Top 10 Emergencies for Cats and Dogs

By PetMD Editorial on Feb. 17, 2010

Dogs and cats are like children. They like to investigate everything and get into situations and things they shouldn’t. Pet-proofing your home is the first step, but having a plan of action and knowing what symptoms to look for during an emergency situation may mean the difference in saving your pet’s life. Here are the top 10 dog and cat emergencies.

#10 Soft Tissue Trauma. Limping is a universal sign of soft tissue trauma, which can be caused by minor injuries, such as sprains to the joints, or strains in the muscles. They can come from accidents, jumping or falling mishaps, or even from rough and energetic play. Symptoms include crying out at the time of the injury, panting, and swelling.

A checkup is important to make sure the symptoms aren’t revealing something more serious, such as arthritis, a torn ligament or a fracture. The most common form of treatment is rest and restricted movement. 

#9 Single Lacerations. Often caused by rough play, a fight with another animal, or just a simple accident, single lacerations generally don’t require treatment. However, it’s a good idea to always keep an eye on your pet, and any wound it has, in order to quickly identify a developing infection. Signs to look out for include lethargy, pus, swelling, and weeping (oozing of blood and mucus) of the wound.

If a cut is near the eye or ear -- or if the cut is deep, wide, or infected -- take your pet immediately for treatment. This generally includes an antibiotic regimen, wound cleansing, and stitches.

#8 Household Chemical Ingestion. Your pet can eat all kinds of things from common cleaners to detergent to mothballs. As in any case of poisoning, it is better to prevent it from occurring in the first place. Nevertheless, if your pet should consume a dangerous chemical, be sure to take your pet and a sample of the substance with you to the vet immediately.

Symptoms differ according to the poisonous substance ingested, but can include vomiting, shaking, and diarrhea. Treatment will also depend on the type of poison, but often includes the use of activated charcoal, vomit inducers, and fluids.

#7 Snail Bait Ingestion. Ingestion of snail bait, which may appear like food pellets to an unsuspecting animal, is considered more of a dog emergency, as canines are known to eat nearly anything, unlike their more finicky feline counterparts. However, cats may also become poisoned if they eat a contaminated rodent or snail.

Take your pet to the vet if it displays symptoms such as uncontrollable shaking, overheating, vomiting and diarrhea, especially if you actually witnessed it eating the poison. Once at the emergency hospital, your vet will induce vomiting, cool your pet down, and flush its digestive system -- either by giving it activated charcoal or enemas. Some dogs and cats may need to be sedated before the procedures can begin, or if they are suffering from seizures.

#6 Multiple Lacerations. Cats and dogs will be, well, cats and dogs. This can lead to fighting in the streets, scraps around the house or in the park, and collisions with cars, all of which are common causes of multiple lacerations.

Lacerations are nothing more than bleeding cuts or scratches, so if your animal has multiple lacerations, or if they are bleeding profusely, infected, or near the eye or other vital organs, take it to a veterinarian for immediate care. Treatments include wound cleansings, anti-bacterial washes and creams, antibiotics and stitches.


#5 Insecticide Toxicity. This is caused by overuse and misuse of insecticides, both in the home and yard. Poisoned cats and dogs will display vomiting, fever, diarrhea, weight loss, appetite loss, seizures, depression, trouble breathing and tremors.

If you see such signs, or suspect your pet has been exposed to an insecticide, go to the vet immediately, preferably with a sample of the product. Treatment will likely include the use of fluids and activated charcoal to induce vomiting, or a special external wash if your pet's skin was exposed to the insecticide. Just be sure to limit insecticide use in and around your home, and follow the product’s instructions carefully.

#4 Ethylene Glycol Toxicity (Antifreeze Poisoning). Cats and dogs find the aroma and taste of anti-freeze delicious (this is because of the ethylene glycol, a common ingredient in antifreeze brands). Unfortunately it is deadly, and only a small amount (a few tablespoons, depending on the animal’s size) can kill your pet. It’s best to know the early signs since survival depends on speedy treatment; these include vomiting, excessive thirst, seizures and drunk-like behavior.

A vet may suggest giving your pet activated charcoal, plenty of fluids and a gastric lavage (stomach wash) to prevent any more toxin from being absorbed into the animal’s blood stream. Curiously, alcohol has been shown to block the metabolism of the ethylene glycol, although it should only be administered under veterinary supervision.

#3 Gastric Foreign Body. Like kids, you can't leave cats or dogs alone, because there’s no telling what they might put in their mouths. While dogs will eat anything, including your remote control and new Jimmy Choo pumps, cats tend to be more fussy and go for things like tinsel, string and ribbons. Either way, it is dangerous for cats and dogs, as the presence of a foreign object in the body can make the animal's intestine fold in like a fan, leading to complications and even death from the lack of blood flow.

If this occurs, surgery is required to remove the dead part of the intestine. Symptoms to watch out for include vomiting, fever, shock, and a refusal to eat. Avoid the worry and make sure you pet-proof your home, placing all objects that may be swallowed in a safe and secure place.

#2 Gastric Torsion (Bloating). This is an emergency you can relate to: trapped gases that cause the tummy to swell like a balloon. A little gas usually goes away on its own, but sudden bloating is something to watch for in your pet, as just six hours of tummy-twisting can cause the animal's blood supply to be cut off, which can be fatal.

Gastric torsion is rare in cats but common in dogs, especially large, deep-chested dogs such as the Great Dane and German Shepherd. Symptoms include a drum-like tummy, an inability to eat or drink, excessive drooling, and dry heaving (or failed attempts at vomiting). Get your pet to the vet or emergency clinic immediately, as it will need surgery to correct the twisted tummy and restore blood flow.

#1 Fracture. The most common causes of fractures in cats and dogs are automobile accidents and falling from great heights. There are many types of bone fractures, ranging from hairline fractures (a crack in the bone) to a complete shattering of the bone.

The most obvious signs of fractures are limping, deformed-looking limbs and/or protruding bone shards from the animal’s skin. The course of treatment will depend on the severity and type of the fracture, but will generally consist of a simple cast, splint, or in severe cases, surgery to restore the shape of the bone.

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