Dog Emergency Care - How to Handle Dog Emergencies

What should I do if my dog is having an emergency?

The first thing, contact your veterinarian immediately if possible, and I think it might be one of the last questions, but I want to know, what is an emergency? That is ultimately the first question that has to be answered. To me, an emergency is anything that warrants immediate attention or medical care. If that care is not provided, then it could have very dark consequences, i.e., loss of life or a much sicker animal in the future. What does that look like? The more obvious things are major traumas, fractures, hit-by-car type injuries, blood loss, whether internally or externally, toxins ingested, etc.

A lot of ocular problems can be emergencies because the eye is not very forgiving, so if there's an eye injury or an ulcer - even though it's not a life or death emergency - it should be addressed soon. Pregnancy issues, birthing difficulties, bloating, and what we call GDV, which causes bloating, are emergencies. This is not an all-inclusive list. I'm just trying to think of ones off the top of my head—any of the things that could affect the dog's immediate health and requires immediate attention. Seizures are another common one that we see.

Going back to the first question, how do you handle that? The first thing is to get on the phone with your veterinarian. If it's during regular hours, and your veterinarian's still open, call them. If it's after hours, you can either call your veterinarian, and it'll roll over. Get on the phone with them, and see if it's something that you can do at home that they can help you with. If so, that's great, but nine times out of 10, it's going to probably have to be seen by your veterinarian. At the very least, make them aware of what's going on and try to see how quickly you can get there so they can prepare.

Dr. Scott Broussard
The Waggin Train Veterinary Clinic

What are some signs and symptoms that my dog might be experiencing an emergency?

If the dog is bleeding externally, we all can see that, but what happens if it's bleeding internally? One good thing to get used to doing is checking the color of your dog's gums. It should be just as pink as our gums. If it is not, that's telling you something. The dog could have ingested rat poison, or they could have a ruptured splenic tumor, but checking the gum color can help.

Respiratory difficulties or distress is always going to be considered an emergency for me, whether it's heart-related, fluid in the chest, pneumonia—any and all of those problems can't wait. Back to this question, so what are you looking for? I'm looking for signs of respiratory distress, increased respiratory rate, increased heart rate, and open mouth breathing. Yes, I know dogs pant, but in a situation where it's not hot, and they haven't been running around, and they're not stressed, but they won't lay on their side, and they're panting to breathe—all of those are warning signs that you can see.

Is it best to call an emergency hospital first before coming in?

Yes, I do think it is best to call whatever facility you're bringing the dog to. If it's during regular business hours and your veterinarian's open, then you can call them. If it's after hours, then yes, of course, call the emergency facility, but my point is you need to give whatever facility a heads up that you're coming. Depending on what their workload is at that given moment, it would be beneficial for them to have everything ready for what they might potentially be walking into. That way, the minute you walk in the doors, they're ready for you. They have a table set up, heating pads, fluids, catheters, and know whatever has to be done. They can get all that ready to go in advance to save time and expedite the process.

Should I give my dog first aid at home, and what should you have in your first aid kit?

That could be a long question. Yes, I would always say, if possible, when you can administer whatever first aid can be done, do it but, again, what is that going to look like? That's such a general question. It's hard to answer. Blood loss is the most obvious thing that comes to my mind, so if you have a dog that has received some sort of a laceration, anything that would cause external blood loss, then yes, administer a bandage or wrap that area to keep pressure on it. As a warning, though, be very careful that if a dog is in a traumatic situation, in most emergencies, they are not in their normal state of mind. Even though you are their owner, and they're very comfortable with you—if they're hurting or struggling to breathe, if they're in distress, they will react differently than they will on any other occasion.

Please be mindful. Don't put yourself in harm's way. If you do administer first aid, just do it safely, and keep in mind that that animal may not react to you the same way. That's why it's best that whatever you have to do, scoop them up, wrap them in a towel, a blanket, put them in a carrier, and get to your veterinarian as soon as possible because we are familiar with handling situations like that much more so than the average human.

How will a veterinarian treat my dog in an emergency?

In any emergency, the first thing is to stabilize the dog. We're going to check their vitals. If they're dehydrated, if there's blood loss, then we're going to stabilize that pet first, and what does that mean? We use an IV catheter and push IV fluids at a pretty good rate. If they require oxygen, we get them on oxygen therapy immediately so they can stabilize. Once we get that animal stable, and what I mean by stable is that their heart rate's steady, their breathing is steady, we're not at risk of losing them in the near future, then we start looking at diagnostics like blood work, x-rays, ultrasound, and whatever has to be done to start figuring out what's going on. But those are some of the first and most vital things to do, and the priority is stabilization.

