13 Signs That Tell You Your Dog Needs Emergency Medical Attention

Written by: Lindsay Giguiere



Time to read 5 min

As a responsible pet parent, it's crucial to be vigilant and look out for signs that may indicate a medical emergency in your cherished companion. By recognizing these symptoms early on, you can take immediate action to help your dog and ensure their well-being.

In this article, we will explore common signs of a dog's medical emergency and provide a list of steps to assist your pet during such critical situations.

Remember that with advances in veterinary medicine, your furry friend has every chance of recovery, so do not panic. Being responsible means looking for signs, responding promptly, and potentially securing insurance coverage to address potential costs.


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1. Severe or Prolonged Bleeding

If your dog is experiencing severe bleeding from an injury or wound or if the bleeding persists for more than five minutes, it is crucial to act swiftly. Apply gentle pressure to the affected area with a clean cloth or bandage, elevating the wound if possible. Contact your veterinarian immediately for further guidance and potential emergency care.

2. Choking, Difficulty Breathing, or Persistent Coughing and Gagging

A dog struggling to breathe, experiencing continuous coughing, or showing signs of choking requires urgent attention. Although it may be possible to carry out the Heimlich maneuver if your dog is small enough and you are trained to do it, be cautious when removing any visible obstructions from their airway, as it could worsen the situation. Instead, contact your veterinarian or an emergency veterinary clinic without delay.

3. Bleeding from Nose, Mouth, Rectum, Coughing up Blood, or Blood in Urine

The presence of blood in your dog's nasal discharge, mouth, rectum, or urine is an alarming sign. Contact your veterinarian immediately to discuss the situation and follow their instructions for further evaluation and treatment. Some possible causes for bleeding are:

  1. Infections: Bacterial, viral, or fungal infections can lead to inflammation and bleeding in various parts of a dog's body.


  2. Gastrointestinal Issues: Conditions like gastritis, ulcers, or inflammatory bowel disease can cause bleeding in the digestive tract, leading to blood in the stool or rectal bleeding.


  3. Urinary Tract Infections: Infections in the urinary system, including the bladder and urethra, can lead to blood in the urine (hematuria).


  4. Trauma or Injury: Any physical injury to the nasal passages, mouth, or rectum can result in bleeding.


  5. Cancer: Tumors or cancerous growths in the nasal passages, mouth, urinary tract, or digestive system can cause bleeding.

4. Inability to Pass Feces or Urinate

If your dog cannot urinate or pass feces, or if they show signs of distress or pain while attempting to do so, it could indicate a medical emergency such as urinary obstruction or gastrointestinal blockage. Call your veterinarian promptly for guidance and potential intervention.

5. Any Eye Injury

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Any injury to your dog's eye(s) should be treated as an emergency. Avoid applying medication or ointments without professional advice, which could exacerbate the injury. Keep the affected eye(s) protected and seek immediate veterinary care.

6. Ingestion of Poisonous Substances

These are a few of the most common poisonous  substances that can severely harm your pup:

  1. Chocolate: Contains theobromine and caffeine, which are toxic to dogs and can lead to symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, rapid breathing, and even seizures.


  2. Alcohol: Even a small amount of alcohol can be toxic to dogs, leading to symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, central nervous system depression, and even coma.


  3. Caffeine: Found in coffee, tea, energy drinks, and certain medications, caffeine can cause restlessness, rapid breathing, tremors, and seizures in dogs.


  4. Raw Dough: Consuming raw dough containing yeast can lead to bloating, alcohol poisoning, and even a life-threatening condition called gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV) in dogs.


  5. Certain Plants: Many plants are toxic to dogs if ingested, including lilies, azaleas, tulips, daffodils, and sago palms.


  6. Rodenticides and Insecticides: Can contain chemicals that are harmful if ingested by dogs.


  7. Human Medications: Over-the-counter and prescription medications, such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and antidepressants, can be toxic to dogs.


  8. Antifreeze: Contains ethylene glycol, which is highly toxic to dogs and can lead to kidney failure.


  9.  Cleaning Products: Some cleaning products contain chemicals that can be harmful if ingested or inhaled by dogs.


  10. If you suspect or know that your dog has swallowed a toxin substance such as antifreeze, xylitol (a sweetener found in peanut butter and other foods), chocolate, or rodent poison, time is of the essence. Contact your veterinarian or the ASPCA animal poison control hotline at (888) 426-4435 immediately for guidance. Do not try to induce vomiting unless directed by a professional.

7. Seizures or Staggering

Seizures or sudden onset of staggering could be signs of a severe medical condition or neurological issue. Keep your dog safe from nearby hazards, cushion their head on something soft, and contact your veterinarian promptly for advice and potential emergency care.

8. Fractured Bones, Lameness, or Inability to Move Leg(s)

If your dog has a suspected fracture, exhibits severe lameness, or cannot move one or more legs, immobilize them as gently as possible and seek immediate veterinary attention. Avoid applying excessive pressure or attempting to set the bone yourself.

9. Obvious Signs of Pain or Distress

Dogs in pain or distress require immediate attention. Look for restlessness, excessive panting, whimpering, or aggression. Contact your veterinarian to discuss the situation and follow their guidance for appropriate pain management and treatment.

10. Heat Stress or Heat Stroke

Heat stress and heat stroke are life-threatening emergencies, particularly in warmer climates. If your dog displays excessive panting, drooling, weakness, or collapse in hot conditions, immediately move them to a cooler area. Apply cool, wet towels to their body and contact your veterinarian for further instructions.

11. Vomiting or Diarrhea

Especially if accompanied by other signs of illness , vomiting and diarrhea that persist for more than 24 hours require prompt veterinary attention. Contact your veterinarian to describe the symptoms and potential treatment options.

12. Refusal to Drink

It may indicate an underlying health issue if your dog refuses to drink water for 24 hours or longer. Dehydration can quickly become a concern, so contact your veterinarian promptly for guidance on appropriate measures to ensure your dog's hydration.

13. Unconsciousness

If your dog suddenly becomes unconscious, or you can’t rouse them from sleep, check for breathing and a heartbeat. If absent, immediately begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and rush your pet to the nearest veterinary clinic or emergency facility.


As a responsible dog parent, you'll always be proactive regarding your pet's health. Recognizing the signs of a potential medical emergency is crucial for their well-being. Remember, ANY concern about your dog's health warrants at least a call to your veterinarian.

By responding promptly and seeking veterinary care, you provide your furry companion with the best chance of recovery. Advances in veterinary medicine have opened doors to better treatments and outcomes. Additionally, consider securing pet insurance to help cover unexpected costs and ensure your dog receives the necessary care without financial burden. A Petinsurer policy, through Felicitails, can give you the peace of mind you deserve, at an affordable price.

So, stay vigilant, be prepared, and prioritize your dog's health to enjoy many more happy and healthy years together.