How to recognise when your pet needs urgent treatment

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DOGS: Symptoms requiring immediate veterinary care

All of the symptoms shown below indicate that your dog could be facing a life threatening situation and may require urgent veterinary treatment

Coping with wounds and injuries

The most obvious symptoms that require visits to the hospital are open wounds, serious burns, and broken bones. If your pet has been hit by a car, tangled with some barbed wire, been in 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, especially if you are unable to stem any bleeding.

If this is impossible you may wish to attempt some first aid at home. However, this is no substitute for expert veterinary care and should be a last resort. Always seek veterinary advice before attempting anything other than first aid for minor wounds.

Recognising changes in 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.

Any of these symptoms can indicate serious problems requiring prompt treatment. You should not delay in consulting a veterinarian.

Seizures can be serious

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.

While a seizure does not always indicate a critical emergency, if you are seeing your dog affected for the first time you should assume it may be a sign of a serious condition. Err on the side of caution and seek immediate veterinary attention or advice.

Changes in breathing

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.

When your dog’s gums change colour

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

Any of the above can be signs of serious issues. Seek veterinary help.

When Rover loses his zest

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.

When your dog is in 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 such as a wound, dislocation or broken bone the pain may be due to internal injures that require immediate treatment.

Warning: Please do not attempt to treat pain in your pet (dog or cat) with human painkillers such as Paracetomol, Ibuprofen etc, etc. These can prove fatal for animals. See Dangers of Panadol for Dogs.

Bloating can be fatal

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.

Worse case is it’s indicative of bloat (Gastric Dilation) a very serious condition which, without prompt treatment, can lead to death within a few hours. If your dog is in pain, pacing and restless and displaying non-productive retching or vomiting, and excessive salivation get to our hospital, or your closest emergency vet, as quickly as possible.

Recognising poisoning symptoms

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.

Poisoning cases are almost always critical and will definitely require veterinary intervention. For more information check out the article links below…

Dangers of Panadol for Dogs,

Poisons: Recognising Symptoms,

Poisoning: Top 10 Causes in Pets,

Poisons: Health Effects & Treatment,

Poisons: Emergency First Aid.

Snake bites need swift action

Envenomation from the toxins contained in snake venom is a serious and life threatening incident that must be treated swiftly if we are to save the life of a pet that has been bitten.

The first signs of snake envenomation are usually excitement, trembling, salivation and vomiting, gradually developing into weakness, wobbly gait and eventually paralysis. Afflicted dogs often have dilated pupils and slow light reflex, with clotting problems in their blood. Depending on the type of snake and how much venom has been injected, an animal bitten by a snake may show any of the following symptoms.

  • Localised swelling and irritation
  • Vomiting
  • Drooling and trembling
  • Dilated pupils
  • Involuntary bladder or bowel release
  • Red or brown discolouration of urine
  • Rapid breathing and/or panting
  • Bleeding from bite wounds or bloody diarrhoea
  • Collapse. (An animal may collapse immediately but then apparently recover, then develop symptoms over the course of the next hour)
  • Paralysis (starting with the hind legs and progressing towards the head)

Speed is of the essence in successfully treating a snake-bitten pet. Get the animal to a properly equipped vet clinic as quickly as you can.


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.