10 Most Common Emergencies


  • Trauma

    Trauma is unfortunately very common, whether it the result of an RTA (Road Traffic Accident), fighting with another animal or something else.  While sometimes wounds can be very obvious, we also see animals with internal injuries and shock which aren’t always easy to identify in the early stages.  It is always worth getting a checkover in the event of any trauma, bite wounds in particular almost always require antibiotics to stop a nasty infection developing.

    In the event of a significant trauma, chest xrays and abdominal ultrasound are very important to assess internal injuries, and shock treatment with pain relief and intravenous fluids can be life saving.

  • Pregnancy Related

    Difficulty giving birth is another emergency we see almost on a daily basis.  Particularly with the popularity of a number of breeds that are prone to having problems these days.  While some can be treated medically, the majority go on to have a caesarian section – by far the most common major out of hours operation we perform!  Our staff are very experienced with these issues, so if you have any worries we are always available to advise.  It is a good idea to learn what is normal well before your pet is due to give birth so you know when things aren’t going to plan and can get treatment early.

    We also see quite a large number of animals presenting with eclampsia (hypocalcaemia or milk fever).  This is caused by a low calcium level in the blood when they are producing large amounts of milk to feed their puppies (or occasionally kittens).  Animals with this condition pant uncontrollably, have muscle tremors and in severe cases go on to have seizures.

    We would strongly recommend doing a lot of research before deciding to breed from your pet – it is not always straightforward, and it is much easier to prevent problems than having to treat them once they develop.  For example, eclampsia can usually be avoided by feeding a good quality puppy food from about 6 weeks into the pregnancy.

  • Toxin

    Animals that have eating something they shouldn’t are another regular sight.  This can either be human food that is fine for us but dangerous to them (chocolate, raisins/grapes, xylitol (a common sweetener) etc.), or those that have got into some form of chemical (prescription medication, illegal drugs, weedkiller, rat poison and so on).

    It is very useful if you have the amount they have eaten (ideally the packaging where possible), as the more information we have, the more accurate we can be with our advice and treatment.  For example, some rat poisons are toxic when a dog eats just a few grams, while others they need to eat about their own bodyweight for it to be fatal.

    With some ingestions, we can give an injection to make the animal sick which may be the only treatment needed, whereas others require more major management.

  • Foreign Body

    Similar to toxins, we also see a lot of animals which have eaten something that can cause a problem in the guts – usually an obstruction, but sometimes perforations or other damage.  Again, if the object has been eaten recently and is fairly small and not sharp, we can often make them sick to get it back out, but this isn’t always possible or sensible.  Xray and ultrasound can be very helpful to see what is in there and where it is.  If there is a blockage, surgery may be necessary – although sometimes the best treatment is to monitor and wait for the object to pass through.

    As with many of the items on this list, the best thing is to avoid the problem in the first place where possible – particularly with young animals or those with a history of eating things they shouldn’t, it is very important to be aware of what they can get to.

    We also see foreign bodies elsewhere – stick injuries are very common and we strongly advise people not to throw sticks for dogs.  It is also very easy for animals to stand on something sharp and get it stuck in their paw.

  • Vomiting/Diarrhoea

    Vomiting and diarrhoea are extremely common in animals – much as they are in people.  Most of the time, they are self limiting and will settle with a light diet and time.  However, they can sometimes be very serious or indicate another medical problem.

    Diarrhoea by itself is usually not too much to worry about as long as the animal is well in themselves (bright, eating, drinking etc.).  If it persists for more than a couple of days, we would recommend a checkover during normal hours.  Likewise, 1 or 2 episodes of vomiting may not be anything too serious in an otherwise healthy animal.

    However, if an animal is very unwell in itself, is persistently vomiting (particularly not keeping water down) or showing signs of abdominal pain, it should be checked out quickly.

    Young and very old animals, as well as those with pre-existing medical conditions, should also be seen sooner.

  • Bloat

    Bloat is swelling of the stomach with air, liquid or food.  It is common after eating a large meal and normally resolves by itself, although symptomatic treatment may be helpful.

    In some cases, a much more serious condition can develop called gastric torsion (GDV or confusingly also often referred to as bloat).  This is where the stomach swells up and twists so nothing can pass in or out of it.  This then causes pressure on the major blood vessels in the abdomen and is one of the most serious emergencies we deal with.

    Signs of this are unproductive retching (often with some white froth), abdominal swelling and collapse.  It is normally large breed, deep chested dogs that are affected and in these breeds with any of the above symptoms they should be seen asap as dealing with the problem in the early stages gives a much better prognosis.

    It is not entirely clear how the problem develops, but there are a number of things you can do to lower this risk in high risk breeds so it is a good idea to do some research into this condition if you own one of these types of dog.

  • Breathing Difficulty

    Breathing difficulty can be caused by a number of conditions – heart disease, trauma, airway obstruction etc.  It can range from mild symptoms to acute difficulty.  Again, it is better to deal with it in the early stages as affected animals can deteriorate rapidly.

    Animals – cats in particular – are very good at hiding signs of breathing problems.  They usually don’t show major symptoms until they are really struggling.  Minimising stress is important in these cases.  Often we will put your pet on oxygen and give them some medication to settle them down and stabilise them initially, so that it is as safe as possible to investigate what is going on and what other treatment they need.

  • Lameness

    We see a large number of lame animals as emergencies.  Causes can range anywhere from a sore toenail to a broken leg.  Even fairly minor injuries can be very painful, so analgesia is very important.  Often, sore animals are very challenging to examine, and finding the cause of the problem is not always easy.  Sometimes sedation or anaesthesia are necessary to examine fully – xrays may also be required.

  • Seizures

    Seizures can be very upsetting for animal owners – particularly if they have never had one before.  It is very important to try and stay calm.  Turn off any bright lights or noises (tv, radio), make sure the animal is not in a position where they could injure themselves and give them space.  You shouldn’t try to touch an animal having a seizure unless absolutely necessary – even after a seizure, they can be very disorientated and can be aggressive.  Many seizures only last a few minutes (although it can feel like much longer).  If a seizure is going on for more than 10 minutes or so, the animal may need to be taken to the vets to give medication to stop it.

    There are many causes of seizures – and the majority of them look identical – so it can be a fairly long and involved process to get a full diagnosis.  Usually we recommend running a full blood profile to rule out obvious problems.  Ultimately an MRI scan may be necessary to get to the bottom of things.

  • Allergic Reactions

    Animals can have reactions to many things – plants, insects, foods and so on.  Sometimes it is very obvious what has happened, sometimes it is a complete mystery – particularly as reactions don’t always happen instantly.

    Urgent treatment may be required – particularly is there is any breathing difficulty or severe swelling around the mouth and throat.

    Many of these reactions are a one-off and can be treated symptomatically even where the cause isn’t known.  If it happens multiple times, some detective work may be needed to find the cause – keeping a diary of where your pet has been, what it has done/eaten etc. can be very helpful.