Why is prompt treatment in an emergency so important for my dog's health?

Well, it's the very nature of an emergency. Like we said at the very onset of this segment, an emergency can't wait; if it's not handled quickly, injury or death might occur. The dog must get treated sooner rather than later. If you're in doubt, call your veterinarian, tell them what's going on, send a video if you have to—whatever it takes to relay that information.

After 21 years of doing this, I'll be honest that there's a lot of situations that an owner thinks is an emergency that we as veterinarians just say, "Yeah, that's not that big of a deal." Still, check with the veterinarian first. Maybe it's diarrhea or something else that is very inconvenient to an owner, and it seems very stressful, but to us, there's a whole slew of things that we can tell you to do at home that might alleviate the problem. I'm not telling you not to bring the dog in, not at all. I'm just telling you to consult with your veterinarian first. Let them know what's going on, and if it's at all in doubt, then get them in as quickly as possible for the wellbeing of your pet.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (337) 223-9581, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as soon as we can.

Dog Emergency Care - FAQs

Dr. Scott Broussard
The Waggin Train Veterinary Clinic

What happens when my dog arrives at the hospital?

We will assess or triage your dog to see precisely what's going on, and we'll check the dog's vital signs. We need to know just how critical this is right away. And based on those findings, we find out whether we need to start an IV catheter and fluids, a shock dose of steroids, or perhaps we need oxygen. Those kinds of things will be immediately assessed because, first and foremost, you've got to make sure the dog is stabilized.

How will I know if my dog can be seen right away in an emergency?

That's a critical question because there are times where you might walk in with an emergency, and your veterinarian's already in surgery. If it's during regular office hours as something is happening, call your veterinarian immediately. Tell them this is what's going on and that you need to get them in. And they will tell you, "Yes, come on in. We can see you right now," or, "Oh, my doctor's in surgery, and he won't be free for the next hour or so." And maybe there are times you might have to take them to a different veterinary clinic. We have to do what's right and what's best for that patient. If it requires you to go to a different clinic or go to a 24-hour facility, we have to do whatever is best for that patient. Call them before to get a better feel for what's going on and if they can see you immediately or not.

What should I bring with me for a dog emergency appointment?

If your dog's on medication, first, bring the medications with you. I know typically, in an emergency, nobody's thinking clearly. If you're able to grab the bottles and bring them with you, great. Maybe you want to make a list and just keep it handy on the fridge or something like that. If you're going to just grab a list and note that these are the medicines my dogs are on and what they're for, do that. If it's your regular veterinarian, you may not even need that list of medications because they should have it. But you never know; it's better to be prepared.

Number two, make the veterinarian aware if the dog has ingested anything. Say they ate poison, maybe you put out rat poison, or perhaps you gave them a certain type of food, treat, or candy, or something, and it's making them sick. If you have any opportunity to bring the packaging, the labeling, from whatever they were given, especially with toxins or poisons. But if you can bring in anything that your dog may have ingested, that’s helpful.

What will treatment be like for my dog once at the emergency hospital?

Well, I touched upon the beginning first. When the dog first gets here, it will be stabilization, fluids, steroids, oxygen, whatever's necessary in that particular case. Beyond that, if it is something that requires more diagnostics, we're going to run tests. We might have to run a urinalysis, a stool sample, blood work, x-rays, maybe an ultrasound. Those kinds of things will happen once the patient's stabilized. But that might need to be done, so once again, we can pinpoint a diagnosis and then really begin a specific treatment. What does that look like? Is the treatment steroids? Is it antibiotics? Sometimes, the blood work is necessary to tell us what it is, so we know which one to go with.

How will my veterinarian determine if my dog needs surgery?

Surgery is certainly not warranted in any, or in very many emergencies, or certainly not all of them. It depends on what the emergency is. Right off the top of my head, the first two things I think of is if you have a dog with an intestinal obstruction, and that dog is vomiting. Perhaps a young puppy ate a sock. That's the first thing that popped into my head. But if something like that happens, that might require surgery because you have to remove that physical foreign body and get it out. Otherwise, the patient will not get better. Maybe there’s a bladder issue, perhaps there are stones, or the bladder is blocked—those are instances that might require minor procedures, or maybe even a full surgery. Pregnancy issues can also lead to surgery. If you have dystocia where a pregnant female cannot deliver her pups properly, that might require surgery. But that is really about the only ones that I can think of on short notice.

