How to know it’s time to take your pet to an emergency veterinarian?

Emergency veterinarian

Whenever a pet gets sick, it is almost always a concern for the owner if it is something serious. Here are some examples of questions that may come to mind:  

 Do I need to worry about it or will it go away on its own? 

Should I take my pet to the veterinarian? 

Is this urgent and requires a visit to an emergency veterinarian? 

These questions would be easy to answer if our pets could talk to us, but unfortunately they cannot. So how can one determine if their sick pet needs immediate medical condition vs the wait and watch approach? Below is a guide for signs of illness that may require an immediate trip to the emergency veterinarian.


Color of the mucous membranes

The color of the mucous membranes or the gums can be a good indicator of when your pet absolutely needs to go to the emergency veterinarian.

Pale mucous membranes could indicate serious blood loss or severe respiratory issues.

Yellow or green mucous membranes could indicate severe liver disease, or severe anemia due to the body destroying its own red blood cells

Brick or red gums may indicate a severe infection or severe distress and warrants immediate attention.

Mucous membranes with red blotches or spots could indicate a clotting issue which will need to be addressed quickly


Labored breathing

Heavy or labored breathing could indicate a severe lung or heart disease. Lung disease that requires immediate medical attention could include lung tumors, severe asthma, or fluid in the lungs.

A pet with a history of heart disease that is showing signs of difficult breathing may be going into congestive heart failure therefore requiring immediate medical treatment.

Difficulty  urinating

This is especially important to monitor in male cats. Here are examples where it may be time to see an emergency veterinarian:

  • If you are noting little production of urine for extended periods of time
  • Straining to urinate with blood
  • Vocalizing when urinating.
  • Obvious distension of the abdomen with straining to urinate

Bleeding from the nose

Except where there have been obvious trauma to the nose, bleeding from the nose could indicate a serious health condition especially if it is unable to be controlled easily. Nose bleeds could indicate a clotting problem which can be a concern in suspected rat poison ingestion. Bleeding from just one nostril could indicate a bleeding tumor in the sinuses or a serious infection. Nose bleeds could also indicate a serious heart condition


Wounds or lacerations

Even the most innocent looking wounds can become infected leading to very expensive veterinary bills. So treating wounds as early as possible is the key. Here are just some examples of wounds you may want to be evaluated by an emergency veterinarian:

  • Wounds that are deep enough to see muscle and tendons.
  • Wounds that persistently bleed despite pressure being applied.
  • Wounds that are caused by multiple bites

Distended abdomen

An abdomen that quickly becomes distended could indicate an emergency . One of the most common causes of a distended abdomen is fluid accumulation. The abdomen can accumulate with blood due to hemorrhaging from an organ or a clotting issues which can be caused by rat poisoning. Fluid can also accumulate in abdomen in severe heart failure.

Another cause of a distended abdomen includes bloat. This is where the stomach abnormally fills up with gas or fluid which can result in it twisting on itself. This condition is very dangerous and often leads to death.

Loss of function of limbs

The most common cause of a loss of function of the limbs is a spinal cord issue. Spinal cord issues can arise from a ruptured/bulging discs, a blood clot disrupting blood flow to the cord, trauma, or a tumor of the spine. Time is typically an essence in these cases where how quickly treatment occurs correlates with likelihood of recovery.

Vomiting and diarrhea

While pets can have episodes of vomiting and diarrhea for reasons that may not require immediate attention, sometimes emergency care may be needed as listed below.

If your pet is vomiting multiple times and not able to keep food or water down.

If the vomit has blood in it.

If the vomiting is accompanied by repeat diarrhea especially if the diarrhea has blood in it



Remember this is not an all exclusive list but will help give you an idea if you need to take your beloved pet to an emergency clinic if they are experiencing an illness. If you feel you still need further assistance you can use our online veterinary consultation service for guidance.  Here is an infograph below which you can share with other pet owners

emergency veterinarian

Additional tips:

Remembers most emergency clinics require upfront payment so be prepaid to have adequate payment.

Look into  payment options such as CareCredit which you can apply for online.

Be upfront with the emergency clinic regarding your financial situation.

Having a pet experience an emergency can be quite an emotional experience. Don’t let your emotions allow you to make irrational decisions regarding your pet’s health. If you feel you are too emotional, designate someone to  help you make health decisions for you and your pet.

20 thoughts on “How to know it’s time to take your pet to an emergency veterinarian?

