Canine emergencies

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 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 appointment.

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 possible.


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.

Other emergencies

  • 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 hospital stays.

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 further information.

This article was written by Marc Abraham and was originally published in the Crufts Magazine

Marc Abraham is a vet based in Brighton.  He regularly appears on UK television.  For more information about Marc please


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