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Answers from vets about your dog:

When To Bring Your Dog to the ER

Reviewed by Peter Kintzer DVM, DACVIM on Tuesday, August 5, 2014
Posted December 18, 2014 in Dog Diseases & Conditions A-Z

Dog at the Veterinarian hospital

Dr. Justine Lee discusses when it's a good idea to take your dog the the emergency veterinarian... and when it's not. For signs that your cat should visit the ER, click here

Alright, raise your hand if you don’t mind getting up at 2 A.M. to bring your dog in to the emergency veterinarian.

Didn’t think so. 

Often times, as a pet owner, it’s hard to know whether your dog’s condition is a true medical emergency or not… or more importantly, if it warrants getting up in the middle of the night to seek medical attention from a veterinary professional you don’t know.

As an emergency critical care veterinary specialist, I’ll be honest in saying that some emergencies can wait to see your regular veterinarian the following morning (like diarrhea, midnight health certificates, itchy skin, urinary tract infections, etc.). However, there are certain situations where it is imperative that your dog go in to the animal ER, as sometimes it can be a potentially fatal problem without treatment. 

I’ve seen a lot of emergencies that could have waited, but the pet owners were concerned enough that they didn’t mind the 2 A.M. visit, as it gave them peace of mind. Unfortunately, I’ve also seen some sad cases where pet owners waited too long, only to have animals die as they are being wheeled into the ER. It’s not worth chancing that you wake up to find your dog deceased in the middle of the night. In fact, no dog or cat should ever die at home, but that’s a whole other blog that I’ll elaborate on in the future.

Some signs that warrant you getting up in the middle of the night and getting to an emergency vet ASAP include:

  • Difficulty breathing, which may be manifested as blue gums, coughing of foamy, pink frothy liquid, panting constantly, or stretching the head and neck out while breathing
  • Constant coughing and inability to rest through the night
  • A distended, “bloated” abdomen
  • Non-productive retching (which is classic for gastric-dilitation volvulus or “GDV”)
  • Anxiety or restlessness (often a sign of pain or a GDV)
  • Pale gums (which is often seen with internal bleeding or anemia)
  • An elevated heart rate (> 160 beats per minute at home)
  • A respiratory rate of > 60 breaths per minute at home while resting
  • Crying out in pain
  • Jaundiced (yellow gums)
  • Not being able to move or walk

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Justine has more than 18 years of experience in the veterinary industry and is a board-certified emergency critical care veterinary specialist and toxicologist as well as the CEO and founder of Vetgirl. She is also a founding member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team.