Warning Signs Your Dog Needs to Go to the Vet — Stat

Trust me, I’m a vet.

by Oneal Bogan, DVM
April 1, 2021
black and white dog looking ill laying on couch

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Emergencies happen. And recognizing the warning signs can save your dog’s life — for real. But it’s not that simple, is it? Dogs throw up, twist ankles, and suffer scratches just like we do and often it’s no big deal. Real emergencies have a curious way of happening at the most inconvenient times, like, in the middle of the night when your vet is closed. Not only should you know where your local 24/7 emergency vet clinic is located, you should also know what really warrants a pet emergency. Here, seven scenarios that mean you should book it to the ER.

1. Your dog won't stop throwing up

First, we’re talking about productive vomiting, when your dog actually throws up. (We’ll tackle non-productive vomiting — when they’re dry heaving — below). Vomiting can mean that there’s an obstruction in your pet’s gastrointestinal tract, they’ve eaten something toxic, or they’re experiencing a chemical imbalance. The cause needs to be zeroed-in on quickly and your dog also needs to get to an ER to make sure they don’t lose too much fluid and become dehydrated. The occasional one-off throw-up is nothing to worry about, but don’t hesitate to bring your dog in if the episode lasts for more than a few hours or if they get sick more than three times in a 12-hour period. 

2. Your dog won't stop trying to throw up and/or looks bloated

We’ve all had burrito babies but bloating in dogs is not your average Friday night — it can actually be fatal. Gastric dilatation-volvulus, also known as ‘bloat’, is a condition that causes air to expand inside a dog’s stomach and make it twist, which leads to them losing blood flow to their vital organs. Your dog’s stomach may balloon up and/or they may try desperately to throw up but can’t (subtler signs are drooling and restlessly pacing around). If your dog is showing any of these symptoms, there is no time to waste — get your dog to the ER as fast as you can. Bloat is fatal in 30% of dogs simply because it happens so suddenly. Other causes of bloating in dogs can be caused by internal bleeding or fluid accumulation tied to heart disease or leaking intestines — no less alarming.

3. Your dog is stumbling or seems disoriented 

If your dog suddenly appears, er, drunk, they may have snacked on something that’s toxic to them. Or, stumbling around and being otherwise uncoordinated can point to head trauma, severe metabolic imbalances, internal bleeding, or loss of blood to the brain. If you notice your pup acting loopy, skip the TikTok video and rush to the vet because intervening quickly is their best shot at a speedy recovery.

4. Your dog has a deep flesh wound

It can be tricky determining the severity of flesh wounds because while some look superficial, the damage they’re doing might be more than skin-deep. If you spot a small scratch on your dog that’s clearly on the surface, you can clean it with mild soap and water (or a saline solution if you have it on hand), then just keep an eye on it as it heals. But if appears deep, there’s green or yellow discharge, or it isn’t improving, it’s worth having a vet look at it. If the wound is bleeding a lot, MacGyver a tourniquet from a T-shirt and head to the ER. Finally, if your dog was bitten by another dog or scratched by a cat, take them to the vet even if it doesn’t look serious. Puncture wounds are breeding grounds for bacteria and no matter how well you clean it, the risk of infection is high.

5. Your dog was hit by a car

This goes without saying: get your dog to the ER ASAP. Even if they miraculously get up and shake it off, internal trauma could be wreaking havoc without you knowing until it’s too late.

6. Something’s wrong with their eye(s)

This past year has taught us all that eyes are pretty adept to to picking up contaminants. If you notice your dog suddenly squinting, if there’s excessive discharge, or if their eye has a blue/white tinge to it, head to the vet. Eye injuries are often emergencies and a quick diagnosis can be crucial in restoring their vision.  

7. There’s just something off 

You know your pet better than anyone so trust your gut. Acting ‘off’ could be anything from skipping meals to seeming lethargic. Call your vet or local ER clinic and describe your dog’s symptoms — they should be able to tell you if you should sit tight or schedule an appointment.

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Oneal Bogan, DVM

Oneal Bogan, DVM, is a mixed animal veterinarian from Colorado. Dr. Bogan loves the variety of animals she gets to work with. She owns her own mobile practice which provides at-home care to large and small animals. Dr. Bogan also works at a local small animal clinic. In her free time, Dr. Bogan loves to hike, ride horses, and read. She also loves writing and hopes her advice helps all pets live a happy, healthy life.