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One Friday around midnight my dog Rio started to act weird. The 9-year-old Labrador retriever mix refused to take his medication, even with it in his favorite meal. Then he continued around the fence when my husband Bryan and I let our dogs out for a final drink. We called Rio and coaxed him with some food. But the dog who lives to please would not come.
I looked at Bryan in dread. “Something’s really wrong,” I said. “We have to go to the emergency room. Now.”
Thank goodness we did it. During a grueling weekend, the Wheat Ridge Animal Hospital team in the Denver subway saved Rio’s life. It turned out that he had severe colitis, a dangerous inflammation of the colon. I cried when I got the call that they had stabilized her condition.
Gail Golab, DVM, PhD and chief veterinarian of the American Veterinary Medical Association, says unusual behavior in dogs and cats may indicate an underlying medical problem.
“In nature, it can be self-sufficient to minimize the signs of pain and weakness, so the signs of pain in animals can sometimes be subtle,” she says. “If a problem is detected early on, it is more likely to be addressed and resolved with less expense, less difficulty, and a greater likelihood of success.”
9 signs you need to get your pet to the emergency room
So how do we know when our pet needs immediate veterinary treatment?
Sharon L. Campbell, DVM, MS, DACVIM at Zoetis Petcare, shares nine signs that a pet needs to go to the vet immediately. Each of the signs involves a serious and potentially fatal medical condition.
1. Strive to urinate or defecate
Either symptom can indicate the presence of a tumor or neurological problems, Campbell explains. Often times, a bladder stone can prevent urine from leaving the body and cause it to build up. The excess pressure can rupture the bladder or cause renal failure or kidney disease.
2. Fainting, sudden collapse, loss of consciousness, disorientation or fits
Any of these symptoms can indicate problems such as anemia, infectious disease, lung problems or internal bleeding, she explains: “Fainting is usually due to a heart problem; the animal is not getting enough oxygen in its brain. “
3. Weakness, inability to stand, wobbling or dragging of the hind legs
These symptoms may reflect a problem with the brain, spine, heart, or lungs. “If a cat drags a paw, it’s often because it has thrown a clot in the arteries that supply its hind limbs,” explains Campbell. “This condition must be treated immediately or the animal may permanently lose function in its hind limbs.”
4. Lack of appetite, repeated vomiting, diarrhea, lack of clean water or unproductive gagging
Campbell says these symptoms are often seen together. If you notice blood in the To vomit or bowel movements, time is critical. Your pet may have ingested a toxin (such as antifreeze, poisonous plants, or the sugar substitute xylitol), has contracted an infectious disease or has developed organ dysfunction. Gagging can be a sign of inflate– when your pet’s stomach fills with gas and twists on itself, possibly obstructing blood flow. “If this is a single sign that lasts longer than 24 hours, it is an emergency,” says Campbell. “Or if you see these signs together, even just one or two episodes, your pet needs to be evaluated.” Seriously, right now.
5. Difficulty or labored breathing, choking or non-stop coughing
Respiratory problems may be a sign of underlying heart disease, Campbell says. suffocation indicates that something is stuck in an animal’s trachea that is preventing it from breathing. Cough may indicate a collapsed trachea or an infectious disease called tracheobronchitis. If your pet coughs up blood, pick up the phone immediately. “Every time you see blood, something really bad is going on in your pet’s body,” she says.
6. Squinting, swollen eye or bleeding eye, nose or mouth
A bleeding eye can indicate a number of underlying illnesses or conditions, such as when an animal’s blood does not clot normally. In addition, sometimes trauma causes an eye to pop out of its socket. “Obviously it’s painful and serious,” says Campbell. “You have to bring this animal in [to the vet] right away or he could lose his vision, or even his entire eye. “
7. Swollen limbs or lameness
These symptoms could mean that a dog or cat is suffering from muscle trauma, a broken bone, or Lyme disease. General swelling or hives may indicate a allergic reaction which could lead to anaphylactic shock. If a pet box for more than a day, it’s time to call your vet. If your dog is not putting any weight on his leg, it is an emergency.
8. Moaning, shaking, or restlessness for no reason
Some cats and dogs show signs of stress during fireworks poster or thunderstorms. But when they act anxious seemingly out of the blue with no other noticeable symptoms, they are most likely in pain. “If they’re just not themselves, that’s definitely a cause for concern,” says Campbell.
9. Excessive panting
Dog pants because they can’t sweat like humans do. Dogs are therefore prone to heatstroke in hot weather, which can quickly turn fatal when their body temperature rises and their organs shut down. This is why leave a dog or cat in a hot car or leaving them outside on a hot day with no way to escape the heat poses a huge risk.
What to do if you notice these signs
If you notice any of these symptoms, call your vet to find out if there is anything you should do at home before bringing your pet to the clinic. It may be helpful to use your phone to record a video of your pet’s behavior or to set up a video call with your veterinarian. Once at the hospital, the veterinary team will do a thorough physical examination and perform tests to determine the cause of your pet’s symptoms.
“They will do everything possible – as quickly as possible – to diagnose your pet, begin treatment and bring him home,” Campbell said.