We know you love your pet like they are family, and the truth is, if you are worried about anything your pet is experiencing, it is safest to have your veterinarian check them out to make sure everything is alright. We are always happy to help and would rather be safe than sorry. However, there are some definite cases where your pet needs to be seen sooner rather than later. If your dog or cat is experiencing any of the following nine signs, please give us a call immediately. While these emergency situations can be stressful and worrisome, many of them are treatable with appropriate, top quality veterinary care.

1. Trouble Urinating:

We most often consider this to be an emergency of male cats, but this particular condition can happen in both dogs and cats as well as males and females. There are many reasons why a pet may become unable to urinate, but regardless of the cause, if this condition is not addressed immediately it can lead to eventual bladder rupture, dangerous electrolyte imbalances and potentially permanent damage to the kidneys. Some of the first signs to look out for are frequent trips outside or to the litter box for your four-legged friend. You may also notice that your pet postures to urinate, then moves slightly and postures again, often producing little to no urine during this time. Some pet parents confuse this for constipation, and the signs can look similar. If any urine is produced, it may contain blood, mucous or look completely normal. While less common, pets have also been known to vocalize because of the pain associated with disease process. If you are noticing any of these signs, the safest thing to do is bring your pet to the veterinarian (within the same day). An emergency catheter placement and other treatments to help treat any ongoing kidney or electrolyte issues may be needed. There are several reasons a dog or cat may not be able to urinate, and our veterinarians will probably recommend diagnostics to determine the exact cause. The good news is that if caught early, many patients make a full recovery.

2. Collapse:

This occurs when a dog or cat becomes so weak that they lose the ability to stand. A dog or cat can collapse for many reasons and most of them can be life-threatening, including heart or lung disease, internal bleeding, disorders affecting the brain, or large fluctuations in blood pressure, temperature, blood sugar or electrolytes. Often sorting through the causes will require a thorough exam by a veterinarian as well as some additional testing. Time is certainly of the essence and it is recommended to call your vet immediately after noticing a collapse episode. Several of these conditions are quite treatable once the underlying cause is found.

3. Difficulty Breathing:

Both dogs and cats can experience difficulty breathing. In the early phases, this may be a little challenging to detect, but in more advanced stages, can be quite scary to witness for both you and your pet. One of the things to watch for that may indicate your pet is having trouble breathing is an increase in the number of breaths they are taking, especially while resting or sleeping. If this is consistently more than 30 even when you pet seems completely at ease otherwise, this may be the earliest sign your pet is not getting the oxygen they need. For cats, panting or open mouth breathing is uncommon unless they are quite excited. If you are noticing open mouth breathing when your cat is at rest or had very little exertion, this can also be a sign. In the more advanced phases, pets may gasp for air, collapse, attempt to extend their neck forward to breathe easier or even making loud coughing, gagging or wheezing noises. Just like in people, when a dog or cat is unable to breathe for long enough, their lips and gums may turn blue. It is important to call your vet immediately if any of these things are occurring as they can be life threatening. Again, there may be several causes such as heart disease, lung disease, trauma, toxin exposure or severe bleeding, but your veterinarian can help you distinguish between these conditions and recommend the right course of action.

4. Repeated Vomiting:

Just like their human counter parts, there are some pets that have more sensitive stomachs than others where the random single episode of vomiting may not constitute an emergency. However, for any pet that has repeated (more than 1-2 episodes) of vomiting or who tries to vomit, but can’t, this should be treated seriously. Abnormal contents of the vomit, such as blood, can also be very concerning. Everything from foreign objects to toxin exposure can cause vomiting and most of these conditions can quickly lead to dehydration and severe or permanent damage to the stomach or intestines.

5. Bloating:

Most people classically associate bloating with the condition GDV (gastric dilatation volvulus) that occurs in large breed dogs where the stomach literally flips on itself. This is one of the diseases where you may see the abdomen distend and bow outwards as the stomach becomes more and more full of air until it eventually ruptures. This disease is life-threatening, worsens very quickly, and is a true emergency. If you suspect your pet may be experiencing this, it is best to call your veterinarian immediately. However, bloating can also be used to describe any disease that causes the abdomen to distend, and may affect dogs or cats of any size. Some other reasons why this might occur would be fluid accumulating from heart disease, bleeding, liver disease, or cancer. While some of these may be slightly less time sensitive, they are all serious conditions and it is safest to have your pet checked out quickly.

