How to know when to bring your family pet to the ER

This entry is article 7 of 8 in the June 2013 issue

We field a lot of questions about when to bring an animal to the emergency room. “Trust your instincts and don’t delay in bringing your pet in,” answers Dr. Claire Sharp of Tufts Foster Hospital for Small Animals. “In general, if you’re worried your pet needs to be seen, your pet needs to be seen.”


Beyond obvious reasons to bring your pet to the emergency room, like a car accident or other trauma, areas warranting emergency response include problems such as:

  • issues with major body systems (indicated through symptoms like abnormal level of consciousness, seizures, inability to balance, walk, or stand, difficulty breathing, or a rapid heart rate)
  • external bleeding
  • eating foreign objects or inappropriate medication
  • not eating or drinking for more than one meal
  • vomiting and diarrhea (when it’s more than a couple times, there’s blood, or they are retching unproductively, especially in large-breed dogs)
  • a swollen belly (especially if it occurs suddenly)
  • issues relating to straining to urinate but not producing anything
  • sudden loss or change in eyesight or appearance
  • problems whelping
  • when your pet seems worried, in pain, or distressed—even if you’re not sure why

When you make the decision to bring your pet into the emergency room, it’s important to keep both the people and the pet safe on the journey. “In an emergency, people sometimes don’t think clearly, especially in the case of a pet sustaining trauma,” Dr. Sharp said. “Handle your pet with extra caution when you pick them up. We never think our pets are capable of biting us, but if they are in severe pain, they very well may bite their owners when they pick them up if it hurts.” Keep the pets restrained in the car: always use a cat carrier and if your dog has a seat belt, use it. If you don’t have a way to restrain the animal, try to bring a friend so they can hold the pet while you drive. Drive slowly and carefully and wear a seat belt yourself. These sorts of everyday, common sense responses are crucial to arriving at the hospital safely in an emergency.

There is no need to call ahead in an emergency situation, Dr. Sharp adds. “We deal with things as they arrive and we’re pretty much prepared for anything at any given time.”

If you still feel in doubt as to whether to take your pet to the ER, feel free to call Tufts Foster Hospital in Grafton, Mass. at 508-839-5302 and speak to a professional about your concerns.

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