Saturday, 3 March 2012

Pet emergencies

I regularly see things in practice that not everyone know are emergencies or just don't know the signs, so I thought I'd write a quick post about what to look out for.

Most people know the more obvious emergencies:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Road Traffic Accidents
  • Wounds
  • Bleeding
  • Fractures
But not everyone knows some of the following and just how much of an emergency they are. Most of the things I have listed here will occur in death if left untreated:
  • Hypocalcaemia
  • Hypoglycaemia
  • Diabetic Ketoacidosis
  • Splenic Haemorrhage
  • Poisoning
  • Foreign Bodies
  • GDV (also known as Torsion, Bloat)
  • Pyometra
  • Thrombus
  • Blocked Bladder
I'm going to list the signs for the above problems so you know what to look out for.


Can occur in cats and dogs but is most common in smaller breeds that are pregnant or nursing a litter.  Early sign are panting, stiffness, muscle tremors, convulsions, high temperature and tachypnoea (faster respiratory rate). If not treated it'll progress to seizures and, eventually, death.
This is more common in first litters and has a high rate or recurring so if it happens once it's important to neuter so it won't happen again.
To help prevent this from happening, the pregnant or nursing bitch should be fed a good quality puppy food at the end stages of pregnancy and while nursing.

The signs depend on the severity of hypoglycaemia, they can range from lethargy and weakness to muscle twitching, seizures and even coma and death.
Particularly dangerous in diabetics and small or young pets. For small breeds and puppies/kittens, vomiting and diarrhoea could cause a hypoglycaemic episode.  Pups can go downhill really quick and could possibly only show weakness or ataxia (wobbly gait) before falling into a coma.
Small dogs and puppies should be treated straight away for diarrhoea or vomiting to try and prevent this from occurring.

Diabetic Ketoacidosis

Ketoacidotic animals need intravenous fluids and insulin therapy, this is a real diabetic emergency and must be seen by a Vet immediately.
Signs are polyuria (increased urination), polydipsia (increased thirst), anorexia, weakness, vomiting, breath may be sweet smelling (some people say pear drops).

Splenic Haemorrhage
Commonly occur in instances of abdominal trauma and animals with a splenic mass.  The mass is normally very friable and it won't take a lot to damage it to the point that it will rupture and cause bleeding.
Signs are weakness, collapse, abdominal distension, difficulty breathing, pale mucous membranes (gums, inner lips and inside of eyelids are good places to check).
These can be either acute (trauma or ruptured mass) or a chronic slow bleed, either way it's an emergency that must be dealt with immediately.
Treatment would normally be fluids to help with the blood loss and possibly surgery to find the point of bleeding.


If you suspect or know that your pet has eaten something dangerous, the first thing to do is phone your Vet.  More often than not you will be asked to go straight there but there are some questions we need to ask beforehand.
Although it may seem pointless, it's important we try and get as much information from you as possible so try to answer the questions as best as possible.
If possible, bring the packaging with you to the Vet.
The only preventative measure you can take is to make sure your pet can't reach any dangerous substances.

Foreign Bodies
Most times, owners will know their pet has eaten something so can get to the Vet ASAP but other times it may have happened without the owners knowledge.
The pet may show signs of trying to vomit, or may regurgitate food as soon as it swallows it.  It may show none of these signs but will become very depressed and lethargic or adopt the "praying position", this is a sign of abdominal pain.
I tried to find a picture of the classic "praying position" but was unable to do so.  This is when the dog stands with its back end in the air but its front legs on the ground, ie. looks like it's praying.
Some things may pass on their own but a lot of things will need surgery to remove, but advice should always be sought.
Again, making sure your pet never gets the chance to swallow anything it shouldn't is the only way to prevent this from happening.

GDV (Gastric Dilatation Volvulus)

This is when the stomach fills up with air and twists on its axis. This tends to include arteries so blood supply is cut off while the stomach is twisted.
Some people say it normally occurs after exercise or feeding, but I don't think this has ever been proven.  It is more common in deep chested dogs, for example, German Shepherds, Great Danes, Dachshunds.
The sign for this are very similar to splenic haemorrhage including unproductive retching, lethargy, salivation, panting, pacing/restlessness and pale mucous membranes.
Real emergency that must receive Veterinary treatment as soon as noticed.  If left untreated, the animal will be in extreme pain and die.
Some people think it can be avoided by ensuring that exercise and feeding are never too close to one another, also by feeding deep chested dogs from a raised bowl and/or putting a ball (make sure it's not small enough to get swallowed whole) in the bowl that will prevent the food being wolfed down.  You can buy bowls that have raised parts on the bottom, these have the same function as the ball.


