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What to Do in a Dog Emergency According to a Vet

Someone holds a dog
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As a dog owner, it’s important to be prepared for any emergency that may arise with your furry friend. From accidental ingestion of toxic substances to physical trauma and sudden illnesses, there are many scenarios where you may need to act quickly to ensure the safety and well-being of your pet. Here are some common dog emergencies and what you can do to help your dog.

What Do I Do During a Dog Emergency?

A man cuddles with his dog on the phone

To help us understand what to do in a dog emergency, we spoke with veterinarian Dr. Lisa Chimes. Dr. Lisa explained that there are several common dog emergencies that owners should be aware of, including ingesting household items such as toys, socks, and underwear, which can cause gastrointestinal obstructions. Dogs may also eat toxic substances in the home and garden, such as rat bait, snail bait, fertilizers, and even antifreeze, all of which can be life-threatening.

Trauma cases from motor vehicle accidents and dog fights can also cause severe internal injuries. Day-to-day emergencies from illnesses can cause symptoms such as breathing difficulty, vomiting, and diarrhea, and a physical examination and diagnostic tests can help determine the underlying cause.

If your dog experiences an emergency, Dr. Lisa advises seeking veterinary care as soon as possible.

“If your dog has severe trauma, breathing difficulty, collapse, or an altered level of consciousness, this warrants an immediate trip to your nearest vet,” she said. “It’s always helpful if you drive with someone so that you can focus on your dog in the car. In other situations, you can contact your local vet or emergency hospital for help over the phone. They will advise whether an immediate veterinary visit is required.”

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How To Handle Specific Emergencies

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There are a lot of ways your dog can put itself in a sticky situation. Here’s how to deal with specific emergencies.

What to Do if Your Dog Eats Something Toxic

A dog digging through the trash

According to Dr. Lisa, common household items that can be toxic to dogs include human medications, toxic plants, and cleaning supplies.

Dogs are known for their curious nature, and this can sometimes lead them to ingest items that are harmful to their health. If you suspect that your dog has ingested something toxic, here are the steps you should take:

  • Stay calm: In case of an emergency, it is important to stay calm and assess the situation before taking any action.
  • Call your vet: Contact your veterinarian or a local animal poison control center for guidance. They will be able to advise you on what steps to take next and whether you need to bring your dog in for treatment. You can also contact Animal Poison Control at 1-888-426-4435.
  • Observe your dog: Keep an eye on your dog’s behavior and symptoms, and take note of any changes. This information will be helpful for your vet in determining the appropriate treatment.
  • Induce vomiting if recommended: If advised by your vet or poison control center, you may need to induce vomiting to get rid of the toxic substance. However, do not attempt to do this without professional guidance, as some toxins can cause more harm if vomited.
  • Seek emergency medical care: If your dog is exhibiting severe symptoms such as seizures, difficulty breathing, or loss of consciousness, take them to the nearest emergency veterinary clinic immediately.

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What to Do if Your Dog Eats Chocolate

A dog after eating some chocolate
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Chocolate is easily accessible in many homes, so there’s a good chance that your pup might get into it one day if you don’t keep it out of reach. If your dog ingests chocolate, it’s important to act quickly to avoid potentially serious complications. Here are the steps you should take:

  • Figure out how much your dog ate: There are several factors that affect the toxicity of chocolate in dogs. Knowing what kind of chocolate your dog ate and how much it consumed is important when determining if your dog is in danger. The Merck Veterinary Manual has a helpful calculator you can use to determine if your dog has eaten a toxic amount of chocolate.
  • Call your vet: Contact your veterinarian or the nearest emergency veterinary clinic immediately. Your vet will be able to advise you on the appropriate steps to take based on the amount and type of chocolate your dog has ingested. Again, you can also contact Animal Poison Control at 1-888-426-4435.
  • Watch for symptoms: Keep an eye out for symptoms of chocolate poisoning, which can include vomiting, diarrhea, restlessness, increased heart rate, muscle tremors, and seizures. The severity of the symptoms will depend on the amount and type of chocolate your dog has ingested.
  • Do not induce vomiting: While it used to be common practice to induce vomiting in dogs who had ingested chocolate, this is no longer recommended. Inducing vomiting can cause more stress on the body and potentially lead to aspiration pneumonia.
  • Follow your vet’s advice: Your vet may recommend bringing your dog in for treatment or instruct you to monitor your dog at home. Follow their instructions carefully, and seek further treatment if your dog’s condition worsens. Remember, the earlier you seek treatment, the better the chances of a positive outcome for your furry friend.

