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12 signs of medical emergencies: when minutes count, use a closed carrier to take your dog to the nearest clinic and remain calm to avoid his panicking.

When your dog suddenly becomes ill or injured, how do you know if he needs to go to the veterinarian or emergency hospital without delay? It's not always easy to determine.

Hiding weakness is a natural survival instinct for dogs, a vestige of their pre-domestication days to remain with their pack. They may exhibit only subtle signs that they're seriously sick.

On the other hand, some illnesses are obvious emergencies. The most important advice from the Section Chief of Critical Care at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine: "Some animals can appear fine after a traumatic event such as being hit by a car or being bitten by another animal," says Gretchen L. Schoeffler, DVM, who is a board-certified in emergency and critical care.

Don't Hesitate. As a result, owners may hesitate to seek veterinary care. "Unfortunately, internal injuries are relatively common and could result in loss of life if they are not identified and treated in a timely fashion," Dr. Schoeffler says.

Here's what you should know about recognizing and responding to emergencies --especially when minutes count. These conditions necessitate an immediate trip to the emergency room anytime day or night:

1) Bleeding that doesn't stop in five minutes or bleeding from the mouth, nose or rectum

2) Loss of consciousness or altered mental ability such as confusion or other abnormal behavior

3) Difficulty breathing

4) Sudden collapse, even if it is episodic and recovery seems spontaneous

5) Severe weakness or not wanting to move or get up

6) Broken bones

7) Sudden lameness or inability to walk

8) Diarrhea that appears bloody or black and tarry

9) Severe vomiting, especially if the vomit contains blood or looks as if it contains coffee grounds (a sign of internal bleeding)

10) Gums that appear blue or white instead of a healthy pink

11) Seizures or staggering

12) Known ingestion of a toxic substance such as antifreeze or rat poison

If you see any of these signs in your dog, remain calm and take the dog to the closest emergency clinic. Dr. Schoeffler says. "It's never helpful to panic. We want people to drive safely. I would also argue that most pets pick up on the owners' mental state. If the owner is anxious, then the pet is more likely to be anxious as well."

Dogs are likely to encounter certain types of emergencies, Dr. Schoeffler says. Here are those that she sees regularly in dogs and the reasons a trip to the ER can sometimes mean the difference in a recovery.

* Vomiting, loss of appetite and diarrhea. Frequent or severe vomiting, especially if your dog seems unusually quiet or lethargic, should be of concern. "They may be the first indicators of very serious or even life-threatening disease," Dr. Schoeffler says. "At the very least the possibility of a gastrointestinal obstruction can be ruled out through abdominal X-ray or ultrasound, and the patient may benefit from fluids given intravenously or under the skin."

* Traumatic injuries, such as bite wounds, cuts and open wounds.

* Difficulty breathing may indicate heart failure or poisoning. Choking can cause difficult breathing but is a rare emergency, Dr. Schoeffler says. "If an owner finds their pet unresponsive and not breathing, I would recommend looking for a foreign object in the back of the mouth. If however, the dog is responsive and seems to be having breathing difficulty, it is more important to keep him calm and get him to the vet ASAP."

Excitement and/or overheating exacerbate breathing difficulty, especially in upper airway obstructions, Dr. Schoeffler says. "Dogs feel the need to increase their breathing when they are excited or are overheated--remember dogs cool themselves by dissipating heat through their respiratory tract by exhaling it. When those dogs also have an upper airway obstruction, they cannot meet those increased breathing needs and become anxious and try to breathe harder. It becomes a vicious cycle."

Rule of thumb for a breathing problem, especially an upper airway obstruction, is to keep the dog cool and calm.

Breathing problems can also surface in poisoning. Dogs are notoriously indiscriminate eaters, Dr. Schoeffler says, and that leaves them vulnerable to ingesting toxins. Foods and drugs commonly found in the home that can be highly toxic include grapes, raisins and Zante currants, which can cause severe kidney failure; dark chocolate; coffee beans, plain or chocolate-covered; and the sweetener Xylitol in sugar-free gum, baked goods and peanut butter. Many over-the-counter human medications, such as Tylenol containing acetaminophen, or Aleve containing naproxen, can be fatal to dogs.

* Straining to urinate, which can signal a urinary tract obstruction caused by bladder stones; prostate disease or other serious conditions. A complete obstruction, in which the dog cannot urinate at all, can result in a ruptured bladder if not immediately treated. "This tends to be a serious problem more commonly in males but can also affect females," Dr. Schoeffler says.

* Difficulty walking, indicating a spinal injury. Back or spinal cord problems are common in dogs, Dr. Schoeffler says. Some breeds with long backs such as Dachshunds are more susceptible than others to ruptured intervertebral discs. Left untreated, a dog with spinal injury may become permanently paralyzed. A related emergency situation is when a dog is reluctant to use a limb. "Dogs who are acutely unwilling to bear weight on a limb are in significant pain," Dr. Schoeffler says.

* Tremors or seizures, which can be caused by poisoning and neurological diseases. They should be treated as emergencies, especially if it's possible the dog has ingested a toxic substance or has recently been treated with a topical medication such as a flea and tick preventive. If your dog seems restless, is panting or can't seem to get comfortable, he should be seen right away. These signs can indicate serious disease, including congestive heart failure.

When you take your dog to the emergency clinic, transport him in a closed, secure carrier whenever possible. "Ill dogs can behave in unexpected ways," Dr. Schoeffler says. "If they become panicked, they can inflict bodily injury directly or may distract a driver, resulting in a motor vehicle accident."

Know the veterinarian's hours and the location of the nearest emergency clinic if your pet has a problem in off hours. Put the phone number on speed dial so you can alert the clinic that you're on your way. And keep your dog's veterinary records handy, including his rabies vaccination certificate, so you can take them with you.

Most important, know your dog's normal behavior. Being able to recognize any changes can help you identify and treat problems before they become full-blown emergencies.


Some breeds or types of dogs may be prone to certain emergencies. For instance, Bulldogs, Pugs, Boxers and other short-nosed breeds may find it difficult to breathe in excessively hot temperatures. Overweight dogs may also have trouble breathing in extreme heat. Signs of heatstroke, which require immediate veterinary care, include vomiting, restlessness, panting or drooling, rapid pulse and breathing.

Dalmatians, Bulldogs and Black Russian Terriers are especially prone to bladder stones. Small breeds like Cavalier King Charles Spaniels may go into congestive heart failure unexpectedly. Labrador Retrievers are known to eat whatever comes their way and may become poisoned or develop an intestinal obstruction.
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Title Annotation:SAFETY
Publication:Dog Watch
Date:May 1, 2016
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