Would you know if your pet was experiencing a life-threatening health emergency?
The symptoms associated with life-threatening conditions are not always obvious and it can be hard to tell whether or not symptoms point to an emergency. Familiarizing yourself with common pet health concerns that require immediate medical attention, and understanding the signs and symptoms associated with them, will assist in saving your pet's life should they ever experience a life-threatening emergency.
Keep reading to...
Discover five of the most common pet health emergencies
Learn the symptoms associated with each emergency
Find out what to do in the event of each emergency
Access pet first-aid resources
Explore 5 of the Most Common Pet Health Emergencies
Please note: This list is not reflective of any or all of the possible emergencies your pet could experience, but rather an anecdotal list of five emergencies we commonly see amongst our companion animal patients. It is important to remain vigilant of your pets at all times and contact your veterinarian if any concerning symptoms arise, whether or not the symptoms are referenced within this list.
1. Gastrointestinal Obstruction (Blockage)
A gastrointestinal obstruction, commonly referred to as a 'blockage', is a condition where the intestinal tract becomes blocked, usually by a foreign object that was consumed orally, resulting in symptoms including the inability to defecate, difficulty digesting food and gastrointestinal upset. Because they're a species that uses their mouths to interact with the world around them, this condition most commonly affects dogs. Dogs chew on objects and materials as a way to explore them, which sometimes leads to actual ingestion of those items. And although less common, cats are also known to ingest objects - most often string, thread and unfortunately the associated sewing needles. After a pet ingests a foreign body, the body is unable to break the unknown item down, making it very difficult for the objects to successfully move through the gastrointestinal system. Eventually the item becomes lodged somewhere within the gastrointestinal system, blocking the natural flow of fluid, nutrients and waste, and requires medical intervention to successfully remove the object from the body.
Signs and Symptoms of a GI Blockage
Vomiting immediately after eating or drinking
Inability to produce bowel movements
Straining to defecate
Small bouts of liquid diarrhea
Hunching, stretching or arching of the body
Witnessed consumption of an object
Household Objects That Commonly Cause GI Blockages
String / Thread
Toys, plush stuffing-filled toys in particular
Yard debris, rock and mulch in particular
What To Do If You Suspect Your Pet Is Suffering From a Blockage
If you suspect your pet has consumed a foreign object, seek veterinary care immediately! A gastrointestinal obstruction is a serious condition with life-threatening side effects if left untreated. Unless specifically instructed to do so by a veterinarian, do not attempt to make your dog vomit! Foreign objects can cause serious internal damage (as well as choking!) during the vomiting process.
2. Urethral Obstruction
A urethral obstruction refers to a condition where the urethra (the tube that drains urine from the bladder out of the body) becomes blocked, resulting in the inability to urinate. Although a urethral obstruction can occur in any animal, it's a condition seen most commonly in male cats. Male cats have particularly long, narrow urethras, placing them at higher risk for blockages to occur. Several conditions including obesity, kidney disease and history of urinary issues are risk factors for urethral obstructions. A variety of things can cause these blockages, from inflammation of the urinary tract to bladder stones. The inability to urinate caused by these blockages creates a build up of urine in the body, leading to several serious side effects including the release of toxins into the blood steam, over-filling of the bladder and kidney failure. These symptoms can develop very quickly (within 24 hours) after the urethra becomes blocked, and if left untreated can result in death in a matter of hours.
Signs and Symptoms of a Urethral Obstruction
Frequent trips in and out of the litter box
Squatting to urinate with no urine production
Straining to urinate
Attempts to urinate produce just drops of urine
Yowling when in the litter box
What To Do If You Suspect Your Pet Is Suffering From a Urethral Blockage
If you suspect your cat (or any other species of pet!) is having trouble urinating, seek veterinary care immediately! A urethral obstruction is a life-threatening condition that can result in death in a matter of 24 hours.
3. Gastric Dilatation - Volvulus (Bloat)
Gastric Dilatation, also known as 'bloat' or 'simple bloat', refers to a dangerous condition where the stomach fills with gas, resulting in a bloated, enlarged stomach. The enlarged stomach begins to press on nearby internal organs, restricting vital blood flow throughout the body. In some cases, this condition progresses to where the stomach actually twists on itself, blocking the entrance and exit points to the stomach - this is referred to as volvulus. Gastric Dilatation - Volvulus (GDV) is a very serious, life-threatening condition that requires immediate veterinary care. Urgent surgery is required to correct GDV. GDV is a condition that most commonly affects dogs, and while any dog is at risk for simple bloat and GDV, large breeds with particularly deep-chests are at the highest risk.
Possible Causes and Risk Factors for Simple Bloat and GDV
Eating very quickly
Drinking large amounts of water quickly
Exercising soon after eating or drinking
Chronic anxiety, fear and stress
Large Breeds with deep chests
Signs and Symptoms of Simple Bloat and GDV
Dry heaving, without production of vomit
Inability to get comfortable or settle
What To Do If You Suspect Your Pet Is Suffering From Simple Bloat or GDV
If you suspect your dog is suffering from bloat or GDV, seek veterinary care immediately! Bloat is serious, life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical attention. Often urgent surgery is required to correct the condition.
