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Common Pet Emergencies That Need Immediate Veterinary Care

What to do when your best friend isn’t well...

Ever wondered what to do if your beloved pet is showing some abnormal symptoms and what the cause is? On the eve of World Veterinary Day (April 29)Dr Louis Eramanis from SASH (Small Animal Specialist Hospital) guides us through some irregular symptoms and what pet owners should be aware of to help best support our dogs.

Working as an Emergency & Critical Care Specialist at SASH, Dr Louis specialises in treating the most unstable and time sensitive patients. Working in high intensity emergency rooms and intensive care units, he has extensive experience working on cases of snake envenomation, neurological emergencies, and respiratory failure among other things. 

Dr Louis highlighted for us those emergency situations that will always require immediate attention by a vet

How to Respond When your Dog:

#1. Has breathing difficulties, excessive panting, blue tongue/gums

If your dog is having trouble breathing, there can be a number of reasons for this. 

This can be seen with any number of lung and heart diseases, but also with general illness, tick paralysis, or heat stroke

First, check your dog’s tongue, the tongue and gums turn a nasty shade of blue when there is a lack of oxygen in the body. Patients require oxygen or sometimes life-saving intubation to stabilise whilst investigating the cause. It’s important to keep them calm and cool so it’s a good idea to turn on the aircon for the drive to the vet.

#2. Is bitten by a snake

Labrador Cooper spent time in ICU after
being bitten by a red-bellied black snake

During the warmer months, it’s important to be wary of snakes in the garden. If a snake bite is witnessed, a vet visit should not be delayed! There will be fewer venom effects if antivenom is given as soon as possible. 

Some dogs can show vomiting, diarrhoea, collapse and apparent recovery after being bitten; these patients still received a lethal dose of venom and require antivenom. 

Blood and urine tests can be run to test for lethal envenoming; any patient that develops symptoms should receive antivenom immediately.

#3. Is retching with a distended belly 

This is common in large breed deep-chested dogs (Dobermans, German ShepherdsGreat Danes etc.) who can develop gastric dilatation volvulus (GDV) also known as canine bloat

This is a life-threatening disease caused by the stomach twisting upon itself and then ballooning up and causing circulatory shock and loss of blood flow to the stomach.

Typically taking place after your dog has had a big meal and has been running around, GDV can also occur at other times. Most dogs will become weak and collapse, and their belly very obviously gets larger and larger whilst the dog tries to vomit unsuccessfully, leading to unproductive retching. 

These dogs should be brought in immediately for rapid stabilisation and surgery if these symptoms are noted.

#4. Displays tremoring/seizures for more than 5 minutes

Epilepsy, brain disease or toxins can cause seizures or tremors. This can be extremely distressing to witness. Whether or not there is a history of seizures, muscle tremors, or convulsions for longer than 20 - 30 minutes can lead to heat stroke and brain swelling

If the seizures continue at home for more than 5 minutes, you should take your dog straight to the vet due to the risk of subsequent injury. Patients can hurt themselves, bite their tongues, and even bite their owners. Care should be taken when picking them up with towels placed underneath them on hard surfaces.

#5. Has ingested toxins

Buddy, the Cattle Dog made a full recovery
after ingesting toxic snail bait
In general, this includes animal bait, plants and gardening chemicals, recreational drugs and medications. Some toxins can cause symptoms quickly, whilst others can take a while to develop.

The sooner the patient is made to vomit, the less toxin can be absorbed by the body. Other treatments or antidotes may be recommended for certain poisons. 

If uncertain, then the Animal Poisons Hotline can be contacted on 1300 869 738 or visit their website for more information.

#6. Is in a coma/non-responsive/not breathing

If pets are not breathing and unresponsive, they should be taken straight to the vet. We can see this from paralysis (e.g. caused by a paralysis tick or snake bite), severe illness, coma, or they may be close to death. 

The first step is to remain calm to ensure you and your pet safely make it to the vet. If you have assistance, then mouth-to-snout CPR can be started in the car. Do not attempt to perform CPR if it delays your trip to the vet. 

Pets should be on their side to give 30 compressions followed by two brisk mouth-to-snout breaths. In large to medium breed dogs, both hands with your arms straight out are used to compress/push the chest to 1/3 - 1/2 its width; a decent amount of force is required. 

For smaller dogs and cats, use a single hand with the chest between your thumb and fingers. For mouth-to-snout breaths, both hands should be used to create a seal between your mouth and the pet's snout whilst holding the mouth closed.

It’s important to act quickly when you see your pet behaving abnormally and take action immediately. As pet owners, it’s critical to identify when your pet is under stress so that they can be treated. 

Whilst there are many things you can do to help your pet as first aid, the best action is always going to be taking them to your local vet or emergency hospital.

written by Dr Louis Mark Eramanis
Emergency & Critical Care Specialist at SASH Vets for Australian Dog Lover, April 2023 (all rights reserved).

About our writer:

Dr Louis Eramanis (
BSc BVMS MVS MVSc MANZCVS (ECC) DipACVECC) is a completed his Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine & Surgery at Murdoch University, Perth before working in general practice, then as an emergency veterinarian around Western Australia. After undertaking an internship at the Queen Mother Hospital for Animals at the Royal Veterinary College in London, he returned to home soil to complete a residency in small animal emergency and critical care at U-Vet Werribee Animal Hospital, University of Melbourne

His Masters research characterised venom-induced consumption coagulopathy in tiger snake envenomed dogs. He attained membership of the emergency and critical care chapter of the ANZCVS and became a diplomate of American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care. Louis helped develop a critical care service in another busy Sydney referral hospital prior to joining SASH in 2022.

Louis enjoys a high-intensity emergency room particularly snake envenomation, neurological emergencies, respiratory failure and ultrasound in the emergency room. On the flip-side, the Criticalist Louis finds satisfaction in the detailed intricacies of a critically ill patient. He has a respectful appreciation of the kidneys, electrolyte derangements and mechanical ventilation. Whilst he finds any way to be involved in sick hospital patients, seeing them recover and walk out of the hospital always brings a smile to his face.

Between these endeavours, Louis can be found exploring the city, enjoying different cuisines, appreciating live music and spending money on Apple products! His dog Beau, and two cats, Saphira and Nymphadora Tonks, are with his family in Western Australia.

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Canine Bloat (GDV): Causes, Signs & Prevention


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