When Should You Call an Emergency Vet and How Do You Find One?

A black and white dog with a first aid kit.
A black and white dog with a first aid kit. Photography by absolutimages/Thinkstock.

It’s night or the weekend and your vet clinic is closed. Emergency strikes, what do you do? Sometimes it’s hard to determine if your pup’s medical condition can wait until your regular vet clinic is open, or if you should hightail it to an emergency vet. Here’s when to head to the emergency vet or other urgent caregiver and how to find a 24-hour or emergency vet if you don’t already have one:   

Small dog with a vet in a white coat and with a stethoscope.
Do you have an emergency vet on call if your dog has an accident? Photography by Fly_dragonfly/Thinkstock.

1. If your dog has difficulty breathing

Your dog’s gums should be a pink hue. If they are blue, red or gray, it could indicate trouble with oxygenation, blood flow or internal bleeding. Although dogs pant, excessive panting is a concern, as is coughing up pink, frothy liquid.

2. If your dog is experiencing repeated vomiting and/or diarrhea

Although dogs may have a single incident of vomiting or diarrhea, repeated episodes — especially ones that involve blood — require an emergency vet or other immediate medical care. These may be symptoms of an intestinal blockage or ingestion of toxins. Additionally, excessive vomiting and diarrhea can quickly result in dehydration. If you have questions about toxic substances and their effect on dogs, contact ASPCA Poison Control. Some common toxins include medication (prescription and over the counter — OTC), chocolate (particularly dark chocolate), grapes/raisins (along with some other human foods), cleaning products, insecticides and rodenticides and gardening products.

3. If your dog has a distended or bloated abdomen

Gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV) or “bloat” can be an extremely serious health concern for dogs. An accumulation of gas can sometimes cause the stomach to rotate or twist. The stomach then puts pressure on large arteries and veins, restricting blood flow. This can quickly turn into a deadly situation. A distended abdomen is certainly a symptom, but a dog might also exhibit signs of restlessness and excessive panting. Take any concern of bloat seriously and immediately take your dog to an emergency vet.

4. If your dog has experienced any sort of trauma

Trauma warrants an examination, even if your dog appears unharmed. Trauma can occur after a fall from an elevated location, being hit by a vehicle, being attacked by another animal — or any other type of accident. A dog could emerge from such a situation with lacerations, broken bones, internal injuries, blood loss, shock or more. Seek care immediately.

5. If your dog has ingested any sort of foreign body

Dogs are known to be not-so-discriminating in what they eat, and this puts them at risk of intestinal blockage. If you suspect your dog has eaten a foreign object, look for symptoms like vomiting, sluggishness and weight loss. Then, get him to an emergency vet fast.

6. If your dog is having seizures

Seizures in dogs can be triggered by liver disease, kidney disease, electrolyte problems, head injury, brain cancer and encephalitis. Any episodes of this abnormal brain activity should be reported to a medical professional.

7. If your dog is experiencing difficulty urinating

If your dog strains to urinate, it could indicate a urinary tract infection — or something more serious. Difficulty urinating could be caused by stones or crystals in the bladder, inflammation, trauma, prostate disease, cancer or even stress. Urination issues should not be ignored. Take your dog an emergency vet immediately.

8. If your dog is not eating or drinking

If your dog goes a full day without eating or drinking, it’s time to contact a veterinary professional. The symptoms could indicate pickiness around food or behavioral issues, but they could also point to systemic diseases and infections, dental problems or stress.

How to find an emergency vet or other emergency care near you

At your regular vet visits, ask a professional if the clinic offers 24/7 emergency care — and if not, ask for a recommendation. Always have a dog first aid kit handy and keep your vet clinic’s number, as well as the emergency facility’s information, in your phone or wallet and in a visible location within your home. If the emergency clinic is not in an area with which you’re familiar, make a test run so you’re not concerned about directions during an actual emergency.

It’s a good idea to plan beforehand, but accidents do happen. If you find yourself dealing with a dog accident, Google “24 hour vet near me” or “emergency vet near me” and allow Google to use your location for the most accurate results.

ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center Phone Number (888-426-4435) or the Pet Poison Helpline (855-764-7661) are open 24 hours, 7 days a week, 365 days a year and helpful if your dog ingests something potentially harmful — but we still suggest taking him to the vet as soon as possible.

You know your dog’s habits and behaviors better than anyone, so if you notice any symptoms that may be emergency situations, don’t delay — call your vet or head to the nearest emergency clinic.

Thumbnail: Photography by absolutimages/Thinkstock. 

Read more about dog emergencies on Dogster.com:

20 thoughts on “When Should You Call an Emergency Vet and How Do You Find One?”

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  2. my dog who is still a puppy and ate a sock and we can’t afford surgery it is loved in his intestines .. what can we do to help him?

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  6. We recently got a pet and want to make sure that we have veterinary services for our pet. I know that our vet does not offer emergency services so I will have to ask him who he recommends using. This is good advice so that I have a plan in case of an emergency.

  7. With my dog, I always want to try to give them the best of care and as you said, there are many things that I need to look out for. My dog actually has been having some trouble eating as of late so that might be a good cause to take them to the vet, as you did say. Do you think I should wait to see if it’ll get better or go right away?

  8. My parents have a new dog and it was not eating for a day now. It was explained here that when a dog is not eating it will be best to see a professional. Furthermore, it’s recommended to go to a veterinarian for quality pet care.

  9. Thanks for the interesting article for going to an emergency vet. It’s good to know that you can go to the vet if there’s been an accumulation of gas that is making them bloat. I’m interested to learn if you should tell the vet how long you’ve noticed this, in case it affects how the pet is treated.

    1. Hi there Taylor,

      Thanks for reaching out! It is important to let your vet know all the information you have about your dog so the vet knows everything to give the best treatment.

  10. I admire what you said about asking the clinic if they offer 24/7 care. I think that knowing you have the best care available is comforting in the event of an emergency. I would be frantic if my dog experienced any of these problems so I like having peace of mind when it comes to my veterinarian.

  11. I found it interesting when you said that asking for a recommendation for a 24-hour clinic is a big help to us and our pets. Our pets are considered part of our family and should be treated well. Knowing that they’ll be in good hands could give us, as owners, peace of mind.

  12. Thanks for helping me understand we should already take our dog to a vet if it is not drinking or eating for a whole day. I have been really worried about our dig because the food that we put in his bowl last night was left untouched. We have no idea what the problem is because he was energetic yesterday.

  13. I am glad you said that if your dog goes a full day without eating or drinking, it’s time to contact a veterinary professional. My dog has not been wanting to eat or drink all day today. Thank you for the information on when to call an emergency vet.

  14. Just recently, my fiance and I adopted a puppy named Boomer into our family. We want to make sure that he is well-taken care of and that we know how to spot unusual behavior. If he ever stops eating or drinking, we will be sure to rush him to a reputable veterinarian.

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