Ways to Keep Your Pet Safe from Bloat and GDV
Avoid letting your pet exercise shortly after eating or drinking large amounts of water
Use a slow-feeder bowl if your pet tends to eat very quickly
Wait to feed your pet until they are calm
4. Toxin Ingestion
Toxin ingestion refers to the consumption of a substance that is harmful or poisonous to the body. It's important to note that what is considered toxic varies depending on what species we are looking at, as substances effect different species in different ways. In other words, what's considered safe for you or I could be considered deadly for our companion animals. And unfortunately this is the case with many seemingly harmless household items such as plants, toothpaste and raisins. While safe for us humans, these objects could kill our companion animals.
Pets can ingest toxins either by swallowing them, inhaling them or absorbing them through the skin, and both dogs and cats alike are prone to consuming toxic substances. It's important to stay vigilant and note that the side effects of poisoning are nuanced and varied, extending over several body systems. If you suspect your pet has ingested a toxic substance do not wait for symptoms to present - seek veterinary care immediately.
Common Household Items That Are Toxic For Pets
Xylitol, a sweetener found in: toothpaste, gum, peanut butter and many other items
Chocolate, especially dark chocolate
Grapes and raisins
OTC human medications, such as Ibuprofen and Tylenol
Toilet bowl cleaners
Countless house and yard plants, especially lilies for cats
Canine parasite prevention if given to a cat
Signs and Symptoms of Pet Poisoning
Vomiting, often times multiple times in a row
Dark, tar-like stool
Blood in the stool
Neurologic abnormalities (tremors, seizures, stumbling, etc)
Irregular heart beat
Abnormal bruising and bleeding
What To Do If You Suspect Your Pet Has Ingested a Toxin
Be honest when communicating with veterinary professionals
The only goal the veterinary team has is to help your pet. The sooner they have accurate information as to what may have happened, the sooner they can make productive strides towards saving your pet
Gather as much information about the incident as you can:
Take a picture of the item or the product and it's ingredients list
Online shopping history is often an easy way to find exact product information
Take note of how much your pet ate
Take note of when your pet ate it
Call Pet Poison Control
There can be long wait times associated with pet poison control centers
When in doubt, do not wait. Contact the closest veterinary hospital
ASPCA Pet Poison Control Center: https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control
Pet Poison Helpline: https://www.petpoisonhelpline.com/
Take your pet to the closest veterinary hospital
Calmly contact the office to let them know you are on your way and to relay the incident information you gathered
Ensure it is safe for you to drive prior to transporting your pet - safety is priority and if you are too panicked it is sometimes best to have someone else drive you and your pet to the veterinary hospital
Ways to Keep Your Pet Safe From Toxins
Be mindful of where and how you store medications, especially when packing for a trip. Keeping medications in child-proof bottles, inside sealed compartments is ideal
If using pest repellents in or around your house, save the packaging or take a photo of the packaging. In the event of an ingestion, this exact product information will inform your veterinarian on how to treat your pet
Use a plant-identifying app to identify any poisonous plants in or around your home
Anaphylaxis, commonly referred to as 'allergic reaction', refers to the acute, systemic reaction that occurs when the body comes into contact with something it perceives as dangerous (an allergen). Internally on a biological level, the immune system is triggered by the allergen, causing the body to begin releasing large quantities of inflammatory cells in an attempt to fight off the allergen. Externally this biological response manifests with a variety of symptoms ranging in severity from hives to respiratory distress and collapse. Anaphylaxis typically onsets soon (5 to 30 minutes) after the pet is exposed to the trigger allergen and requires immediate veterinary attention to reverse the reaction. Depending on the severity of the reaction, anaphylaxis can be life-threatening.
Emergency Care at Fire Mountain Veterinary Hospital
During our regular business hours our team is prepared to see emergency cases and we will always prioritize these critical patients, regardless of our existing schedule of routine appointments. Our experienced team of veterinary professionals is ready to calmly, efficiently and skillfully care for your pet under even the most extreme circumstances. For the more critical cases that need the attention of a 24 hour emergency hospital, we'll triage the patient here at our hospital and once stable, we'll transfer care to one of the nearby, trusted 24-hour hospitals specializing in critical care.
If you live in North County San Diego near the city of Oceanside and suspect your dog or cat is experiencing a health emergency, call our hospital immediately.
Pet Emergency and First Aid Resources
Want to continue learning more about preventing and addressing pet health emergencies? Enjoy these credible resources compiled by our team, created by fellow veterinary professionals.
Happy Paws Podcast | Episode: Pet First Aid Expert Arden Moore
ASPCA Poison Control
Pet Poison Helpline
List of plants toxic (and safe) for pets
List of household items dangerous for pets
How to Make a Pet First Aid Kit