When to Take Your Dog to a Vet It is every dog parent’s worst nightmare to suddenly notice that your sweet pup is not acting the same and there is something wrong with them. However, it may be confusing to judge if it can wait till the following day or if your dog will need urgent care. While some symptoms may not need such urgent veterinary care, some other signs may require you to rush out to your nearest emergency veterinary hospital, even if it is at 2 a.m.! In this article, we explain the most common symptoms to look for and be able to estimate when to take your dog to a vet. 

When to take your dog to the emergency vet

There are some basic guidelines you can follow to help assess the urgency of the situation:

  • Anxiety or restlessness
  • Inability to rest or sleep through the night
  • Constant coughing 
  • Constant panting
  • Fever
  • Coughing up pink, foamy liquid or blood 
  • Abnormal gum color (e.g., pale gums, blue gums, yellow gums)
  • An elevated heart rate (>160 beats per minute)
  • Paralysis or dragging of the back legs
  • A significant amount of bleeding
  • Abnormal vaginal discharge
  • Abnormal odor from the body
  • Feeling very hot or cold to the touch (<99 or >103.5)
  • Any abnormal behaviors or personality changes (e.g., clingy or unapproachable)
  • Inability to deliver puppies (over two hours between puppies)

Big-time emergency signs

Although the guideline is a list of common urgent symptoms to look out for, some big-time emergency signs will require immediate veterinary attention in dogs, such as:

Difficulty breathing

If a dog has trouble breathing or making alarming noisy breathing sounds, they are having respiratory distress. A dog with an elevated respiratory rate or panting from being excited or exercising is different from having trouble breathing. 

Signs of bloat 

When to Take Your Dog to a Vet Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus are also known as “Stomach Torsion” or “Bloat.” It is a life-threatening condition that can develop in some dogs. It causes the stomach to rapidly fill with and/or gas or fluid and then flip upon itself. If not treated immediately, your dog’s stomach can flip and block blood flow to the rest of the intestines, reducing their chances of survival. 

The common signs of bloat include:

  • Swollen or distended abdomen
  • Attempts to vomit with no success 
  • Pacing around
  • Panting
  • Excessive drooling
  • Taking a “play bow stance” (front elbows on the floor and hind end in the air)


A single seizure is not necessarily an emergency. Still, there are some signs that a dog’s seizure is cause for emergency care:

  • The seizure is lasting for more than 2 to 3 minutes
  • Multiple seizures happening in 24 hours (also known as “cluster seizures”)
  • Any seizure that is associated with a toxin ingestion

Lethargy or collapse

Collapse or profound weakness could be symptoms of major problems such as cardiac compromise, internal bleeding, anaphylactic shock, organ failure, or certain poisonings. 

Major known trauma 

Open wounds, profuse hemorrhage, possible broken bones, or injury due to trauma such as a fall, hit by a vehicle, or from an altercation with another dog or animal (bite or attack wounds on the body even if minor) is a clear sign of an emergency. 

Prolonged vomiting and/or diarrhea

A dog who vomits once or has a single loose bowel movement may not need urgent care. Still, it is worrisome if it becomes repeated vomiting and diarrhea and if the liquid is significantly bloody. 

Not eating or drinking

If a dog refuses to eat or drink for an entire day or longer, they are almost always sick. 

Exposure or ingestion of any poison or toxin

When to Take Your Dog to a Vet While some toxins can cause minor digestive upset, others can be lethal if not treated immediately. 

Most common dog toxicities that require immediate care include: 

  • Human foods such as chocolate, grapes, onions, garlic, macadamia nuts, gum
  • OTC and prescription medicine such as Advil, Tylenol, vitamins, antidepressants, birth control pills
  • Outdoor and indoor house plants such as Ivy are poisonous to dogs. Numerous other toxic plants are dangerous to dogs, which you can read in Puppy care guide: week by week
  • Rodenticides or rat and mouse bait have a sweet taste that attracts dogs. If not treated immediately, it can cause bleeding issues. 

Eye problems or eye injury

A small amount of discharge may not be an emergency, but there are some eye problems and symptoms that will require attention:

  • If a dog is in pain (pawing at the eye, squinting, sensitivity to the light)
  • A sudden change in color to one or both eyes
  • Swelling of the eyelids
  • One eye looks bigger than the other or “bulging”

Squatting to urinate without producing any urine

It is an emergency if a dog cannot pass urine. For male dogs, it could be a sign of crystals or stones in the urethra or a urinary tract infection for female dogs. 

Symptoms to look out for:

  • Straining to urinate but producing no urine or only small drips of urine produced
  • Bloody urine
  • Licking at the genitals frequently 

Severe pain

A dog that is in severe pain and agony will need immediate care. Symptoms of pain in dogs include: 

  • Vocalizing
  • Excessive panting, whining, shaking
  • Crying or yelping
  • Aggression
  • Growling
  • Reluctant to play or interact
  • Limping
  • Low posture
  • Become depressed and stop eating or drinking
  • Being quiet, less active, and hiding
  • Increased heart rate 

Saved by VetBot!

We highly recommend bringing your dog to their routine vet visits to prevent health issues and keep up with their puppy vaccination and vet schedule.

When to Take Your Dog to a Vet If there are warning signs that tell you that your dog is sick, consider using VetBot. This AI-driven veterinary assistant is merged into the Dogo app! You will be able to describe the details of your dog’s symptoms, and VetBot will help determine the possible cause of your dog’s health issue. In addition, it enables you to decide if you need to see your veterinarian immediately or if it can wait. 

If you think that your dog is experiencing a true emergency, then the best thing to do is call your vet or your local emergency veterinary hospital. They can help assess what you should do to keep your beloved companion safe and healthy. 

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