Emergency Advice

How to help your pet in an emergency

  • Road traffic accident
  • Unconscious animal
  • Poisoning
  • Fitting
  • Bites & fights
  • Eye injuries
  • Heatstroke
  • Eclampsia
  • Burns & scalds
  • Bloat/Gastric Torsion/Gastric Dilatation Volvulus
  • Difficult labour (Dystocia)
  • Flystrike

Road traffic accident

Road traffic accident (RTA)

Unfortunately, the fatality rate is high for this type of trauma. The other complications can include haemorrhage (bleeding) and fractures (broken bones).

Important aspects of dealing with an RTA victim:

  • Remove the animal from the site of further danger i.e. onto the roadside etc to prevent being run over again. Be careful to avoid further injury to the animal (protect wounds with clean cloth) AND avoid danger to the handler(s) either from passing traffic or from the animal that may bite from pain or fear. You may need to use a makeshift muzzle from a piece of cloth or bandage (wrapped around the muzzle, 2 throws to knot under the chin and the ends then tied behind the ears).
  • Protect any wounds by covering with clean cloths and applying gentle pressure to any sites of bleeding.
  • Telephone the nearest veterinary surgery for advice and inform them you are on your way in or make your way there directly if you cannot contact them first. Ideally, one person should look after the animal while the other drives.
  • Support the animal especially if there are any obvious broken bones or if it is unable to use any of its legs. Continue to apply pressure to any points of bleeding if possible.

Circulatory shock is a possible complication of an accident like this. It could be as a result of significant blood loss so that there is not enough blood in the blood circulatory system.

Shock can also occur as a nervous system response to trauma. It is a protective mechanism to protect vital organs, such as the brain, heart, kidneys and liver. The circulation is maintained to those areas but is shut down to the less important areas such as the skin and gastrointestinal tract. Paleness of the mucus membranes of the gums and eyes will show there is a problem.

Unconscious animal

Unconscious animal

An unconscious animal should be quickly assessed and then transported to a surgery. Check its mouth for any obstructions such as chunks of food and pull the tongue forward. Be very careful not to get bitten whilst your fingers are in its mouth even if the animal is unconscious!).

  • Wrap the animal in a blanket to prevent it from losing body heat. If no suitable material is available newspapers, kitchen foil etc may be used instead.
  • Look for any wounds, swellings, and abnormalities in the shape of the head, neck or back. Serious bleeding is more likely to occur inside the animal's body and will therefore be invisible. Paleness in the mucus membranes around its mouth (gums) and eyes will show there is a problem.
  • Bleeding from a skin wound should be minimised by applying a pressure pad with a bandage and cotton wool. A tourniquet may help stem the flow of blood from an injured limb or tail.
  • Look for any clues around the animal and then arrange careful transportation to the surgery keeping the animal positioned to avoid movement of head, neck or spine where possible. Keep checking it is breathing on route to the surgery.



Signs of poisoning can include excessive salivation (drooling), vomiting and/or diarrhoea, strange behaviour, sleepiness or staggering/ fitting/collapse. Some types of poisoning may be less obvious e.g. perhaps a scattering of pills on the floor, the dog eating something in the corner of the garden etc. Anything suspicious should be investigated and the animal should be taken to a veterinary surgeon for advice.

If you suspect your pet has eaten, drunk or licked at a kind of poison you should immediately telephone the veterinary surgery.

You will need to take the animal to the vets for immediate attention. Keep the animal warm and quiet until you can get it to the surgery.

If you have a suspicion of what the animal has eaten, then it would help to bring the packet/ information sheets or a sample of the plant with you to the surgery. If the animal has been sick collect a sample of this too.

If possible, quickly clear away any remaining poison to prevent another animal from coming into contact with it.

Our vets will establish which category of poison it was if you have a sample and will be able to administer suitable treatment. This may be to make it sick or it may be to administer intravenous fluids, an antidote or a specific drug.

Sometimes veterinary treatment can prevent the poison from causing a problem, other times it might only be possible to reduce the effects on the animal or to support the animal's circulatory systems while the poison is eliminated by the body's natural excretory functions.



An animal fits as a result of abnormal brain activity. The animal has a mixture of unconsciousness and rapid muscular and limb movements. During a fit, most dogs will fall onto their side and make running movements with their feet.

A fit may be due to a number of things including epilepsy, Distemper, a brain tumour or damage, liver damage, or as a result of poisoning. Fits can also occur due to overheating, especially in the summer months if an animal has been left in a car.

Epilepsy is the most common type of fit in dogs and may have no obvious cause.

When an animal is fitting you should darken the room if possible and remove any objects that could harm them. The environment should be quiet and where possible the animal left alone and unstimulated by voice or physical contact until the fit has passed.

Do not try to insert anything into the animal's mouth.

Most fits will last between 1 and 3 minutes but some can last over 10 minutes. It is worth making a note of the time the fit started as it often seems to last longer than it actually does. If your dog comes out of the fit within 5 minutes, then allow time for him to recover quietly before contacting your vet. Leave the animal alone for this time but comfort it as soon as it has recovered.

