Dog Emergency: When You Need the Vet

You just got home from work, and your dog is acting weird.  You’re not sure what’s going on, but he seems sick.  He’s cheerful, wags his tail, but just seems off.  You probably should call the vet, but it’s after hours and there’s an emergency fee.  You’re not sure if this is a dog emergency, or if your dog just ate too many cat box crunchies.

This happens to every pet owner.  Something’s off, you don’t know what, and you’re not sure if this is an emergency, an EMERGENCY, or your pet is just being weird for a few minutes.  While this article cannot replace solid veterinary advice, I have outlined when I think it absolutely is necessary that you contact a vet.  Call your vet any time you think your dog is sick.

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Bodily Functions

  • Is your dog eating and drinking?  Refusal to drink, or drinking more than normal, is a huge red flag.  Contact your vet immediately if you notice your dog drinks too much or not at all.
  • If your dog is vomiting or has diarrhea, or both, and has done so for over 24 hours, contact the veterinarian.  Dehydration can make a bad condition worse, or can kill them.  If you notice black coffee-like grinds in the diarrhea, call the vet immediately for a consultation.  If the dog is vomiting regularly even before 24 hours, contact your veterinarian.
  • Is your dog defecating?  Failure to defecate can be a result of a blockage or bloat–both of which are huge emergencies.  If your dog hasn’t defecated, or strains without producing anything, call the vet immediately.


  • Your dog is screaming.  If your dog is screaming for more than a few seconds, something major happened.  Call the vet.
  • Is your dog in obvious pain?  If so, call the vet.  Dogs hide pain well, and usually tolerate a bit of a stomach ache.  If your dog is clearly painful, especially the abdomen, contact the vet immediately.
  • If your dog has broken bones or has been hit by a car, even if he seems OK, take him to the vet.  Internal bleeding kills animals quickly.

Neurological Issues

Common signs of neurological issues include:

  • Walking on the tops of their feet
  • Standing in corners staring at nothing.
  • Sudden blindness, deafness.
  • Walking in circles.

This is a huge dog emergency, and see the vet immediately.


Basic rule:  If you would take your child to urgent care, take your dog to the vet.  Bloody stool might indicate a major disease or blockage.

Calling the Vet

Before taking your dog in, especially if you aren’t sure, call the vet and ask.  Most vets will do a short phone consultation and at least get an idea of the severity of the emergency.

If you feel the situation is an emergency, and your vet does not, take your dog to an emergency clinic.  Better to be safe than sorry, and most times when you think it’s an emergency, it is an emergency.

If you think about calling the vet but decide to wait until morning, do not leave the dog alone.  If your pet is sick, he might get worse quickly.  What you think is intestinal distress could be bloat or a blockage, and could kill your dog before you get home.

Your worst emergency…

I never had an emergency with my dog, but one night I came out of the shower to find my cat, Snot, laying on the floor, crying.  She didn’t appear to be in pain, but I didn’t know what had happened.  She perked up quickly, but I saw her walking on the tops of her feet.

I knew something happened, and I knew it was neurological.  I wasn’t able to get her in to the vet’s that evening (they advised that there wasn’t much to be done at midnight that couldn’t wait until morning).  She yowled the entire way to the vet, but stopped about ten minutes out.  I thought she’d died in the car.

She was fine.  They determined she had a stroke, and was blind and deaf on one side.  Over time, she recovered most of her feeling and some of her sight.  I was lucky to have her for another two years, but she did continue to have mini strokes, and eventually after another major stroke we lost her.

Tell me about your worst emergency, that also had a happy ending as Snot’s did.  (Happy in that she survived the initial stroke.)

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