When Do You Really Have to Take Your Pet to the ER?

Ah, cats. We love 'em, but less so at 2 a.m. when they’re dry-heaving all over our carpet. What if your cat still continues to vomit multiple times? When do you decide to bring your cat into the ER?

What about you dog owners? If your dog is whining so much that he wakes you up, get your lazy butt up and check to make sure he is OK. If your dog is under your bed vomiting, retching, or crying incessantly, at the minimum, you should call your local veterinary emergency clinic.

Often times, the receptionist or veterinary technician (depending on their level of experience) may be able to help triage your pet’s problem over the phone and help you decide if it warrants an emergency veterinary visit. If you do bring him in to the ER, make sure to bring a book. Just like a human ER, there is often a several hour wait to be seen, and at 2 a.m., some of your fellow humans are going to be less than appealing conversationalists.

For cat owners, some sure signs to bring your cat to the ER include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Open-mouth breathing or panting
  • Coughing
  • A respiratory rate over 50 breaths/minute (Hint: count the number of breaths in fifteen seconds and multiply by four to get the total breaths per minute)
  • Excessive drooling
  • Hiding (under the bed, in the closet)
  • Not moving
  • Straining or making multiple trips to the litter box
  • Profuse vomiting
  • Sitting over the water bowl and not moving
  • Seizuring or twitching
  • Any kind of trauma
  • Any kind of toxicity or poisoning
  • Any string hanging out of any orifice (Seriously. And please don’t pull or cut it).

For dog owners, signs that you need to rush your dog to an emergency veterinarian include similar signs, such as:

  • Non-productive retching or gagging
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Blue gums
  • Coughing blood
  • Constant coughing
  • Restlessness
  • Pale gums
  • An elevated heart rate (> 160 beats per minute at home)
  • Crying out in pain
  • Not being able to move or dragging the back legs
  • A distended abdomen
  • Extreme lethargy
  • Any significant amounts of bleeding
  • Any trauma
  • Any toxin ingestion or suspected poisoning
  • Squinting, bulging, or painful eyeballs
  • Bloody urine or straining to urinate

While these lists aren’t complete, they're good initial guidelines. When in doubt, please seek veterinary advice immediately. I’ve seen dogs present with severe internal bleeding, and the only clinical signs they showed were weakness and vomiting once or twice. The astute owner picks up on these subtle clues, and it could mean life or death for your pet.

Time is a small sacrifice for your pet’s health and your piece of mind.

Dr. Justine Lee

Pic of the day: Francine at Vet by erlin1

cat at vet, sick cat, emergency room, veterinary emergency, pet emergency




Help us make PetMD better

Was this article helpful?

Get Instant Vet Help Via Chat or Video. Connect with a Vet. Chewy Health