This is just a drawing but if you're strong stomached enough to handle the real thing click here.
A pyometra is the build up pus in the uterus.  It normally occurs after a season, and is normally seen in older entire (unneutered) females but some medications have been known to cause it to happen in younger animals.
There are 2 types of pyometra: open and closed.
An open pyometra is when the pus is able to drain out of the uterus, this is the least dangerous of the two.  A closed pyometra is when the pus in unable to drain, this is more dangerous as the pus can't be seen draining so the owner might not notice there is a pyometra until the animal becomes very ill.
Signs are high temperature, depression, Polyuria (increased urination) and polydipsia (increased thirst), loss of appetite, lethargy.  Open pyos will have an obvious smell and pus coming from the vulva. Closed pyos may have vomiting, diarrhoea and a swollen abdomen.
If left untreated it'll cause renal failure, collapse and death.
The only way to prevent this from happening is to get your pet neutered at an early age.

Thrombus (Aortic thromboembolism)

This is when a clot form in the aorta at the point where it branches off to supply the hindlegs, this stops blood from flowing to the hindlimbs.
A lot of owners commonly bring their cat in thinking it's been hit by a car because the signs are sudden loss of use of hindlimbs, possibly howling in pain.  They will also have cold limbs and may pant.  Generally speaking anytime a cat pants is bad news.
Unfortunately, as far as I'm aware there is no way to prevent this from happening.  And even though some Vets will try to treat it with aspiring or heparin or some hospitals may even try surgery to remove the clot, the clot will normally return.  It may not happen for a few months but it'll happen, therefore most Vets will recommend euthanasia since this is an extremely painful condition and it would take a while to break the clot down.

Blocked bladder
This is normally caused by crystals in the urine which build up to cause a blockage in the urethra.  Although it can occur in female cats, it's rare.  It's common in male cats, more so in neutered male cats.
The blockage means the cat cannot urinate so the bladder will continue to fill.
Signs are normally the cat getting in and out of the litter tray with little or no results, they tend to be inappetant, lethargic and depressed, if left the cat will eventually collapse and go into complete renal failure.
This is one of very few true veterinary emergencies, cats can become very ill very quick with a blocked bladder.
The only way to prevent this is to make sure the cat is fed a good quality diet that preferably has an S/O index in it.  This stands for Struvite and Oxalate, the 2 most common crystals found in the urine.  Food with the S/O index will make sure the urine is the right pH to prevent these crystals from forming.

Stress can also be a causing factor so this can commonly occur after a big move or even a new arrival in the household.  If preventative measures are taken before moving or new arrival to keep stress to a minimum then it may be stopped, but it's always good to know the signs to look out for.
One major thing we recommend to people is that there should be a litter tray per cat plus one to a house so your cat never feels like it has to compete for the toilet.  Plenty of fresh water is always a must, some cats like drinking running water so a fountain is a good idea. A pet fountain is a water dish that moves the water and keeps it on a constant cycle, I think they also cool the water down so it's nice and cold.  And in cats with urinary problems, wet food is better than dry - it simply increases the water intake.

Another thing to note is not a particular disease but small furries (i.e. rabbits, hamsters, rats etc) never show when they're ill so it's important to notice any slight change in them.  Any time any of those little guys stop eating is an emergency and if you ever do notice they're ill then, by that stage, they are really ill.  Small furries can go downhill really fast so it's good to think of anything wrong with them as an emergency and seek Veterinary advice ASAP.


  1. Thanks for this night. I'm lucky that I make sure that mine are on good quality food as well as keeping them as house cats so I know what they get up to etc.

    Great to have someone put advice out there with things to look out for just in case.

    1. You're welcome. I see a lot of these things and some of them are things that not all owners know about, and the ones that do it's because it happened to their pet.
      A lot of these are fatal so preventative measures are always best.

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  3. The joys of pet ownership... Every parent has to be a doctor, and every pet owner a vet...