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How Do You Recognize an Animal Emergency?

One of the biggest challenges faced by pet owners is how to spot if their pet is unwell and having an emergency. Animal emergencies can take many different forms and unless the issue is glaringly obvious, spotting the problem can be very difficult. They are also known to mask symptoms from us, meaning that as a pet owner, you might not even know that they are unwell!

This short guide aims to help pet owners spot when there may be a problem and when to seek help and/or advice. This is important as failing to identify an issue could cause long-term suffering and discomfort, and sadly in the most serious cases, lifelong or fatal consequences for an animal.


Sadly, there are lots of substances that can be potentially harmful/poisonous to animals, and despite owners' precautions, sometimes our animals can ingest something harmful to them. This often happens because the pets themselves don’t know that something is harmful to them. The most common signs that your pet may have been poisoned include:

  • Vomiting/diarrhea/gagging

  • Loss of appetite

  • Blood in stools

  • Sudden tiredness/Lethargy

  • Rapid, shallow, or irregular breathing

  • Changes in urination (increased, decreased, absent, bloody)

  • Abnormal behavior, difficulty walking, or seizures

  • Irregular or accelerated heartbeat

If you notice these problems, contact your veterinarian or a local emergency veterinary facility immediately, as urgent veterinary medical attention may be needed.


Just like humans, not all injuries are visible when it comes to pets, and without obvious signs like bleeding, we may not know if our pet is carrying an injury or whether it is a minor or major concern. The most common signs of an injured pet include:

  • Limping when moving, or a lack of willingness to move at all

  • Loss of appetite

  • Any sound that would indicate pain, such as a dog yelping or whimpering in a way that is not usual to them

  • Irritability or a change in normal mood and behavior

If you believe that your pet may have suffered an injury, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible.

Respiratory Distress

Seeing our pets in any sort of emergency is terrible, but breathing problems can be incredibly serious and may need to be treated as an emergency with veterinary intervention. There are a few common reasons for breathing difficulties in animals such as:

  • Allergic reactions

  • Infection of the respiratory system

  • Choking

  • Heart problems

  • Heartworms

  • Cancers

With immediate treatment, it may be possible to save the life of a pet with severe breathing difficulties.

Loss of Ability to Urinate/Defecate

As pet owners, we will normally recognize a routine in the toilet habits of our pets, so when something changes, it is something we need to monitor closely and be ready to act and seek veterinary intervention if necessary. Most animals will urinate multiple times in a day, and if that slows or stops, it’s time to pay close attention. If a pet goes 24 hours without urination, help should be sought as a matter of priority as this situation can quickly become life-threatening. Likewise, a significant sudden increase in frequency and volume of urination can also indicate a problem. Any type of bowel illness or complication can also be very dangerous to animals, so if their toilet habits change, or stop altogether and don’t return to normal, make sure to get them checked by your veterinarian right away.

Prolonged Diarrhea/Vomiting

Isolated, infrequent incidents of diarrhea/vomiting are not unusual in animals and happen from time to time. However, if it becomes a regular problem or persists for more than 24 hours, you should seek veterinary advice as there is a risk that your pet will become dehydrated, and it could be that they have a serious, underlying condition. Some of the causes of disorder of the digestive system in animals include:

  • Poisoning

  • Cancers

  • Parasitic Infestation of the digestive system

  • Intestinal blockage

  • Infection

  • Gastrointestinal disease secondary to another systemic or organic disease (kidney disease, liver disease, etc)

You know your pet better than anyone. If you are concerned, always contact your veterinarian right away.

For more advice on common animal emergencies or to speak with an expert regarding whether or not your pet is experiencing an emergency, call the Animal Emergency Center of Temple-Belton in Temple, TX at (254) 231-3774 today.

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