If the animal continues fitting for more than 5 minutes or has repeated fits close together, then contact your vet immediately.

Bites & fights

Bites & fights

If your animal has been involved in a fight the risk of infected wounds are high as animals' teeth, especially cats, are covered in all kinds of nasty bacteria.

Because wounds from teeth are deep and narrow they easily become pockets of infection, sealed by a scab at the top. This is how abscesses form.

Small fights where observers can clarify the type and extent of damage caused can be treated as non-urgent. Gentle cleansing of small wounds with mild salty water may be all that's needed. Where teeth marks are seen then deep cleansing may be required along with a course of antibiotics and so a check-up with the vet is required.

Any bruising is a sign of tissue damage - especially if it is present soon after the event.

Emergency treatment is needed following fights when the skin has been torn into flaps, where there is a lot of bleeding or bruising or if a crush injury has occurred. This is where a dog is attacked by a larger dog and hidden internal injuries have been inflicted. Neck trauma and abdominal injuries are common and can be severe, maybe even life-threatening.

If the animal's neck or chest has been injured then breathing difficulties are possible so care should be taken to observe the animal as it is transported to the surgery. Any wounds should be covered with clean material and any point of bleeding carefully covered and gentle pressure applied.

Eye injuries

Eye injuries

These can occur as a result of a medical condition, during a fight or trauma such as an RTA. Running into undergrowth or through long grass or crops can also cause a problem.

Injuries can include:

  • Scratches
  • Perforations
  • Haemorrhage - bleeding internally or from eye soft tissue such as eyelids or conjunctiva.
  • Foreign bodies
  • Prolapse - where the eye has popped out of the socket but is still attached to the head by the nerves and blood vessels at the back of the socket. This is more common in the short-nosed breeds of dog.

Signs of eye injuries include pawing at the face, excessive blinking, a fluid or jelly-like substance on the surface of the eye or running down the animal's face. You might be able to see foreign bodies, such as grass seeds, thorns or insect particles on the surface of the eye or tucked away in the mucosa of the eye. The eye tissue will be red and inflamed and the eye will be watering considerably.

Eye injuries are generally very painful. In most cases of eye injuries, you should be visiting your vet immediately, without touching the area or investigating further.

The exception to this is when the animal's eye is out of its socket. The eyeball needs careful protection to prevent damage to it. It is also important to reduce the pull on the nerves and blood vessels and to keep the inside of the socket clean. A clean cloth, dampened with clean water (or ideally sterile saline or contact lens solution) should be carefully placed over the eyeball and the socket area, if possible slightly, gently, lifting the eyeball towards the socket and then held in place against the side of the face. Immediate veterinary attention is required.



Animals should not be left in a car during warm weather, even if the windows are open. Pets should be kept out of the full heat of the sun in summer. This is especially important for dogs taken on holiday abroad with their family to a much hotter area. Free access to water is as important as access to shade.

Heatstroke is basically the body overheating with body temperatures as high as 108° Fahrenheit or 42.2° Celsius (normal dog body temperature is 100.9° - 101.7°F, or 38.2° - 38.7°C).

Signs of heatstroke are lethargy, difficulty in breathing and fitting. The animal will feel very hot to the touch.

Immediate action is required to save the animal's life:

  • Remove from the hot area
  • Cool the animal with cold water, especially head, neck, abdomen between legs and feet - cool SLOWLY (otherwise the blood starts coagulating in the blood vessels and the dog will die)
  • Place cold towels etc on feet, neck (jugular vein), and abdomen and wrap a cloth around to hold in place. Keep the area cool and wet.
  • Transport the animal to a veterinary surgery, keeping the animal and environment cool and the animal out of direct sunlight.



This is a condition found in pregnant or feeding bitches and queens. It is due to a low blood calcium level seen when the animal has a large litter and her diet is low in calcium compared to the size and number of kittens/puppies.

It commonly occurs 2 - 3 weeks after birth; the mother presents with the following signs:

  • Weakness and lethargy
  • Trembling
  • Twitchy muscles
  • Fits
  • Coma

Calcium treatment is needed and immediate veterinary attention should be sought. The vet may inject calcium into a vein or under the skin and will identify a diet with higher levels of calcium to speed the animal's recovery. Very often the kittens or puppies will not be able to return to the mother and will need hand-rearing.

Burns & scalds

Burns & scalds

A burn is caused by direct contact with a hot substance or fluid or chemical. A scald is caused by heat from steam.

Action needed:

  • Remove the cause of the heat or remove the animal
  • Place area under cold water flow and keep there for at least 10 minutes. Because heat penetrates and damages deep tissue layers it is important the cooling method is applied long enough to cool the deep layers
  • Cover area with a cloth soaked in cold water with some ice cubes wrapped within it if possible
  • Do not attempt to treat the injury with ointments etc.
  • Seek veterinary attention

If the burn area is large then the skin may slough (this is where the skin layers die off and peels away). Burns/scalds are very painful. Open burns also lose fluids and proteins and these losses need addressing - often with intravenous fluid therapy and special diets. Pain relief may be needed as well as wound treatments and infection control.

