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Dogs: Symptoms needing emergency care

If your dog is showing any of the symptoms listed in this article you should seek immediate veterinary advice.

You should not attempt to treat a dog showing these potentially serious symptoms yourself — contact a vet. For treatment within the Alpine Animal Doctors emergency service area, call…

5756 2444

When they fall ill, dogs can exhibit a wide range of symptoms. Not all of them mean you are facing an acute emergency. Just like us, a dog may feel off colour for a couple of days and then bounce back. But your dog depends on you to recognise when there is a serious problem and to seek appropriate help. Keep an eye out for the following symptoms — all of them indicate you should seek immediate emergency veterinary advice or attention…

Loss of consciousness:

Any alteration in consciousness can be a sign of acute illness. Signs can include coma, convulsions, sudden withdrawal, tremors or staggering, sudden onset of blindness or a general lack of responsiveness. Other signs can be biting at imaginary objects or constantly tilting the head.


A seizure is fairly easy to identify. The animal’s body will shake or tremble for several seconds and you may see the whites of the eyes. The dog will then remain unresponsive for up to a minute.

Discoloured gums:

If your dog’s gums have become white, blue or otherwise paler than normal this can be one of the first indicators of serious illness. Discoloured gums are signs of:

  • Shock
  • Low blood pressure
  • Poor circulation
  • Anaemia
  • Internal bleeding

Breathing difficulties:

If your dog is gasping for breath or his breathing is laboured, respiration is noisy and/or the tongue has swollen or turned blue it can be a sign of acute illness.

Heavy or laboured breathing can indicate heart problems, overheating or a respiratory problem. It may also just be a sign of localised stress or complications from obesity, in which case a normal appointment at the hospital will be fine. You need to make a judgement but always err on the side of caution — if in doubt, call the hospital.


If your dog becomes unusually lethargic, take its body temperature. Between 37 and 38 degrees celsius is normal for dogs. Anything outside of this range indicates you should seek immediate veterinary attention.

Unusual and severe pain:

Dogs tend to be stoic about pain but if your dog is crying out loudly and continually it is a sign the animal is in severe pain. If there is no obvious external cause the pain may be due to internal injures that require immediate treatment.


An abnormally distended abdomen is an acutely serious issue. If your dog appears to have abdominal pain and winces or whimpers when you touch the abdomen but is not vomiting it may indicate potential poisoning or an acute kidney problem.


If you believe that your dog has ingested toxins such as pesticides, cleaning products, chocolate, onions, alcohol or human medicines, call the hospital emergency vet without delay.

Other symptoms:

Some symptoms, such as vomiting, diarrhea, excessive salivation, poor appetite, constipation, wheezing, dull, dry and flaky hair and skin, lameness, weakness, and major changes in urination patterns, are not necessarily indicators that emergency treatment is required.

However, this type of symptom should be short lived. If they do not clear up in 24 to 48 hours it may point to more serious underlying problems.

Open wounds and injuries:

The most obvious symptoms that require visits to the animal hospital are open wounds, serious burns, and broken bones. If your pet has been hit by a car, tangled with some barbed wire, got into a fight with another animal, or been involved in any other kind of accident or trauma, unless the wounds are clearly minor you should seek emergency veterinary treatment as quickly as possible.

E&OE. The information provided in the articles on this site is intended as a guide to assist readers to become better informed about health issues that may affect their pets and livestock. They are not a substitute for appropriate veterinary advice and treatment. They should not be used for diagnosis or treatment of any individual animal and no person should place reliance on information derived from them, where such reliance may result in loss, damage or injury. Always consult a qualified veterinarian to obtain advice.

Although Alpine Animal Doctors make every effort to ensure that the information contained in our articles is accurate and up-to-date we can accept no responsibility for errors or omissions that may occur.