Veterinary emergencies

///Veterinary emergencies

Veterinary emergencies

Emergency veterinary care is something that a lot of people do not consider seriously enough, at the very least from a financial point of view. It is unwise to assume your pet will never suffer from a traumatic accident or life-threatening illness. Such is life, accidents do happen, and it really pays to be knowledgeable of the signs and symptoms in such a situation. Just as importantly, it also pays to have made provision for when such a disaster strikes.


It is no secret that emergency medical treatment costs money. Emergency veterinary treatment is no different. The costs incurred in managing a critical patient exponentially climb with the duration of stay in hospital and the extent of measures taken to stabilize the animal, arrive at a diagnosis and then subsequently treat the disease/illness in question. As such, irrespective of the emergency, the veterinary bill is likely to be significant. This is one of the reasons why provision needs to be made for just such an emergency. You should either have savings set aside for the purpose or your pet should be covered by a Pet Insurance. It is a tragic situation and one we see far too often; the life of an animal hangs in the balance and the deciding factor is whether the client can afford treatment. If you desire the best for your animal, and the care and attention that private practice affords, financial consideration for such treatment is obligatory and something every single owner is responsible for.


It can sometimes be difficult to differentiate an emergency situation from a benign transient illness. At other times it can be more obvious, such as with traumatic accidents or known ingestion of toxins. It is important to remember that many potential emergencies are best treated promptly. If there is any question as to whether your pet needs rapid veterinary care, do not hesitate, contact your vet or get your animal to the nearest clinic as soon as possible.


  • Breathing difficulties (this includes heavy laboured breathing (e.g. with heat stroke) or shallow rapid breathing (e.g. with car accident)
  • Free-flowing bleeding wounds
  • Suddenly enlarged abdomen (“Bloat”)
  • Collapse, unsteadiness, weakness or inability to walk properly
  • Vomiting or diarrhoea that is bloody, profuse and/or that is ongoing for longer than a day
  • Inability to pass urine or faeces
  • Severe pain
  • Abrupt change in personality


  • Poisonings/Intoxications
    This includes anything toxic that your animal may have ingested, bites/stings from potentially venomous animals as well as any topical chemicals/toxins that your animal may have come into contact with (including overdoses of tick and flea remedies).
  • Traumatic events
    This includes anything that involves physical harm to the animal. Car accidents, dog/cat fights and falls from heights are all examples.
  • Breed specific issues
    Large deep chested dogs – (Gastric dilatation and volvulus – Twisted stomach),
    Brachycephalic breeds (short snouted breeds) – Breathing difficulties
    Small breed dogs – Breathing difficulties, collapsing trachea
    Oriental cats – breathing difficulties, urinary issues
    Boxers, Dobermans – Heart disease
    *It is important to know the breed specific issues your animal is predisposed to. This information is readily available online.


It is not recommended you attempt home treatment for any condition involving the above-mentioned symptoms. Each minute wasted in disadvantageous treatment is time wasted and could prove to be the difference between life and death of your pet. Seek out veterinary care as soon as possible. Below are some instructions you can follow in the event of some of the more common symptoms whilst awaiting veterinary attention.


Whilst all dogs occasionally will vomit, dehydration and electrolyte imbalances become a significant threat with prolonged/profuse diarrhoea and/or vomiting. What you can do in the interim is to syringe clean tap water into the animal’s mouth at a rate at which the animal is comfortable to swallow. Do not force too much water into the mouth at once as this could induce aspiration (inhalation) of water. 2-4ml/kg/hr is a good safe rate to aim for whilst you seek veterinary care.


Heat stroke is a life-threatening condition that needs to be treated aggressively in its more severe presentation. Older and larger breed dogs are more susceptible to this condition, especially if they are overweight and are brachycephalic. To avoid this condition do not walk/exercise animals at or around midday and pay attention to your animals’ breathing and behaviour whilst exercising them. Signs of heat stroke are breathing difficulties, collapse and lethargy. The animal may also be unresponsive to normal stimuli. In the event of suspected heat stroke, you can pour water (tap water) over your dog and apply cold packs to the chest area to drop the core body temperature. Provide water but in smaller quantities initially; do not allow the animal to overdrink. Contact your vet immediately for further advice and confirmation.


Unless the wound is bleeding excessively and blood loss is a real risk, avoid interfering with the wound. A gentle dressing can be applied to prevent the wound and blood from encountering anything else whilst you get your animal to your vet. Be aware that if the wound was sustained from something traumatic (car accident or fight), your pet may very well be in a state of shock and/or pain. Take precautions not to get bitten whilst handling the animal. A very badly injured animal, or one with suspected spinal damage, should be handled as little as possible. In this case, using a stretcher or board and sliding it under the animal to facilitate moving them is advised.


Symptoms of breathing difficulty (dyspnoea) are as follows: elbows turned outward, head extended and tongue out with heavy panting. Shallow rapid breathing can also be an indication of breathing difficulty – this is not the same as panting and your animal will likely be trying to stay as still as possible in the most comfortable position it can assume and will appear visibly distressed. Cats do not typically breathe with their tongues out unless in a state of high stress or dyspnoea. Open mouth breathing in cats could indicate a life-threatening condition and should be taken seriously.


This is a condition affecting mainly larger breed dogs but can affect a dog or cat of any age/breed. There are various potential causes for a distended abdomen but the most important and life-threatening are: internal bleeding, a twisted gut, stomach or organ and free abdominal fluid (from chronic organ disease that then poses an immediate risk in the present). If you notice that your pet’s abdomen is distended, especially if it has been a rapid development and there are other signs of disease or distress, get your animal to the vet immediately.


Emergency situations are very stressful. It is important to remain calm and act decisively when such an emergency presents itself. It is a good idea to keep your vet’s number in your phone in a readily accessible location should an emergency arise.

Remember, it is not only important to be knowledgeable about potential emergencies but to have also made provision for their subsequent treatment. If you require any assistance with deciding on a Pet insurance or any advice concerning the health of your pet, please contact the Ou Kaapse Vet team and we will gladly assist you.