When Should You Call the Emergency Vet Hotline?

emergency vet hotline

It can be very scary when your pet has a medical problem or emergency and your veterinarian is closed. Maybe it is a holiday, after-hours, or a weekend. Many pet owners want to know when they should call the emergency vet hotline. On one hand you don’t want to call too soon and bother them but on the other hand, you don’t want to wait too long. Here are tips to help you decide when to call.

First, what is an emergency? As an emergency veterinarian, I tell my clients an emergency is literally anything that causes you concern about your pet. You know your dog and cat best. You know when there is something wrong. If you are worried about something, then call. I’d rather pet owners’ call and ask. Maybe I can alleviate their concerns over the phone. Or maybe I can get the pet in sooner and more effectively treat the pet’s problem or even save their life.

The 3 Most Common Reasons Dog and Cat Owners Call the Emergency Vet Hotline

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of emergencies that can occur to dogs and cats. The links in the articles below can help you understand more about these common problems and what the problems may cost. The most common emergencies are as follows:

52 Reasons to Call the Emergency Vet Hotline

It is important to know when to call the emergency vet hotline. Below are reasons to call.

Toxins, Insecticides and Medications Ingestion

A big category of reasons to call is a pet that eats something they shouldn’t. Some items are extremely dangerous and toxic when ingested. Some items can be fatal. Some toxins can be effectively treated if your veterinarian knows about them immediately.

Call the emergency vet hotline if your pet ingests any of the following toxins or medications:

  • Rat Poison of any kind or baits such as Metaldehyde (common snail and slug bait). These can be extremely dangerous. If you catch it early, you vet may induce vomiting.
  • Ingestion of any kind of cleaning chemicals such as Bathroom Cleaners, Bleach, Lysol and Other Corrosives.
  • Ingestion of Antifreeze can cause kidney failure and be life-threatening.
  • Any over-the-counter medications such as Aspirin, Ibuprofen (Advil), Naproxen, or Acetaminophen (Tylenol).
  • All prescription human medications including blood pressure medications, amphetamines (commonly used diet pills or mood elevators), estrogen medications, and more.
  • Nicotine. Nicotine can be toxic. It is found in a variety of sources, primarily cigarettes, cigars, tobacco, nicotine gum, and nicotine patches.
  • Exposure to Illicit drugs such as Cocaine, Ecstasy, Heroin, Marijuana and any other.
  • Ingestion of vitamins. Some vitamins can be toxic in high doses.
  • Ant traps are generally not toxic but the plastic can cause a foreign body problem. Call to be sure.
  • Licking or eating Potpourri. The liquid variety can be very caustic and be extremely dangerous.
  • Lead can be toxic.
  • Ingestion of coins can not only cause a foreign body and get stuck in the gastrointestinal tract but some coins contain zinc and can cause life-threatening zinc toxicity.
  • Exposure to insecticides that were not prescribed for your specific pet such as carbamate insecticides, organophosphate insecticides, and/or pyrethrin and permethrin insecticides. Amitraz is an insecticide used in some brands of dog tick collars and topical solutions that can also be toxic. Using dog products on cats can be highly toxic and deadly.
  • Overdoses of a pet’s regular medication can be dangerous such as ivermectin, carprofen (Rimadyl) or any other medication. Flavored medications can be especially attractive to dogs.

Just as it is important to know what is toxic, this article is also helpful to know what is nontoxic. Go to: Non-toxic Items Commonly Eaten by Dogs.

Dangerous Food Ingestion

Call the emergency vet hotline if your pet ingests any of the following foods:

  • Chocolate ingestion. Some types of chocolate are more toxic than others.
  • Corncobs can become lodged in the intestine and require surgery to remove.
  • Mushrooms.
  • Grape and Raisins.
  • Bread dough.
  • Food with mold.
  • Onions.
  • Bones can be dangerous to dogs.
  • Chewing gum or other baked goods that contain xylitol.
  • Peanut butter that contains xylitol.

Learn more about dangerous foods in this very good article.

Trauma and Accidents

The following problems can be life-threatening. Please call your veterinarian or veterinary emergency hotline if your pet suffers from any of the following:

  • Hit by a moving vehicle such
  • Bite wounds
  • Lacerations or punctures
  • Exposure to heat such as closed in car or sun

Things that Can’t be Digested

Ingestion of anything plastic, metal, rock or fabric density that cannot be digested can become lodged in the stomach or intestines.

Dangerous Symptoms

The following symptoms can be life-threatening and can quickly lead to death. Please call your veterinarian or veterinary emergency hotline if you see the following problems with your pet:

  1. Unproductive vomiting or retching
  2. Seizures
  3. Trouble breathing
  4. New onset coughing
  5. Lethargy
  6. Trouble walking
  7. Inability to use the back legs or walk
  8. Falling over to one side
  9. Pale mucous membranes
  10. Straining to urinate or nonproductive urinations
  11. Straining to defecate
  12. Blood in the urine
  13. Blood in the vomit
  14. Blood in the feces
  15. Open wounds such as lacerations
  16. Vomiting and diarrhea
  17. Disorientation or other changes in mental awareness
  18. Pain
  19. Lameness or trouble walking
  20. Fever
  21. Hives or swellings
  22. Decreased appetite or anorexia
  23. Excessive itching

What Number Do You Call for the Emergency Vet Hotline

The best number to call when you have a dog or cat emergency is your veterinarian. If your vet is available or open, they may see you immediately. If not, their answering machine generally guides you to the best place to go in your area.


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