it’s better to bring your pet in and find out you didn’t need to, than not bring them in and find out you should have.

Our hospital serves the Knoxville, Chattanooga, and surrounding areas, and we are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If you think you have an animal emergency on your hands, do not hesitate to head over, and call us on the way to our hospital.