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Common Emergencies

Information about common emergencies and what to do



These appear either as a firm painful swelling or already burst and producing a variety of creamy too blood-stained discharges. These can start as a puncture wound commonly from cat fights; from penetrating foreign bodies such as splinters or grass seeds; or on the face from tooth infections. Unless the animal is significantly distressed, these will usually not be true emergencies. If the abscess has burst, initial care should be simply bathing the affected area with cooled boiled water. Disinfectants may be irritating and should be avoided. Try to encourage any remaining contents to drain from the abscess. Be aware that the area may be sore and do not attempt to clean the wound if your animal is trying to bite or scratch you.  
Make an appointment with your clinic to get the wound assessed. 

Minor Wounds 

Not all cuts and grazes need urgent attention. If the wound is small and shallow, and away from the eyes, mouth or other orifices, then they should be cleaned with cooled boiled water (or if that is unavailable, just clean water). Do not use disinfectants or any human disinfectant creams. The biggest issue with small injuries, especially in dogs, is the damage caused by the animal trying to keep the area clean. If the dog tries to lick at a wound use a muzzle or a buster collar to protect the area. If there is a wound that is bleeding, apply firm pressure to the area and contact the duty vet. 



Gastric dilation volvulus or GDV is an uncommon emergency where the stomach twists. It commonly occurs when a pet has been exercised shortly after eating a meal or consuming a lot of air when drinking. After the stomach twists, it rapidly fills with gas caused by fermentation of the stomach contents causing pain and severe illness. Your pet will commonly look as though they are trying to be sick but not bring anything up. 
If you have concerns your dog is showing these signs, contact the surgery immediately. 

Kennel Cough

Kennel Cough

The most common cause of coughing in dogs is Kennel Cough. This is not limited to dogs who have been in kennels – it can be easily picked up from passing contact on the street, at dog shows, training classes, and so on. Kennel cough rarely causes acute life-threatening problems, but if you are concerned, please contact the duty vet. It is relatively uncommon for animals to inhale foreign bodies, but if they do, it generally causes a persistent cough and the animal is unlikely to want to eat or drink. If your dog is coughing non-stop then please contact the duty vet as soon as possible. 

Ears, Eyes and Itchy Skin

Ear Problems

Most ear infections are not emergencies, but if the animal is distressed and you cannot stop them from scratching or shaking their ears, then they may cause significant further damage if the ear is left untreated. A buster collar may help if you have one to hand that fits well.  

Occasionally, swelling of the ear flap may occur either from the damage caused by scratching and shaking, or from trauma, this is known as an aural haematoma.  The swelling is caused by blood leaking into the space between the skin and the cartilage of the ear flap. Unless the animal is significantly distressed, these are usually okay to leave until the clinic reopens for routine work 

Eye Problems

These are difficult to give firm advice about over the phone.  Minor eye infections will wait until the clinic is open – these are usually characterised by a creamy discharge and the eye being either partially shut, or covered partially by the third eyelid (a pale flap which arises from the nose side of the eye).  

More significant eye problems, especially if there is pain and/or swelling will often require an emergency appointment. In case of doubt, please phone the duty vet to describe your pet’s symptoms. 

Itchy Skin

Pets can itch for many different reasons – allergies, irritation from the environment etc.  Most pets with itchy skin are not considered emergencies and an appointment can be made for when the surgery is next open.  However if your pet is extremely distressed, they have broken the skin and there is bleeding or it is accompanied by any other signs you can contact the duty vet to discuss the problem. 

Urinary Tract Infections

Bladder Infections

Bladder infections or UTI’s can be a cause for concern.  Whilst many are not emergencies there is some circumstances where prompt veterinary treatment is essential.  Bladder infections commonly cause your pet to pass urine more frequently and often there is blood in it, if your pet is well in itself they usually do not require an emergency appointment.  However, if they are frequently straining and not passing any urine at all or very small amounts it is best to contact the duty vet to discuss. 



Many minor injuries will wait until the surgery is open during normal hours, but if you feel your animal may have a serious injury or seems to be in distress, then please phone the duty vet for further advice.   More serious injuries that may require emergency attention could show signs such as swelling, inability to bear any weight on the affected limb or the limb sitting at an unnatural angle.   

Broken nails can be a common occurrence and often do not require emergency treatment.  If it looks as though there is a piece of nail still attached or your pet seems to be in a lot of discomfort, please contact the clinic when next open.  If there is bleeding that will not stop an emergency appointment may be needed, please contact the duty vet to discuss these cases.   

Toxicity Ingestions

Chocolate Ingestion

Chocolate is toxic to dogs, however, it would depend on the amount and type of chocolate consumed, as well as the size of your dog. This will influence if they need seen as an emergency and what treatment is needed. You can use the Vets Now Online Chocolate Calculator to check - https://www.vets-now.com/app/chocolate-calculator  

Dark chocolate, cocoa powder or any products with a high percentage of cocoa in them (cakes, brownies etc) are more harmful even in small amounts. Please contact the duty vet to discuss what action may be needed. 

Toxin Ingestion

Our pets can be very good at getting into things they are not supposed to, some of which can cause them to become seriously unwell. If you have a suspicion that your pet has eaten or chewed something they are not supposed to, it may be best to contact the duty vet to discuss any possible action that may be needed. It is important to give the duty vet as much information as possible including; what has been eaten, how much has been eaten and the weight of your pet. Labels and packaging especially from medicines or chemical products can be very useful information for the veterinary team.   



Most cats, and many breeds of dog, will usually give birth with no intervention. Again, there are no hard and fast rules to govern when veterinary attention is required. It is certainly not uncommon for there to be an hour or more between the birth of individual puppies or kittens, but if the mother is becoming weak; if there is a period of intense straining without the production of a further puppy/kitten; or if you have any other concerns, then you should contact the duty vet. 

Vomiting and Diarrhoea

Vomiting and Diarrhoea 

Pets can present frequently with these symptoms to the veterinary practice but a lot of these cases can be self-limiting and treated at home.  If your pet is bright and well otherwise, feeding a light diet, little and often, for a couple of days, can often be enough to resolve the problem.   

Times where it may be necessary to see the vet;  

  • If your pet is no better after 3 days, or the symptoms are getting progressively worse symptoms 
  • If there is evidence of blood in either the vomit or the faeces – blood in the stool can frequently have the consistency of raspberry jam due to the presence of mucous produced. 
  • You have a very young or elderly pet as these animals can be more susceptible to dehydration or other complications from vomiting and diarrhoea.