I don't perform surgery in the case of an emergency unless it's warranted because the last thing that I want to do is put an animal that's already stressed and debilitated under anesthesia. But there will be some cases where surgery is the treatment, or cure, for that set emergency. And again, what I just said is not a comprehensive list, but those are the ones that came to me off the top of my head.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (337) 223-9581, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

Dog Emergency Care - FAQs 2

Dr. Scott Broussard
The Waggin Train Veterinary Clinic

How will I know if my dog needs first aid?

That's a tricky one to answer because there are so many medical conditions that can happen to a dog. It’s difficult and bordering on impossible to tell you if your dog does this or that, they need first aid. First aid is providing medical care in an emergency, so I think things like lacerations and blood loss are the most obvious and common things that you as a pet owner would see, be able to recognize immediately, and administer first aid to.

Maybe if your dog has a history of seizures, and you already have anti-seizure medications, then you might argue that giving that animal a higher dose of anti-seizure medications might be administering first aid. I can’t argue with that. That might be something that would be good too, but it just depends on what's going on as to what kind of first aid that could be remedied or used. If there's any question of what's going on or what needs to be done, get on the phone and call your veterinarian, and they can walk you through what needs to be done more accurately.

How do I know if my dog needs CPR?

CPR, much like in humans, is cardiopulmonary resuscitation. So that would imply, by its very nature, that you're having either heart or respiratory issues. So how are you going to know? Perhaps you’ve got a dog that just acutely collapsed and is struggling to breathe, or perhaps has stopped breathing. Maybe it's a dog that's choking. Without going into any further detail, that's kind of how you would know if your dog would require CPR.

On the other hand, how to do CPR is different because it's different anatomy than people. And I won't go through all the play-by-plays of it here because it's not the venue, and I don't have anything to practice on or show you on. But simply put, CPR is usually chest compressions. The dog's going to be on its side laterally, and you’ll start chest compressions right where the left elbow meets the body because that's about where the heart is. So you want to do light compressions there. And see, this is the part I don't want to talk about without a proper demonstration, but it's light chest compressions there at a pretty rapid rate. You figure the average dog's heart rate is anywhere between, say, 80 and 120 even at rest, so it's pretty fast, more so than ours would be.

In people, we know to pinch the nose, kind of hold up the chin, and we breathe directly into their mouth that way. In a dog, you do the opposite. In a dog, you more or less close the mouth and breathe directly into the nose. You can put your whole mouth over their nose and breathe into their nose that way. And I know a lot of people watching this are probably thinking, “Ew, that's kind of nasty.” It works, and it's a pretty good seal, and that's usually the most effective way to get it done.

How can I find out quickly if my dog has ingested something poisonous?

Unless you saw what happened or know what the dog got into, that's the only way you're going to know immediately. Unfortunately, there is no quick, immediate test that, when they come in, that we can say, "Hey, I'm going to run a test for antifreeze." No, we can run blood work, and we can look where the kidneys are, but it takes days for the kidneys to be affected to where it's going to show on blood work in time. So, unfortunately, there's no rapid test. It's just a matter of good observation on your part.

Who can I contact regarding possible dog poisoning?

ASPCA has a poison control hotline that you can call. You would need to know what the dog ingested. You can't just call them with a random question and say, "Hey, I think my dog ..." Instead, you’ll want to say, "Hey, my dog just ate Devon-CON rat poison," or whatever it is, and they can tell you exactly what the active ingredient is and what you need to do. Again, your veterinarian will have to be part of that solution in 99.9% of the cases. But to at least give you some immediate information about how to handle things, and what you may or may not experience with that dog, what your dog will experience, calling the ASPCA hotline is probably the first step.

How do I determine if I need to bring my dog to a hospital for an emergency?

Again, start with the call. Talk to your veterinarian and their staff there and find out. I never want to imply that this is not a big deal or that you can handle it yourself. When in doubt, get your veterinarian involved. Because if you assess it one way, or your veterinarian tells you over the phone, “Oh, you probably can do this, it's no big deal,” it could go badly. So if at all in doubt, get on the phone, bring them in, let the veterinarian assess it, and do it that way.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (337) 223-9581, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.