Owning a dog is mostly fun and stress-free, however, when things
go wrong, what should you do? How do you even know if it's an
What to do in all canine emergencies
Ideally you should call your vet straightaway, but how many of
us are guilty of asking friends or family for advice first,
waiting, or even asking Google, before picking up the phone and
dialling the vet?
Many people are unsure if vets are open at night or weekends.
Every vet in the UK will either run, or subscribe to, a
dedicated out-of-hours emergency service and have someone available
- vet or vet nurse - to offer free advice and/or an
With all emergencies, if it's possible, please call your vet
first, rather than turning up unannounced at the clinic. This means
basic needs - oxygen, pain relief, intravenous fluid shock
treatment, and antibiotic cover - can be usually administered
without delay, offering patients the best chance of recovery. Most
important to remember is not to panic in an emergency, as it just
wastes time. If you suspect life-threatening injuries - for
instance, if your dog has been involved in a road accident - then
head straight to your nearest emergency vets.
Preparing in advance
Most emergency risk is markedly reduced by simple, responsible
ownership. Vaccinating, appropriate diet and exercise, as well as
flea and worm control will greatly decrease your dog's chances of
serious health issues.
What is an emergency?
The definition of an emergency will vary a lot depending on the
owner; from small grazes to severe seizures. But what you can
usually guarantee is that it will occur when your vets are closed!
So make sure you know what to do in the event of some common
emergencies - and what clinical effects to look out for.
Road traffic accidents
Road traffic accidents are an owner's worst nightmare and
require immediate treatment. With this emergency, if possible, warn
your vets that you're heading straight down, so they can prepare
for your arrival. Carefully move your dog using blankets, and
beware of getting bitten - even by your own pet. It may be
appropriate to use a muzzle.
Bleeding wounds should have continuous pressure safely applied
with a clean cloth (e.g. a tea towel or T-shirt), with further
decontamination completed under anaesthetic. Wounds and fractures
can be fixed days later; in the immediate aftermath, it's far more
important to stabilise patients and provide them with the best
possible chance of surviving a general anaesthetic.
Poisonings are common, unfortunately, and depend on the
substance ingested. Symptoms can range from lethargy to vomiting,
abdominal pain to hyperactivity, behaviour changes to bleeding
gums, even collapse.
Some toxic substances your dog might have swallowed include rat
or slug bait, anti-freeze, chocolate, grapes, raisins, fruitcake,
human medications, xylitol (an artificial sweetener found in some
chewing gum), and onions. Never 'wait and see' with poisoning and
always take any packaging with you to your vet. He or she may make
your dog vomit, if appropriate, and give your dog the necessary
treatment, including possible hospitalisation. Never try and make
your dog vomit at home unless asked to do so by your vet.
Sometimes making your dog sick can cause further
complications and make your dog worse.
The summer months often bring insect stings and bites, which,
although sore, are rarely emergencies, unless anaphylactic shock is
observed (look for collapse, breathing difficulties, throat
swelling) or your dog is bitten or stung a lot. Playful puppies
often eat bees, and most stings can be dealt with easily, but if
your dog becomes unwell you should consider calling your vet. Adder
bites are common in hot weather too, complete with a tell-tale
double puncture wound, typically on your dog's nose or face, so
watch out for these. If you suspect a bite take your dog to
your local veterinary practice and remember to call ahead first if
Bloat or twisted stomach is one of the most dramatic canine
emergencies, more often affecting deep-chested dogs (e.g. Boxers
and Setters) and vet help should be sought immediately. Dogs often
attempt unsuccessfully to vomit, which results in excessive
salivation or drooling, they can rarely settle, and sometimes
collapse in shock or pain. Bloat's not always obvious and patients
need examining urgently for stabilisation and pain relief, then
surgical correction. The risk of bloat can be reduced, on a
day-to-day basis, by encouraging slower eating and restricting
exercise after feeding.
Pyometra is commonly suffered by middle-aged to mature unspayed
bitches, shortly (usually a few weeks) after their last season.
Their uterus fills with pus and toxic shock often ensues. Signs of
'pyo' can include loss of appetite, lethargy, vomiting, drinking
more, licking their vulva, and a smelly vaginal discharge. Vet help
should be sought immediately, with an ultrasound scan, blood tests,
stabilisation, and then surgery to remove the diseased uterus.
- Any cuts and scrapes may need checking by your vet, who will
decide if surgery is required, minimising infection risk too.
- Grass seeds also require speedy attention, as they're harder to
find the longer they're left - and, remember, licking does not mean
healing. Cut pads can result in a lot of blood loss too.
- Stick injuries are all too common and preventable, so please
never throw sticks for dogs. They can lead to horrendous life
threatening injuries, requiring advanced investigation and surgery.
Use safer rubber alternatives instead.
- Also, never leave dogs in cars on a hot (or cold) day, as
they'll overheat (or freeze) and die very quickly. If you notice a
dog trapped in a hot car, call the police immediately so they can
free the dog and take him straight to the nearest vets.
- Excessive vomiting and diarrhoea are also emergencies in their
own right. They often require veterinary intervention (for example,
intravenous fluids), and effects usually indicate something more
sinister, such as a foreign body obstruction.
These are just a few examples of things to watch out for, but
please remember your vet is always there to help you 24/7, 365 days
a year. Call them if you're concerned about anything, as earlier
treatment means your dog has more chance of making a successful
recovery. Make sure you've got decent pet insurance in place too,
as vet costs can mount up quickly, especially with extended
Who can I contact for further advice?
The Kennel Club is not a veterinary organisation and is unable
to provide general or case specific veterinary advice. If you
have any questions regarding any of the issues discussed in this
article then please contact your local veterinary practice for
This article was written by Marc Abraham and was originally
published in the Crufts Magazine - www.thecruftsmagazine.com.
Marc Abraham is a vet based in Brighton. He regularly
appears on UK television. For more information about Marc