Critter Culture
Recognizing Canine Medical Emergencies

Recognizing Canine Medical Emergencies

Critter Culture Staff



No pet owner ever wants to think about their fur baby in distress—or worse, in an emergency situation. These things do happen, though, and it's important to be prepared for common canine emergencies so that you can react calmly and quickly if an incident does occur.



Doctor veterinarian makes an ultrasound and cardiogram of the heart of a dog in the office of a veterinary clinic. Kateryna Kukota/ Getty Images

If you discover your pup lying on the ground, moving his paws in an odd motion—almost like he's swimming—he might be having a seizure. Other symptoms include an inability to stand, shaking, and loss of urinary and bowel control. Seizures are your dog's response to abnormal brain activity and can be caused by a range of factors.

What to do: Stay away from your dog's mouth because he may bite you accidentally; don't try to restrain the dog during the seizure, and take him to the vet ASAP.


Refusing to drink water

Photo of a young woman working on her laptop from her home, while her dog is waiting for her to finish - so they can play and cuddle AleksandarNakic/ Getty Images

Dogs are thirsty creatures. If you suddenly notice Fido is uninterested in water or you haven't had to fill his bowl up lately, look out for any other symptoms or changes in behavior. Dogs refusing to drink could be a sign of bladder infections, urinary tract infections, diabetes, or kidney disease.

What to do: If you notice they've had nothing to drink within 24 hours, take your furry friend to the vet, as this could be a sign of a greater issue.


Severe bleeding

Vet and Labrador retriever THEPALMER/ Getty Images

From fights with other animals to broken glass, collisions with vehicles, and falls, there is a myriad of reasons why our dogs bleed.

Of course, external bleeding is much more apparent than internal bleeding. But signs of internal bleeding include pale gums with red or blue speckling, bloody vomit, urine, feces or saliva, and a painful abdomen.

What to do: Never try to remove any objects that have impaled your dog. Instead, stabilize the protrusion to avoid further injury before taking the pet to the vet. For external injuries, clean the wound with water and press down firmly on the area with a clean cloth to help stop the bleeding.



Dog awakening from anesthesia after tumor surgery. Ill labrador retriever in veterinary clinic. Chalabala/ Getty Images

Many everyday items that you wouldn't think twice about can actually be toxic to your dog and poison them, whether they scarf down something from the trash or eat a plant from your garden.

What to do: if you notice your pup is weak and can't move, can't stop vomiting, or is showing any other signs of poisoning, take them to the vet immediately.


Allergic reactions

Dog paw and human hand are doing handshake sanjagrujic/ Getty Images

Bee stings and bug bites, vaccines, medications, food, and environmental factors can all cause allergic reactions in dogs. Symptoms of an allergic reaction include vomiting, diarrhea, fever, hives, swelling, and difficulty breathing, and incessant paw chewing or scratching.

What to do: Take your pooch to the vet STAT if you think they're having an allergic reaction.



A purebred border collie is indoors eating food from his dog bowl. In this frame he is looking down at his meal while eating his dinner pieces of dog food spill over the edge onto the floor. FatCamera/ Getty Images

Some dogs get too excited when they're eating and choke on their food. If your pup is choking, you'll notice them pawing at their face, coughing, or gagging forcefully.

What to do: Try to remove the object that's blocking the dog's airway, or loosen the object that's restricting their breathing. Perform the pet Heimlich maneuver, and seek emergency vet care immediately if attempts to remove the object yourself are unsuccessful.


Lameness and limping

A limping pet dog with one leg raised off the floor in pain Teamjackson/ Getty Images

There is no sign more obvious that something is wrong with your canine than limping or lameness. There are many factors that can cause dogs to limp, such as bone fractures, wounds, dislocated joints, sprains, and spinal injuries.

What to do: Take your pooch to the vet as soon as you notice any limping or lameness to get a proper examination, x-ray, and treatment plan. While you wait for your appointment, they may suggest soaking the dog's foot or leg in warm water with Epsom salt nightly to reduce swelling. If their swelling is associated with a sprain, bruise, or tendonitis, apply ice packs to the area for 15 minutes two times per day.



A female miniature dachshund sleeping on a sofa at home. Richard Newstead/ Getty Images

If you discover your pup trying to throw up and in distress, it could be a sign of bloat. This life-threatening condition requires immediate medical attention and often emergency surgery as well. The condition happens when food or gas stretches the dog's stomach, causing abdominal pain. In severe cases, a dog's stomach twists and fills with gas, and this is considered one of the most painful and severe emergencies in veterinary medicine. When this happens, the heavy bloating cuts off blood flow to the stomach and lower half of the dog's body. This makes it impossible for food to pass into the intestine. In the most extreme cases of GDV, a dog's stomach can rupture, and their spleen can be injured.

Other symptoms of GDV include anxiety, abdominal distress, excessive drooling, restlessness, and vomiting.

What to do: Take your dog to the vet immediately.


Snake bite

Sterilized funny stray dog without paws on a background of green grass. Osobystist/ Getty Images

As Fido explores deep in the brush or even the backyard, he might stumble upon a snake and get bitten. Signs of a snake bite include sudden weakness and collapse, trembling and shaking, diarrhea and vomiting, drooling, flooding urine, and paralysis. What to do: If you think your pup has been bitten by a snake, don't wait. Take them to the emergency vet immediately. The good news is most dogs survive snake bites as long as they are treated quickly.


Heat stroke

Funny beagle tricolor dog lying or sleeping Paws up on the spine on the city park green grass enjoying the life on the sunny summer day. Careless pets life concept image. Solovyova/ Getty Images

Like humans, dogs can overheat when they become too hot. Heatstroke can be deadly if it's not treated immediately. The most common signs of heatstroke are excessive panting, drooling, vomiting, and a temperature of above 106°F.

What to do: Move your pet to a shaded and cool area and pour cool water over them.


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