Bloat/Gastric Torsion/Gastric Dilatation Volvulus

Bloat/Gastric Torsion/Gastric Dilatation Volvulus

Bloat can be a sign of Gastric Dilatation (volvulus), also known as Gastric Torsion. Usually a problem in large dogs with deep chests, such as Irish Setters, Great Danes, Irish Wolf Hounds, Rottweillers etc. The dog has usually recently been fed and is now drooling, repeatedly retching unproductively, restless and has a distended abdomen. It may be found collapsed.

Some dogs are prone to the problem. The condition starts when an excessive amount of gas builds up in the stomach as a result of the normal food breakdown process. The gas builds up and inflates the stomach (sometimes the anatomy of the stomach is slightly abnormal) or the gas build-up can result in the stomach flipping over and twisting. This then means that the gas has no way of being released as the exits are blocked at both ends. The pressure from the very over-inflated stomach presses on the blood vessels, especially the major ones coming out of and going into the chest cavity. It also severely presses on the diaphragm and reduces the size of the chest cavity thus leading to difficult and ineffective breathing.

Without the release of the gas, the condition is quickly fatal and so urgent and immediate veterinary attention is needed.

The vet will want to insert a tube into the mouth and down the animal's oesophagus into the stomach. If the anatomy or twist is not too severe it may be possible to enter the stomach and the gas is released up the tube.

If the tube cannot be inserted into the stomach the vet may need to puncture the stomach from the outside, piercing the abdominal wall with a large bore, long catheter tube, to provide some relief.

If the animal's stomach can be fully deflated with the stomach tube the vet may choose to simply observe the animal and monitor the recovery in case of re-occurrence. However, the condition usually requires surgery, especially when the tube cannot be passed.

The procedure involves decompression of the gas and positioning and fixing the stomach to the abdominal wall at a particular place and angle to reduce the chances of the problem recurring.

Haemorrhagic Enteritis or Haemorrhagic Gastro-Enteritis

Bloody diarrhoea or bloody diarrhoea with vomiting.

This is an emergency for two reasons:

  1. Haemorrhagic diarrhoea often occurs with severe and fatal infectious disease, such as parvovirus infection
  2. This condition often leads to severe dehydration

The presence of blood indicates that the degree of internal inflammation is severe.

Veterinary advice should be sought by telephoning your veterinary surgery. They will probably ask you questions such as:

  • How long it has been vomiting or having diarrhoea?
  • How often vomiting/diarrhoea is happening?
  • State of the animal - bright/alert, quiet, depressed
  • If the animal is drinking and how much?
  • Colour of diarrhoea
  • Are the mucus membranes in the mouth warm or cold?

You will normally be asked to go to the surgery for a check-up and to bring a sample of the diarrhoea with you.

Difficult labour (Dystocia)

Difficult labour (Dystocia)

A difficult whelping or kittening can be caused by problems with the mother's anatomy e.g. the birth canal too narrow, exhaustion of the mother at the end of difficult, long labour or because the kitten/puppy is stuck, dead or very large or commonly, the inability of the uterine muscles to contract, especially in large litters.

Labour can be long for many reasons and there may be fairly long pauses between the appearance of offspring. The mother may even snooze between deliveries but the indicator that things are not well is the presence of a green-brown discharge without a puppy/kitten arriving. This is a sign that the placenta has detached. A clear blood-coloured discharge is normal.

Prolonged straining, a stuck or partially exposed kitten/puppy or green discharge are all indicators of problems and veterinary assistance is needed.

Most vets will give advice on the phone but will need you to attend the surgery with any problems as the treatments are on hand there and also an emergency caesarean is available should it be necessary.



This occurs when an animal has a soiled coat and flies have been able to lay eggs on it. It most commonly affects rabbits and other small mammals. The fly larvae (maggots) hatch and begin to feed on the debris and skin flakes on the animal's coat. They irritate and damage the skin introducing infection and soon begin to burrow into the animal's skin and tissues causing intense irritation and pain. They can cause considerable damage to the animal and may lead to it needing extensive care or even euthanasia.

It is best to avoid the problem by correct husbandry methods i.e. cleaning out the animal's enclosure daily, checking the animal for fly eggs twice daily (eggs can be laid and hatch in just a few hours in warm weather), grooming with a fine-tooth comb or washing off in an antiseptic bath. There are commercial preparations available to prevent fly-strike in rabbits available from the veterinary surgery.

If you find your pet with maggots then a full and careful groom is needed including clipping the coat to reveal any obscured larvae. This is best carried out by the veterinary surgeon who can clip and wash the animal and assess the extent of any damage. Antibiotic treatment may be needed.