  1. Wow I hope that my pets never experience any of these problems. It would make me feel so sad if I saw my dog with a distended abdomen or wounds or anything listed here. We will do our best to keep rats away from our home so that they aren’t ever poisoned by the rats. Thankfully we have vets who help in these kind of emergencies! Now I’ll know when to take my pet to the emergency vet so thank you!

  2. Dr. Alleyne, I’ve never had a pet before now because I just wasn’t sure I could take care of them. I found this advice helpful in knowing what to look out for if anything happens. Hopefully none of these things listed will happen.

  3. This is some great information, and I appreciate your point that your dog periodically vomiting and not being able to keep food down could be an emergency. My dog threw up about an hour ago, and I’m not sure what caused her to do that. I’ll definitely keep an eye on her, and I’ll take her to an emergency vet if she continues to have problems. Thanks for the great post!

  4. These are good to know. I didn’t know that bleeding from the nose was a serious issue, I will have to watch for that. Our dog is getting up there in years, I hope he doesn’t go through any of these issues. It is good to have an emergency clinic on hand in case.

  5. I didn’t know that looking at the mucous membranes would help in figuring out if your pet needs to go to the emergency room or not. I will have to make sure that I look for these warning signs on my dog. I would hate to dismiss the warning sign and have something serious happen to my pet.

  6. My cat has been acting a bit strange lately. She’s been having weird breathing patterns and had a couple of nose bleeds. I didn’t realize that these could be signs that she’s sick! I’ll make sure that I get her to a vet. Thank you very much for sharing!

  7. I have been noticing lately that my dog has been having some issues breathing and I can’t figure out why. This pointed out that my dog could have heart of lung disease and that really freaks me out. It just barley started happening though, so I’m hoping its not to late to get him in as quick as I can to stop the tumor or asthma that could be causing this pain for him.

  8. Thanks for pointing out some of the signs that it is time to take your pet to an emergency vet clinic. It makes sense that heavy or labored breathing could indicate lung or heart disease. It seems like it would also be a good idea to watch out for things like bloody noses, changes in mucus membrane, and difficulty with urinating or bowel movements. I would think that keeping a close eye on your pet and watching for any abnormalities is a good way to know when you should see a professional.

  9. I think it is great that you point out that you must take your pet to the veterinary emergency when your pet is vomiting or has diarrhea. Pet owners may just think their pet ate something that doesn’t agree with their stomach or possibly caught a sickness. There could be more serious problems associated with these symptoms. It would be best to get your little furry friend checked out to make sure everything is fine!

  10. I think that it is important to be able to use emergency veterinarian services. If there is something wrong with your pet then it is really important to take care of that right away. That way you can have a healthy pet.

  11. I think it is always a good idea to take care of cuts or wounds on your pet sooner rather than later. Of course, for the major cuts, I will immediately go to the vet. However, for the less serious looking ones, I normally watch them and see if they are healing or not. Most of the time my dog licks his wounds so much that I have to go to the vet to get them wrapped, however small, so that they can heal.

  12. Thank you for the help. I just bought my first dog and have not had an emergency yet, but want to be prepared. I would be terrified if he lost the use of his limbs, as you mentioned. How would you go about choosing an emergency vet in that situation?

  13. Last week, I had to take my dog to the vet due to an emergency and we suspect that someone had tried poisoning her. She was vomiting a lot and having diarrhea too. Also, she wouldn’t eat anything and couldn’t stand right either. I’m really glad that I decided to take her to the vet and not wait around to see what would happen, because now she is okay.

  14. I have always been worried when my dog isn’t acting like himself, and I never know when I should take him to the vet. I haven’t noticed any of the symptoms that you mentioned, so I think we’re good so far. I’ll be writing these down and keeping them next to the pet cupboard just in case though.

  15. I think these are great tips to know for if your pet is in need. I would not want my pet to be suffering. I think that it could be hard to tell if my pet is urinating.

  16. Thank you for all of these signs that indicate your animal needs to go the vet. I also want to add that if you feel something is wrong, there most likely is. In this case you should always take you pet to the vet! Don’t wait for the signs– go with your instincts.

  17. As gross as it may be you need to check your pets vomit and feces. It is a good indicator of the overall health of your pet. I like that you mentioned getting to the vet if you find any blood in either.

  18. I want to make sure that my pets are taken care of. My dog has been having some breathing problems, so it seems like he might have some sort of problem! I’ll be sure to get him to a pet doctor as soon as possible.

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