Pets often feel unwell at less-than-ideal times. Maybe you’ve noticed your pet coughing or limping on a weekend or holiday. Or maybe they’ve gotten injured, and your regular veterinarian can’t fit you in right away. In these situations, it’s normal to wonder if your pet needs emergency vet care or if they can wait until the next available appointment.

Every second counts when an animal experiences a medical crisis. But it’s not always easy to determine when to take a pet to an emergency vet. Even experienced pet owners can find it challenging to make the right decision. Here are five signs of a pet emergency to help you determine if your pet needs immediate veterinary care. 

1. Heavy Panting 

Panting after an energetic play session or a hard run is normal. However, excessive panting can be a sign of several serious health issues. 

Heatstroke is commonly associated with heavy panting. This life-threatening condition occurs when animals get too hot and can’t regulate their body temperature properly. They pant excessively as they try to cool down and may have distressed breathing. 

Other symptoms of heatstroke can include: 

  • Agitation or pacing
  • Confusion or lethargy 
  • Drooling 
  • Excessive thirst 
  • Red gums 
  • Searching for shade 
  • Seizures 
  • Vomiting 

Intense panting can also be a sign of pain in pets. Seek emergency veterinary care if your pet has sudden onset or uncontrollable panting, especially if exposed to hot temperatures. 

2. Seizures

Witnessing your pet having a seizure can be terrifying, especially for the first time. Seizures typically have three phases:

  • Pre-ictal: Your pet may act anxious, cry, or pace around before a seizure begins. These signs can be subtle. 
  • Ictal: The seizure occurs during this phase. Symptoms may include excessive drooling, urination, defecation, and loss of consciousness. 
  • Post-ictal: The pet may seem confused or have trouble walking. 

Your pet needs to see an emergency vet if they have multiple seizures in 24 hours. You should also go to the vet for an emergency visit if they have a seizure lasting more than five minutes or get injured while seizing. 

3. Choking 

Pets can choke on food, toys, clothing, and other objects. They can also choke if their collar gets caught on something. Symptoms of choking include: 

  • Blue or pale mucous membranes 
  • Coughing
  • Drooling 
  • Gagging
  • Pawing at the mouth 

Carefully open your pet’s mouth if you suspect they’re choking on an object. Look inside and use your hooked index finger to remove any objects caught in their mouth. If the item is lodged in their throat, use tongs or tweezers to remove it. 

Seek emergency care if you can’t remove the item or your pet struggles to breathe. You can also call the emergency vet and ask them to walk you through the Heimlich maneuver. 

4. Sudden Weakness or Collapse 

Your pet may develop sudden weakness or the inability to walk during a medical emergency. For example, you may notice your pet dragging their hind legs and falling over. Many serious conditions can cause these symptoms, so recognizing them can help you know when to take your pet to the ER vet. 

Sudden weakness or paralysis can indicate heart disease. Cats may develop rear weakness if a blood clot travels to their back legs. A heart condition can also cause pets to walk with a limp or lose the ability to stand. 

Spinal injuries can also cause temporary weakness or paralysis in animals. For example, a fibrocartilaginous embolism prevents blood flow to the spinal cord. Seek veterinary care immediately to give your pet the best chance of recovery. 

5. Exposure to Toxins 

Our homes are filled with foods and items that can poison animals. Here are a few common toxins

  • Alcohol 
  • Antifreeze 
  • Bleach 
  • Garlic 
  • Grapes 
  • Insecticides 
  • Marijuana 
  • Mothballs 
  • Onions 
  • Play-Doh or clay
  • Xylitol in sugar-free gum and candy 

Many popular houseplants and landscaping plants can also poison pets. For example, your pet may get sick after eating aloe vera, hibiscus, hydrangea, and lilies. 

Contact the ASPCA Poison Control Center immediately if you suspect your pet has eaten a poisonous substance. They can help you determine when to see the emergency vet and recommend actions you can take at home to protect your pet’s health. 

Get Immediate Care for an Austin Veterinary Emergency

This article covers five common signs your pet needs emergency care, but it’s not exhaustive. Other symptoms include fractured bones, inability to urinate, uncontrolled bleeding, and refusing to drink for over 24 hours. Contact an emergency vet in Austin or the closest location if your pet exhibits these symptoms or seems distressed. And always trust your gut if something seems wrong. Violet Crown Veterinary Specialists is a leading Austin emergency vet hospital. Our expert team provides fast and compassionate care for every medical emergency. Contact us immediately if you need an ER vet in Austin.