When your pet falls ill or gets injured after hours, it can be hard to know what to do. Can you wait until morning to see your regular veterinarian? Or, should you take your pet right away to the animal emergency hospital? 

Often, there is no black-and-white answer. In some situations, your pet will be fine if you wait, but sometimes your pet should be seen immediately. We suggest that it’s best to call us for advice, and let our veterinary team talk you through your options. 

However, some conditions always warrant an immediate trip to the animal emergency hospital—particularly the following life-threatening medical conditions that require immediate surgery, where an hour-long delay could be the difference between life and death.

#1: Gastric dilation-volvulus

Also known as GDV or bloat, gastric dilation-volvulus is considered “the mother of all emergencies” because it acts so swiftly in previously healthy dogs. GDV occurs when a dog’s stomach fills with air (i.e., dilation) and rotates (i.e., volvulus), blocking the entry and exit, and cutting off the stomach’s vital blood supply. The distended stomach becomes so large that it compresses the large veins that return the blood to the heart, creating circulatory shock, and causing significant abdominal pain. Dogs with GDV have only hours to live without surgical intervention. GDV tends to affect deep-chested, large- and giant-breed dogs, like Great Danes, St. Bernards, and hounds. Classic GDV signs include unproductive retching, as if the dog is trying to vomit, pacing, agitation, and a distended abdomen. 

At the emergency clinic, dogs suspected with GDV will be started on intravenous fluids right away, and X-rays will be taken to confirm the GDV diagnosis. Passing a stomach tube may be sufficient to decompress the stomach, but surgical intervention may be needed. Regardless of the method of stomach decompression, surgery is typically recommended to tack the stomach to the body wall to prevent recurrence. 

#2: Intestinal obstruction

Some pets have discerning palates, while some (e.g., Labradors) will eat anything. Whether your curious canine has eaten a kid’s toy, a corn cob, a peach pit, or a wine cork, the solution will be the samesurgery. Pets who ingest items that can’t be digested and are too large to pass through the intestines end up with an intestinal obstruction. Food and liquid cannot move around the obstructed area, and eventually the intestines are affected by the compromised blood flow. 

Clinical signs in pets with foreign body obstructions include persistent vomiting, lethargy, decreased appetite, and abdominal pain. Don’t delay medical care if you suspect your pet has eaten something she shouldn’t have, because her compromised intestines may rupture, leading to life-threatening peritonitis. 

#3: Difficult labor

Dystocia, which is an abnormal labor or difficulty delivering puppies or kittens, constitutes a medical emergency. If your pet’s contractions are frequent, regular, and strong, but there is no live birth after 30 minutes, or your pet’s contractions are intermittent and she appears comfortable, but she has not produced any puppies or kittens after about one and a half hours, you should seek veterinary care. Dark green vaginal discharge is normal during canine and feline labor, but heavy bleeding requires immediate examination. 

About two-thirds of pets who present with difficult labors will need a Cesarean section, where the puppies or kittens will be removed surgically from the anesthetized mother. Pets undergoing a Cesarean section can be spayed at the same time to prevent future dystocia episodes.

#4: Hemoabdomen

Hemoabdomen (i.e., a blood-filled abdomen) typically occurs due to an abdominal mass that is bleeding. Affected dogs and cats are generally weak, with pale mucous membranes, or gums, and may have collapsed at home. At the animal emergency hospital, an abdominal ultrasound will be taken to confirm the condition, and to help find the underlying cause for the hemoabdomen. Hemoabdomen patients are at risk of death from blood loss and will need surgery to remove the bleeding mass, if possible.

#5: Laceration repair

One of the most common surgeries performed in the animal emergency hospital is repair of lacerations, which can be caused by many kinds of accidents, including a pet hit by a car, or attacked by another animal. Typically, the patient will be anesthetized while her wounds are scrubbed and sutured.

#6: Urinary obstruction

A male cat with a blocked ureter cannot pass urine, which can be life-threatening. Affected cats will jump in and out of the litter box, posturing to urinate, trying, but failing, to produce urine, and may cry out in pain. Male cats who cannot urinate need emergency care to place a urinary catheter while they are anesthetized to relieve the urinary obstruction. Typically, patients will remain in the hospital for a few days to monitor urine output. 

At the Pet Emergency Clinic and Referral Center, we’re here when your regular veterinarian is closed—after 5 p.m. on weekdays and all weekend long. If you or your pet needs emergency surgery, call us to let us know you’re on your way, and we’ll be ready to give your pet the best care possible.