Pet emergencies: what to do & what not to do

pet emergencies what to doEmergencies normally happen when you are least expecting them and at the most inconvenient time.  Knowing what to do and what not to do can make a difference to saving your pet’s life.  Below are some guidelines you may find helpful.

This advice is NOT a substitute for a proper consultation with a vet and is only intended as a guide. 

Try not to panic (easier said than done)

Phone your regular daytime practice – if it is “after hours” there will be information directing you to the emergency service, which may be based at a different location.  It is important to phone ahead to ensure the vet and team will be prepared for your arrival and available to see you as soon as possible.

If your pet is:

Bleeding - if the wound is dirty, flush with warm salt water and then apply a clean cloth or dressing and apply firm pressure during transport. Read more about first aid care for minor injuries on limbs or paws>

Seizuring (fitting) in dogs

  • Make the room as dark and quiet as possible. Turn the lights off, pull the curtains, turn the TV or radio off and keep children and other pets away.  Pull the dog away from anything that might harm him but otherwise try to avoid touching your dog especially around the mouth as they may bite you (remember they have no control over their muscles/movement).  Dogs very rarely choke on their tongues although it can occasionally occur with dogs with flat faces e.g. pugs.
  • Make a note of the time the seizure started so you can time how long the seizure lasts for.
  • If the seizure continues for more than two minutes, phone your local vet and arrange for your dog to be seen immediately.  Try to keep your dog as cool as possible (do not wrap in towels or blankets) as they can over heat while seizuring.

More information on seizuring in dogs>

Not breathing - check the mouth for any obstructions of food etc. and clear the airway. Hold the mouth closed, keep the neck extended. Place your mouth around the nostrils and breathe until the chest wall rises.

Give one breath every 5 seconds.

Unconscious - monitor breathing and keep the neck extended to open the airway during transport.

Overheating - dogs can overheat when playing, out walking or when left in cars.  Leaving your pet in a car is very, very dangerous.  Even in winter on a mild day with full sun, the inside of a closed car can become life threatening within minutes. If your pet overheats, cool them with tepid water and offer them water to drink.  Then contact your local vet for further advice.

If your pet has:

Been hit by a car

  • Try not to panic them any further, keep everyone calm.
  • Keep them warm by wrapping in a blanket, keeping the nose and mouth exposed and carefully transport them directly to your nearest vet.
  • If you think there may be broken bones, keep them as still as possible and place them on a hard moveable surface such as piece of wooden board covered with a blanket.
  • Do not give any medications.

Been attacked by a dog

  • Keep them calm and warm in a blanket and keep the nose and mouth exposed.
  • Try not to handle them more than necessary, as they may be very painful even if not obvious on the outside.
  • If your pet is small, place them in a wash basket or box lined with a blanket or towel.
  • If your pet is large, then place them on a large blanket for easily lifting.
  • If you need to break up a dogfight try dousing the animals with water – do not attempt to break the fight up yourself as you can easily get bitten.

Vital Signs

If you are familiar with taking your pet’s heart and respiratory rates it will be easier for you to spot any changes when something is wrong.

Taking a heart rate and respiratory (breathing) rate

The heartbeat of a dog or cat can be felt at about the point where the left elbow touches the chest (in between the 3rd and 4th rib). Place your hand over this area and count the heartbeats in 1 minute (or count for 6 seconds and multiply by 10).

Look for the rise and fall of your pet’s chest to count the respiratory rate (again for 1 minute).

Normal heart rates

  • Small breed dogs (<15kg): 100-220 beats per minute
  • Medium to large breed dogs (>15kg): 60-180 beats per minute
  • Puppy (until 1 year old): 60-220 beats per minute
  • Cats: 140-220 beats per minute

Normal Respiratory Rates

  • Dogs: 10-30 breaths per minute and up to 200 pants per minute
  • Cats: 24-42 breaths per minute (Note: Panting in a cat can be a sign of serious illness and requires immediate veterinary attention)

Normal Temperatures

  • Dogs:  99.5° - 102.5°F or 37.5-39°C
  • Cats:  100.5° – 102.5°F or 38-39°C

Please note:
Vets Now assumes no liability for the content of this page. This advice is not
a substitute for a proper consultation with a vet and is only intended as a
guide. Please contact your local veterinary practice for advice or treatment
immediately if you are worried about your pet’s health - even if they are
closed, they will always have an out of hours service available. Find out more
about what to do in an emergency.