6. Bleeding:

A small scrape here or scratch there may not warrant an emergency, but more profuse bleeding, especially from the nose or mouth, or in vomit, urine or stool can indicate serious disease. Sometimes your pet may be bleeding internally and the signs are a little less obvious. Bruising on the skin or paws, bloating of the abdomen, weakness or pale gums can sometimes point to an internal bleeding issue and should alert you to call your veterinarian immediately. While trauma may occur prior to bleeding, it is not always necessary. Toxin exposure, such as rodent poison, immune diseases, infections and cancer can all cause bleeding without warning. Once, again, time is critical. Depending on the amount of blood loss, things can get worse quickly. In the hospital setting, your veterinarian can help you get to the bottom of what is going on while also administering transfusions or other therapy needed to compensate for any blood loss that has already occurred.

7. Swelling of the face or neck:

If you are noticing swelling of the muzzle, neck or head, this is a good reason to call your veterinarian immediately. The fear is that if the swelling continues to worsen, it may make it difficult or impossible for your pet to breathe. Often this is the result of an allergic/anaphylactic reaction, but may also be due to very serious conditions such as snake bites. In the Tampa area we occasionally see bites from rattlesnakes or water moccasins (cottonmouths). Either way, the safest thing to do is to have your veterinarian perform and exam and monitor closely to ensure the swelling does not become life-threatening.

8. Seizures:

If you have ever witnessed a seizure, it can be quite scary to watch.  Depending on the type of seizure, they may range from small isolated tremors to full uncontrollable contractions of the whole body and loss of consciousness.  One of the important things to do if you see a pet having a seizure is to ensure they are not in an area where they may injure themselves such as high on a bed or near a pool or stairs.  Always keep your safety in mind first, but try to gently relocate your pet or at least guard them if they are dangerously close to one of these spaces.  You may also attempt to put a pillow or blanket under their head.  Do not attempt to touch or control their mouth.  If seizures persist for too long or happen in a back-to-back nature (cluster seizures), they can cause permanent brain damage or cause the body temperature to elevate to dangerous levels.  This is why it is important to visit the veterinarian immediately when a seizure is noted.  Pets can have epilepsy, much like people do, but there are also many other more serious causes of seizures that would require treatment right away.  Some of these are toxin, liver or kidney disease, low blood sugar levels, infections/meningitis, head trauma or cancer.  Depending on your pet’s age and history your vet may recommend certain tests to help determine why the seizures are occurring.  Even if it is determined to likely be epilepsy there are several medications your vet can prescribe to help reduce the frequency or severity of seizures your pet experiences.  If your pet has been experiencing long seizures or back-to-back seizures, they may need to stay in the hospital for a bit to get injectable medications to help control the seizures quickly.

9. Major Trauma: 

If your pet has just experienced a major accident such as being hit by a car, falling from a high location or blunt force trauma, it is always best to have them examined by a veterinarian right away.  It is actually possible for your pet to be able to get up and walk away after this type of injury, yet still have serious internal damage that could be life threatening.  A similar phenomenon occurs in people.  There is often a spike in chemicals like epinephrine during these situations that will make a pet “feel fine” temporarily, and this automatic response is designed to help animals and people quickly get away from the dangerous situation that caused this trauma.  However, when those chemicals wear off, the pain and other symptoms quickly set in putting your pet in a scary and uncomfortable state.  Some forms of internal organ damage may take hours to show signs, but by then, precious time has been lost.  That’s why it is always safer to have your pet examined by the veterinarian.  Depending on the type of trauma and what the veterinarian sees, further testing such as x-rays, ultrasound and bloodwork may be needed to evaluate how your pet is doing internally.  At the very least, your veterinarian will help your pet manage any pain they are experiencing from the event.


If your pet is experiencing any of these signs, please give us a call right away. We will make sure your pet gets the care they need and walk you through every step of the process. Our veterinary hospital is equipped to deal with a wide range of emergency procedures and our team will ensure your pets receive the best care possible.