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 emergency?
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 vet is closed! So make sure you know what to do in the event of some common emergencies, and what clinical effects to look out for.
What to do in all canine emergencies
Ideally you should call your vet straight away, as earlier treatment means your dog has more chance of making a successful recovery. 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.
Are vets open out-of-hours?
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 or an appointment.
Calling your vet first
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, e.g., if your dog has been involved in a road accident, then head straight to your nearest emergency vet.
Preparing for an emergency
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. Make sure you have decent pet insurance in place too, as vet costs can mount up quickly, especially with extended hospital stays.
Road traffic accidents
Road traffic accidents are an owner's worst nightmare and require immediate treatment. With this emergency, if possible, warn your vet that you're heading straight down, so they can prepare for your arrival. If your dog is involved in a road traffic accident you should:
- Carefully move your dog using blankets, and beware of getting bitten - even by your own pet. It may be appropriate to use a muzzle
- Apply continuous pressure to bleeding wounds 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 eaten. 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
- Never make your dog sick yourself as it can cause further complications and make your dog worse
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 is 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.
Cuts and scrapes
Any cuts and scrapes may need checking by your vet, who will decide if surgery is required, minimising infection risk 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.
Dogs in hot cars
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 them straight to the nearest vet.
Vomiting and diarrhoea
Excessive vomiting and diarrhoea are also emergencies in their own right. They often require veterinary intervention (e.g. intravenous fluids), and effects usually indicate something more sinister, such as a foreign body obstruction.
Think your dog may be affected?
If you're worried about your dog's health, always contact your vet immediately!
We're not a veterinary organisation and so we can't give veterinary advice, but if you're worried about any of the issues raised in this article, please contact your local vet practice for further information.
Find a vet near you
If you're looking for a vet practice near you, why not visit the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons' Find a vet page.