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Common Pet Emergencies

No pet parent wants to have to rush their pet in for urgent care, but sometimes life-threatening illnesses, accidents, or injuries happen. Today, our Carlsbad vets discuss some common pet emergencies and what you should do.

Veterinary Emergencies

While no pet parent wants to ever have to go to a veterinary emergency clinic, these visits are sometimes unavoidable. Our pets are much like us in that they can experience a sudden injury, illness, or accident any time of the day or week.

While your pet can wait to see their primary care veterinarian in some situations, there are also life-threatening emergencies that will need a veterinarian's immediate attention. If you feel that your pet's condition is serious enough that it can't wait, trust your gut and bring them to a veterinarian as soon as possible. If you are not sure, here is a list of some general circumstances that require immediate attention from a veterinarian.

Bloated or Distended Abdomen

If accompanied by stretching, gagging, or discomfort, a bloated abdomen can be a sign of a life-threatening condition in dogs and is referred to as GDV (Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus). With GDV, the stomach expands from gas and food and twisting (volvulus) occurs. The stomach's contents cannot be expelled and blood flow is restricted.

It's important to seek immediate veterinary care, since this series of events will lead to shock, then sudden death. Surgery is required to treat a GDV and in most cases, the sooner your pet is treated, the better. While this condition is not fully understood, studies have shown that deep-chested and large-breed dogs have a higher risk of developing GDV.

Breathing Difficulties

If your pet shows any signs of respiratory distress (a particularly serious vet emergency), they should immediately be evaluated by a veterinarian. While this symptom can have any number of causes, a veterinarian can conduct diagnostic tests to assess the cause. We offer emergency care 24 hours, 7 days a week at our facility.

Straining to Urinate or Defecate

A blockage can result in your pet being unable to pass urine or feces. It's important for a veterinarian to identify the cause of the straining and assess whether your pet is in pain. Straining to urinate is especially concerning in male cats.

Some male cats will develop mucous plugs or crystals in their urine that can get stuck in their narrow urethra. With nowhere to go, the urine will continue to collect in the bladder, causing pain and possible bladder rupture. If your cat is unable to urinate, the body cannot rid itself of waste produced by the kidneys. These enzymes will build up to a toxic level, eventually leading to death if treatment is not provided soon enough.


If your pet has a seizure, a veterinarian should evaluate the cause. While a single seizure may not be life-threatening, multiple or cluster seizures can result in hyperthermia. While idiopathic epilepsy is a common cause of seizures in younger dogs, brain tumors, trauma, and toxins should also be ruled out. Epilepsy is extremely uncommon in cats. Any cat that is having a seizure should be evaluated by a veterinarian as soon as possible.

Injury to the Eye

When it comes to the eye, time is of the essence. While obvious injuries are veterinary emergencies, excessive squinting or pawing at the eye can also indicate a problem that requires immediate attention. While many injuries to the eye are treatable, the sooner they are addressed, the better the prognosis.

Vomiting or Diarrhea More Than 24 Hours

While we have all had a pet exhibit gastrointestinal discomfort from time to time, vomiting or diarrhea that does not resolve will lead to dehydration. Several episodes of vomiting or diarrhea need to be evaluated for the underlying cause, and a dehydrated pet may need to be hospitalized for supportive care.

Heat Stroke

Warmer temperatures increase the risk of your pet becoming overheated while outdoors. Symptoms of heat stroke are excessive panting, reddened gums, excessive drooling, vomiting/diarrhea, weakness, and lethargy. Left untreated, heat stroke can be fatal. That's why if you find yourself dealing with this or any other vet emergency in or near Carlsbad, we recommend you see our vets as soon as possible.

Hit By a Car

While many injuries sustained from vehicular trauma will be obvious emergencies, some will not. Even if your pet appears to be fine after being hit by a car, internal injuries can take time to reveal themselves. If your pet is hit by a car, it is always best to have a veterinarian perform a complete physical exam at your closest emergency vet clinic in or near Carlsbad to rule out any injuries.

Inability to Move Rear Legs

While there can be several causes, the common cause for this in a dog is IVDD (intervertebral disc disease). If a ruptured disc causes spinal cord compression, a dog can develop difficulty walking or develop paralysis in their hind end. At our animal hospital in Carlsbad, we can provide compassionate emergency veterinary care for pets who are unable to move their legs. One of our veterinarians should evaluate your pet as soon as possible to assess the neurologic status and decide if emergency surgery is required.

This condition can also develop in cats but is rare. If your cat has difficulty walking on one or both rear legs, this is also a sign of a medical emergency. Feline aortic thromboembolism (also known as a saddle thrombus) is a very serious condition in which a blood clot becomes lodged in the arteries that supply blood to the back legs. Cats suffering from saddle thrombus will also seem painful, and the affected rear limb(s) will be cold to the touch.

Ingestion of a Toxic Substance or Foreign Object

If you suspect that your pet has come into contact with or ingested a toxic substance after hours, this qualifies as an emergency. Your vet may or may not instruct you to contact the Animal Poison Control Center before heading to the hospital. Common toxins seen in dogs are chocolate, antifreeze, grapes, pharmaceuticals, and rodenticide.

This list could go on and on, however, since dogs tend to be mischievous and apt to ingest just about anything. Cats are not as prone to eating things but are commonly seen to treat toxicities for: various ingested plants (lilies are a big one), rodenticide, and exposure to canine flea/tick prevention. If your pet consumes something out of the ordinary, don’t assume that it is safe. Many are surprised to learn of all the different foods and plants that are toxic to our pets. When in doubt, always contact the Animal Poison Control Center.

If your dog or cat consumes a foreign object, there is a possibility that it can cause a gastric or intestinal obstruction. Cats will commonly ingest string, tinsel, and hair ties while dogs enjoy socks and toys. Catching this situation early can sometimes prevent surgery. Some patients will benefit from being given a medication that will induce vomiting and remove the object from the stomach. If the object is too large or dangerous to vomit, an endoscope may be used to retrieve the object while the patient is under anesthesia.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Do you suspect your pet is experiencing a veterinary emergency? Contact our Carlsbad vets to have your companion cared for right away.

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