Locally-Owned in Oakdale and St. Paul, Minnesota

When to Bring Your Pet to the ER Vet

As an emergency critical care veterinary specialist, I see a lot of dogs and cats coming into the animal ER. Some are true emergencies, and could have died without coming in, and others are more stable but the pet owner wasn’t able to get into their veterinarian. First off, it’s important to have some things at home to deal with emergencies, like a pet first aid kit.

So, when do you really need to get to the ER? As a pet owner, it’s hard to know whether your dog’s or cat’s (or other family small mammals!) condition is a true medical emergency or not… or more importantly, if it warrants getting up in the middle of the night to seek medical attention from our staff at Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota.

As an emergency critical care veterinary specialist, I’ll be honest in saying that some emergencies can wait to see your regular veterinarian the following morning (like diarrhea, midnight health certificates, itchy skin, even urinary tract infections, etc.). However, if you are worried, you are always safest getting to the veterinarian or ER veterinarian – regardless of what time it is. Not only will this give you peace of mind, but your vet can make sure nothing more significant is being masked by your pet!

Below, I’ve listed a few signs where it is imperative that your pet goes in to the animal ER. Without treatment, these situations can potentially be fatal!

  • Lethargy or collapse
  • Anxiety or restlessness
  • Difficulty breathing (e.g., noisy breathing, stretching the head and neck out while breathing, seeing the abdominal body wall moving a lot while breathing)
  • Constant coughing and inability to rest through the night
  • Coughing up pink, frothy, foamy liquid (or blood)
  • Panting constantly
  • A respiratory rate > 60 breaths per minute at home while resting (TIP: count the number of breaths taken over 15 seconds and multiple by 4)
  • Abnormal gum color (e.g., pale gums, blue gums, etc.)
  • A distended, “bloated” abdomen
  • Non-productive retching (which is classic for gastric-dilitation volvulus or “GDV”)
  • Pale gums (which is often seen with internal bleeding or anemia)
  • An elevated heart rate (> 160 beats per minute at home)
  • Crying out in pain
  • Any wound on the body
  • Jaundiced (yellow gums)
  • Not being able to move or walk or dragging of the back legs

  • Any significant amount of bleeding
  • Any trauma (regardless of how minor it may appear)
  • Bite wounds or attacks by another animal
  • Any poisoning or toxin ingestion
  • Vomiting more than 2-3X in a row
  • Abnormal vaginal discharge
  • Abnormal odor from the body
  • Feeling very hot or cold to the touch (NOTE: You can always try to check your pet’s temperature with a pet thermometer; if the temperature is < 99 or > 103.5, please contact a veterinarian immediately!)
  • Squinting, bulging, discolored or painful eyeballs
  • Straining to urinate, making multiple trips to urinate, squatting to urinate without producing any urine
  • Anything that makes you worried
  • Tremors or seizures
  • Seizures lasting for more than 2-3 minutes or having more than 2-3 seizures in a 24-hour period
  • Any abnormal behavior that you’re worried about (e.g., acting aloof or particularly clingy)

While this list isn’t all-inclusive, it gives you a good general idea to work with. When in doubt, call your veterinarian or emergency veterinarian, as the receptionist or veterinary technician may be able to help guide you and “phone triage” you (although they are obviously always going to err on the side of caution). When in doubt, you can also call the non-profit ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC), as they can provide life-saving poisoning advice and determine if you even need to go into the veterinarian or not! (Please be aware there is a $65 fee for the call, but this also helps with management at your veterinary clinic for poisoning advice).

If you do bring your pet in to the ER, make sure to bring a book or computer; just like a human ER, there could be a wait of several hours. Please know that pets are always seen based on “triage” – the sicker ones are seen first, as we need to address their life-threatening problems.
When in doubt, if you’re concerned, contact Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota. You know your pet the best, and we want to make sure we keep them healthy and happy.



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