Veterinary Specialty and
Emergency Center (VSEC)

215-750-7884 - (Levittown)

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Animal Poison Control


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You are the best judge of whether your pet's condition constitutes an emergency, and deciding how to respond is ultimately up to you. When in doubt, call us or an emergency clinic. It is always better to be safe than sorry.

However, here are some situations that are always emergencies, and require immediate attention. Theseare definitely not the only emergency situations you could encounter, but they're a few of the most common. Some may seem obvious, others less so - all should be taken very seriously.

  • Being hit by a car or involved in a car accident.

    Even if your pet seems fine - not a scratch on him - an immediate exam is always a good idea. Head injuries, internal bleeding, and other possible consequences of trauma are not always visible and may not be obvious right away.

  • Falling more than a few feet (less for smaller pets).

    As with car accidents, internal injuries may not be noticeable right away; a prompt exam is always best.

  • Any wound that has been bleeding more than 5 minutes without slowing or stopping, even if pressure is applied (or you are unable to apply pressure).

    Use your common sense; if your pet is bleeding profusely, don't wait 5 minutes.

  • Any burn larger than the size of a dime (smaller in kittens and puppies).

    Burns are very painful and very prone to infection. With large burns, there may also be further damage that you can't see under the wound on the skin.

  • Sudden disorientation, staggering, or collapse.

    This could indicate anything from heat stroke to heart disease; get it checked out right away.

  • Not urinating for more than 24 hours.

    This could indicate a urinary obstruction, which is potentially fatal. In male cats, sludge in the bladder can build up and block the urethra, preventing urination and eventually damaging the kidneys or causing the bladder to rupture. In female cats or in dogs, obstruction is less common but still possible, particularly if there are bladder or kidney stones (something you probably wouldn't know about beforehand; bladder and kidney stones can form with no symptoms at all.)

  • Not drinking for more than 24 hours.

    Water is vital to life and dehydration can cause organ damage; don't wait to see if it gets better.

  • In cats, not eating for more than 24 hours.

    After only a day or two without food, damage to the liver can begin, so it is imperative that a cat who is not eating get treatment quickly - you may not need to rush him in this minute, but it cannot wait until tomorrow. Small pets like guinea pigs and rabbits may develop life-threatening complications from not eating even within a day, and no animal should go more than 48 hours without eating.

  • A temperature above 104 degrees Fahrenheit.

    If you have thermometer at home, you can check your pet's temperature if he just seems off. If you don't, again, common sense is key - if your pet feels unusually hot to the touch (especially after being outside in the heat, or along with other symptoms like vomiting or lethargy), get her checked out. Remember, however, that pets' temperatures are normally higher than people's, and don't panic unnecessarily - up to 102.5 degrees can be normal for a dog.

  • Continuous vomiting or diarrhea.

    Vomiting or having diarrhea continuously - literally continuously, or multiple times within an hour - can lead to dehydration or GI ulceration - not to mention it's just not fun. It requires a same-day exam.

  • Vomiting or diarrhea with a signficant amount of blood.

    A slight bloody tinge, while still cause for concern, isn't necessarily an emergency - but a substantial amount of blood is. What constitutes "substantial" depends somewhat on the size of the pet, but anything more than teaspoon should get checked out right away, even in a large dog. Remember, too, that blood in vomit or diarrhea may not be red - digested blood will look black, like tar or coffee grounds.

  • Ingestion of any potential toxin.

    Plants, medications, vitamins, household cleaners, herbicides or pesticides, and even some human foods can be toxic to pets. The ASPCA has a good list of what's toxic and what's not; if your pet has eaten something that's not on the list (or is on the toxic list!), call Animal Poison Control at 888-426-4435 right away, and follow their directions. (This is a pay service; remember that human poison control lines are subsidized, while this one is not - they have to pay the doctors who are there for your pet 24 hours a day.)

  • Any fight with another animal.

    If your pet was shaken in the course of the fight, there could be internal injury that you can't see. Even minor bite wounds might benefit from antibiotic treatment. And if your pet tangled with a wild animal, he may need his Rabies vaccine boostered. (Don't try to clean a bite of unknown origin at home; protect yourself and your family from Rabies by bringing your pet to professionals who know how to minimize the risk of human infection. If it is impossible to handle your pet without coming into contact with the wounds or wet fur, use latex gloves.)

  • Any crushing injury - accidentally stepping or falling on your pet, or an object falling on your pet.

    Obviously, if you catch a bit of fuzz off the tip of your pet's tail or bump her toe, this is not what we mean - we mean you accidentally stepped on the kitten's back, or a bookcase fell over and landed on the dog. Where there was a significant amount of weight impacting your pet, get her checked out, even if she seems fine.

  • Any incident of abuse or suspected abuse.

    Hopefully you'll never have to deal with this issue, but it can happen, particularly if your pet goes outside and may interact with others without your supervision. Abuse of animals is often the first sign that someone may go on to abuse people; getting your pet the help he needs and reporting the incident is not only the right thing to do for your pet, but also for your community and often for the abuser him or herself.

Once again - this list is not comprehensive. If you're in doubt, play it safe and seek treatment!