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When Is It Time To Panic? Evaluating Emergency Situations

Posted November 12, 2013 in Dog Diseases & Conditions A-Z

Person holding sick dog

Dr. Jeff Werber is an Emmy Award-winning, nationally renowned veterinarian and former president of the Association of Veterinary Communicators. For more from Dr. Werber, find him on Facebook or on his website at

So when is that “problem” really serious?  When should you panic and take your pet to your veterinarian immediately?  As a general practitioner who fields phone calls from anxious clients on a very regular basis, I thought it would be a good idea to share with you some guidelines to help ease your minds (or not), and help you answer these questions.  Mind you, from experience, I’d venture to say that 80-85% of “emergencies,” aren’t!  

That being said, let’s talk about a few of the “common” complaints:

A very large proportion of calls are for gastrointestinal problems.  If your dog starts to vomit, but is still acting totally normal, and WANTS to eat or drink, I’m usually less concerned.  As a matter of fact, though these dogs want to eat or drink, it is best not to let them.  Often, once that stomach goes through the rigors and smooth muscular contractions associated with vomiting, not to mention the potential irritation to the stomach wall itself, it is primed for more vomiting.  So, anything that goes into that stomach, even something as benign as water, which will stretch that stomach wall, and can easily induce more vomiting.  Simply said, vomiting breeds vomiting.  What we recommend is to keep these dogs without food for at least 12 hours, and instead of allowing them access to water, place a few ice cubes or ice chips in his or her water bowl in order to minimize the amount of water that can be ingested at one time. This will prevent the stomach from stretching.  Now, if the vomiting continues despite all of this, or your dog seems to be becoming more depressed or listless, begins to dry-heave frequently, or you note his or her abdomen beginning to expand and tighten up, then it is definitely time to call your veterinarian or a local emergency hospital.

As far as diarrhea is concerned, we typically see two types—small intestinal and large intestinal.   Small intestinal diarrhea is typically characterized by very loose or watery stool.  These dogs are often more depressed or lethargic and seem “sick.”  In contrast, large intestinal diarrhea is often more soft or “mushy,” more like “cow patties,” and

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Jeff has more than 30 years of experience in the veterinary industry and is a licensed veterinarian as well as a founding member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team.