Pet Wise: What do to when urgent veterinary care is needed

As responsible pet owners we do our best to keep the animal members of the family safe and healthy. However, there will be times when a pet’s illness or injuries occur (suddenly or develop gradually) that make us ponder if a trip to the vet’s office or to a pet ER is needed or could be delayed. Today’s column is intended to help pet owners determine when a pet’s situation is truly an emergency.

The American Red Cross guides First Aid for Cats and Dogs advises owners to know what is normal for their pet by observing how the animal breathes, eats, drinks, walks, urinates and defecates. This may help owners to become alert to changes that might indicate problems. These First Aid Guides also provide information regarding what is normal for heart, breathing rate, and temperature.



  • Normal heart rate:
  • Puppies less than 1 year old: 120-160 beats per minute
  • Dogs 30 pounds or less: 100-140 beats per minute
  • Breeds greater than 30 pounds: 60-100 beats per minute
  • Normal breathing rate: 10-30 breaths per minute
  • Panting dogs: up to 200 pants per minute (mouth open and tongue out)
  • Normal temperature: 100 - 102.5 degrees

*A temperature lower than 100 degrees or higher than 104 F is an emergency so call the vet.


  • Normal heart rate: 160 -220 beats per minute
  • Normal breathing rate: 20 to 30 breaths per minute
  • *Cats rarely pant unless frightened or in distress and should not pant for a few minutes.
  • If panting goes on longer treat it as an emergency.
  • Normal body temperature: 100-102 F

In case of emergency

The Red Cross guides advise dog and cat owners to check the color of their pet’s gums and inner eyelids to determine if enough oxygen and blood are flowing to all tissues. Pink is the normal color, but if the color is pale, blue, yellow, cherry or brick red, or brown, a veterinarian should be called immediately.


The Merck Veterinary Manual compiled the following list of emergencies requiring immediate veterinary care for dogs and cats:

  • Severe trauma
  • Heat exhaustion or stroke
  • Frostbite or exposure to cold
  • Electric shock
  • Profuse bleeding from the nose, mouth, ears or rectum
  • Painful eyes with squinting, pupils that appear larger or smaller than usual, protruding eyeball
  • Frequent vomiting and/or diarrhea, with or without blood
  • Retching or unproductive vomiting, particularly if the stomach or abdomen looks bloated
  • Difficulty breathing or other respiratory distress
  • Collapse or coma
  • Paralysis or severe neck or back pain (arching, twisted)
  • Painful or bloated abdomen
  • Clusters of seizures within a 24-hour period or a seizure that does not stop after several minutes
  • Prolonged labor or difficulty giving birth
  • Suspected poisonings, insect bite reactions, snake bites
  • Extreme lethargy
  • Prolapse of the rectum

It pays to be prepared before an emergency occurs so have the following phone numbers that are easily assessable when needed: your vet’s office, a Pet ER, and the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center: (888-426-4435). Please note that there will be a consultation fee for this service so have a credit card available. Dr. Alana Velazquez (Westminster Veterinary Hospital) wanted to inform readers that if their pet is microchipped, some of the companies (such as Home Again) have the benefit of a free poison control consultations. The free phone call to poison control allows pet owners to receive quick advice to determine if they should seek immediate care and will be provided with a case number that a vet can call to get further advice if the vet is not familiar with the toxic substance.

If you suspect that your pet has an emergency situation, do not administer any over-the-counter (OTC) medications. Always call a veterinary hospital or Pet ER first before you leave to seek treatment for your pet. The receptionist will want you to describe your pet’s symptoms and condition so that the vet and staff can be prepared for your pet’s arrival. The receptionist may also suggest how to safely transport the pet (in a crate/ carrier or on the back seat of the vehicle with a calm passenger.

Keep in mind that most veterinary hospitals are closed at night, but fortunately there are Pet ERs in the area that are open all night. Most Pet ERs have specialized equipment like ultrasound for examining a pet’s internal organs and oxygen cages for animals in need of supportive care for cardiac and respiratory issues. Some Pet ERs share building space with veterinary specialists who may be called upon to evaluate and treat emergency care pet patients as well.


Dr. Laura Owens (Eldersburg Veterinary Hospital) stated: “It is my opinion, if your pet seems painful or distressed, and if you are concerned about your pet, it is worth calling the vet or taking it to be examined. She added that” It is difficult to assess the situation over the phone, so to be safe, an examination may be recommended.”

Reminder to dog owners

Don’t forget to purchase your dog’s 2018 Carroll County dog license!

It is a state law and requires that all dogs over 4 months old must have a license.

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