How to decide when your dog needs to see a vet right away, and when it’s okay to just “wait and see”.
From stomach upsets to scratches and strains, all dogs experience illness or injury now and then. But how do you know when you should call the vet ASAP, and when it’s okay to just keep an eye on him at home for a day or two?
In general, dogs that are not in severe pain or discomfort don’t need immediate emergency treatment. One episode of vomiting or diarrhea, or one instance of a small amount of blood in the urine, does not indicate an emergency. However, be sure to watch for any further signs that would warrant veterinary care. Dogs that exhibit minimal clinical signs and otherwise seem “normal” can be observed for up to 24 hours. Clinical signs that persist beyond this time should be brought to the vet’s attention. The chart below will help you determine when immediate veterinary care is needed, and when it’s safe to delay for a couple of days.
|Health issue||Signs and symptoms||What should I do?|
|Injuries||Bleeding, has swallowed a foreign object, is suddenly unable to use a limb, or is dragging limbs||Any of these could be an emergency, unless bleeding is slight and only from an obvious surface scratch – in the latter case, clean and disinfect, and keep an eye on it. Otherwise, contact your vet ASAP.|
|GI symptoms||Vomiting or diarrhea, and/or loss of appetite||Observe for 12 to 24 hours; if symptoms persist or recur frequently, alert your vet promptly.|
|Urinary symptoms||Blood in urine, difficulty urinating, increase or decrease in urine output||Difficult or painful urination requires immediate veterinary attention. Persistent or recurring blood also warrants a trip to the vet. A change in urine output isn’t an emergency, but should be checked out sooner rather than later.|
|Eye problems||Excessive blinking, inability to fully open eyelids, red or cloudy eyes, constricted or dilated pupils, watery or yellow discharge||Any signs and symptoms involving the eyes require prompt evaluation by your vet to prevent infection or vision damage.|
|Itching||Excessive scratching or biting, hair loss, irritated and inflamed skin or ears.||These symptoms usually denote allergies and aren’t classified as an emergency — but it’s still important to tell your vet, especially if your dog is uncomfortable or scratching himself till he bleeds.|
|Breathing issues||Trouble breathing, heavy breathing, coughing, using abdominal muscles to breathe||Any breathing problems warrant an emergency call to the vet.|
|Lumps or bumps||May be soft and rubbery or hard and immovable, and can appear anywhere on the body||Lumps on your dog don’t require an emergency call, but they should be checked out as soon as possible, especially if they’re growing and/or are associated with open sores and bleeding.|
|Weight loss||Weight loss may be gradual or rapid – in the latter case, it can signal cancer, diabetes, kidney failure or thyroid disease||Any unexplained weight loss, though not an emergency, needs to be checked by the vet, especially if it’s happening fast.|
Veterinarian Dr. Shawn Messonnier wrote The Natural Health Bible for Dogs and Cats, The Natural Vet's Guide to Preventing and Treating Cancer in Dogs, and 8 Weeks to a Healthy Dog. He's the pet care expert for Martha Stewart Living's "Dr. Shawn — The Natural Vet" on Sirius Satellite Radio, and creator of Dr. Shawn's Pet Organics. His practice, Paws & Claws Animal Hospital (petcarenaturally.com), is in Plano, Texas.