Pet 911: Emergency Prep and Prevention

Dog leg being wrapped
If your pet has trauma from an accident or uncontrollable bleeding, see your veterinarian or take him to an emergency clinic immediately.

As a responsible pet owner, you want your cat or dog to get the care he needs on both a day-to-day basis and in the event of an emergency. But what exactly constitutes an emergency? Sometimes it’s hard to tell if a pet’s health issue is normal (albeit eyebrow raising) or something that warrants a call to the veterinarian or an urgent trip to the emergency clinic.

When it comes to your pet’s health, of course, you should never hesitate to pick up the phone and speak with your veterinarian. In the meantime, here’s more information about the best ways to keep your pet safe, when you should seek professional care for an emergency, how you can prepare for an emergency in the moment, and when the prescription — strictly for you — is simply to stop worrying.

Learn to Recognize What's Normal — and What's Not

Finding the right veterinarian and veterinary clinic is the most important part of your pet’s care. This is especially true if an emergency arises. You’ve probably already built a strong bond with your pet’s health care team, but if you think your tie could be tighter, work to strengthen it.

First, ensure your pet is up to date on wellness care. If your pet hasn’t seen the doctor for more than a year, set up an appointment with the veterinarian for an examination. Veterinarians usually recommend that senior pets and those with ongoing medical conditions see the doctor every six months or more. Annual or more frequent examinations can help catch problems early and help prevent unexpected health problems.

What’s more, regular wellness exams help you and your veterinarian learn what’s normal for your pet — and what’s not. This is one of the most crucial ways to prepare for an emergency. During your pet’s regular examination, the veterinarian will often alert you to any potential health concerns typical for your cat’s or dog’s breed and tell you what is expected when it comes to your individual pet’s health and behavior. Similarly, you should be able to tell your veterinarian what seems to be normal for your pet. If you notice your pet doing something alarming or unusual, it’s never wrong to call your veterinarian to ask for advice. She will let you know whether to schedule an appointment. If you can’t get in that day, ask whether the veterinarian recommends taking your pet to the nearest emergency facility.

There are times when there’s no doubt your pet needs to see a veterinarian immediately. Examples of possible issues that can merit an emergency appointment include: trauma such as being in an accident, uncontrollable bleeding, prolonged vomiting or diarrhea, extreme or extended lethargy, lack of appetite, difficulty breathing, swelling of the face, seizures, distended abdomen, weakness, difficulty walking, collapse and pale gums. These signs can point to serious illness, so if you notice any of them, rush your pet to the veterinarian or the nearest 24-hour emergency facility. It’s also important to head out for emergency care if you suspect your cat or dog has eaten a foreign object, such as a small toy, or a toxic item, such as a medication that’s made for people.

Health concerns like minor injuries, intermittent sneezing or coughing, intermittent vomiting or diarrhea in a pet that is still eating and drinking, or weight loss over time rarely require emergency care but still should be addressed by a health care professional. So schedule an appointment with your veterinarian for an examination. The doctor will run appropriate diagnostic tests to help diagnose any problem and help get your pet back to optimum health.

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