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Hydrogen peroxide can be used to make your dog vomit in an emergency.

What to Do if Your Dog Suffers Trauma

Dogs at a dog park
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Dogs can suffer from physical trauma due to various reasons, such as motor vehicle accidents or dog fights. Trauma can lead to severe internal injuries and should be treated as an emergency. Here’s what you should do:

  • Call your vet: Contact your veterinarian or the nearest emergency veterinary clinic for guidance. They will be able to advise you on what steps to take next and whether you need to bring your dog in for treatment.
  • Assess your dog’s condition: Check your dog’s breathing and pulse, and examine their body for any signs of injury.
  • Keep your dog still: If your dog has a suspected spinal injury, do not move them. This can cause further damage.
  • Transport your dog to the vet: If your dog is in a stable condition, transport them to the vet as soon as possible. If your dog is not stable or unconscious, it is best to call a pet ambulance or emergency services to transport them.

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This kit can be used for everyday tick removals, insect bites, stopping small cuts from bleeding, or if there is an emergency it can help until you are able to see your vet.

What to Do if Your Dog is Choking

A man pulls something out of a dog's mouth

Choking is a serious emergency that requires immediate action. Here’s what you should do:

  • Stay calm: In case of an emergency, it is important to stay calm and assess the situation before taking any action. This is easier said than done, but your dog will have a better chance of survival if you can keep a level head.
  • Check your dog’s mouth: Look inside your dog’s mouth to see if you can identify the object that is causing the choking. If you can see the object and it is easily accessible, try to remove it with a pair of tweezers or pliers, or even your hands if you think you can do so safely.
  • Perform the Heimlich maneuver: If the object cannot be removed with tweezers or pliers, you may need to perform the Heimlich maneuver. This involves standing behind your dog and placing your hands just below its rib cage. Apply firm pressure in a quick upward motion to try and dislodge the object.
  • Seek emergency medical care: If your dog is still choking and you are unable to remove the object, take them to the nearest emergency veterinary clinic immediately.

Tribal Cooking Kitchen Tongs with Silicone Tips

These can be used to pull something out of your dog's throat.

How to Prepare for Dog Emergencies

A woman plays with her dog at home

To best prepare for a dog emergency, Dr. Lisa suggests keeping the names and numbers of the nearest vet hospitals and emergency centers handy. She also recommends being aware of your pet’s medical history and having a copy available, as it can assist emergency veterinarians with important background information for your pet’s care.

Of course, reducing the risk of an emergency in the first place is the best course of action.

“Ensure your household and garden are free of potential toxins, secure your home so that your pet can’t escape, keep your dog on a leash when out and about, and respond appropriately to dog body language to minimize the risk of dog fights,” said Dr. Lisa.

It’s also important to monitor your dog’s energy levels, appetite, eating, drinking, and toileting. Any changes in these areas can be an early warning sign of an accident or illness. Early detection is key to minimizing the chances of a serious emergency and initiating early life-saving treatment.

Dr. Lisa recommends having a pet first aid kit available in case of an emergency. Although, in the case of a true emergency, it’s best to get your pet to the nearest veterinary hospital, rather than attempting care at home.

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Another great kit to have at home.

“Pet first aid kits can be useful in some situations, but they don’t replace proper veterinary care,” she said.

Finally, keeping your dog healthy will help you avoid many unexpected trips to the vet. Feeding your dog a balanced diet, making sure they get plenty of exercise, and keeping them well-groomed will reduce the risk of health problems. While you can’t avoid all emergencies, you and your dog will be happier if they are healthy.

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Knowing what to do in a dog emergency can make all the difference in your pet’s life. By being prepared and monitoring your dog’s health and behavior, you can reduce the chances of an emergency and ensure that your furry friend receives the best care possible.

Anne Taylor Anne Taylor
Anne Taylor is a writer with a BA in Journalism and a passion for storytelling. Her work has been published on a variety of websites including Mental Floss and Well + Good, and she recently published her first novel, What it Takes to Lose. When she's not writing, Anne loves to travel (19 countries and counting), spend time outside, and play with her dog, Pepper. Read Full Bio »
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