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San Bruno Pet Hospital 1111 El Camino Real
San Bruno, CA 94066
Phone: (650) 583-5039
Fax: (650) 763-8620

Hospital Hours
M-F: 7:30a-6p
Sat: 8a-5p
Appointment Hours
M-F 8:30a-5:30p
Sat: 8:30a-4:30p

After Hours Emergency
Emergency Clinic


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What to Do Before You Get to San Bruno Pet in 12 Emergency Dog Situations


If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call San Bruno Pet -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.

Sick Dog Some health crises need immediate veterinary attention, but your help also is crucial.
Dr. Eric Barchas

The June Newsletter discussed a dozen of the most common and serious canine veterinary emergencies. Once you recognize such an emergency, please do your best to get to our office as soon as possible.

But dogs can’t magically and instantly be transported to the hospital. If your dog is suffering an emergency you will have to drive, or take a taxi, or arrange for a ride. If you’re on a walk you’ll need to get home, or call someone to help you transport your pet. If your dog has collapsed and he is too big for you to lift you will need to find someone to help you get him into the car.

In other words, in the unfortunate event of a veterinary emergency, there will be a period of time — often a very stressful period of time — when you may be solely responsible for helping your pet. This article is designed to help you get through that time should it ever come (and I hope it does not).

There are some general rules that apply to all emergencies. The first and most important rule of dealing with veterinary emergencies is to stay calm. I know from ample first hand experience that following this rule is easier said than done, but please try your best. Another important rule is to avoid injury to yourself (painful dogs often bite their owners, even when it’s completely out of character) and your pet (seizing dogs may fall down stairs). Also, please try not to make the situation worse inadvertently. Giving ibuprofen to an injured dog creates a second problem (potential ibuprofen toxicity), and giving water to a vomiting dog (with the intention of preventing dehydration) may provoke more vomiting and more dehydration. Finally, be sure to call us while you’re on your way so that we can prepare for your arrival.

Let’s run through June’s list of emergencies, with specific recommendations for each one.
  1. Difficulty breathing
    There are two major enemies of dogs with breathing difficulties: stress and heat. Both dramatically increase oxygen demand. To make matters worse, difficulty breathing is stressful itself, which can increase oxygen demand, make it harder to breathe, and increase stress levels. This may lead to a dangerous feedback cycle. The first rule of veterinary emergencies applies especially strongly to dogs who are having trouble breathing, because an upset owner may lead to a stressed-out dog.

    Dogs who are having trouble breathing should be kept calm and soothed to the degree appropriate for the individual dog. Fresh, cool circulating air (such as can be provided by a car’s air conditioner) should be available but not forced upon the dog — blasting the air conditioner in his face may increase his stress level. Please try to do everything you can to keep stress levels low en route to the vet, and be sure to call us on your way so we can be prepared for your arrival.

  2. Bloat
    There is very little that can be done at home to help a dog with gastric dilatation with volvulus (GDV, or simply bloat). I recommend that your focus be on getting to the vet as soon as possible. Your dog may be in shock, and his abdomen will be very painful. The nature of bloat makes it impossible to administer anything by mouth, so I don’t recommend offering food, water, or medicine orally. If it is necessary to help him into the car, avoid contacting the area between his last rib and his rear legs. Lift slowly and gently (with one arm in front of his front legs, and the other behind his hind limbs), but remember that even friendly dogs may bite the faces of people who contact their abdomens when they are bloated.

  3. Seizures
    Seizing dogs suffer from uncontrollable muscle contractions. This includes the jaw muscles.  If any part of your body gets near the mouth of a seizing dog it may be badly bitten. Unfortunately, the myth that seizing dogs can swallow their tongues somehow is still being propagated. I have seen many owners’ hands mauled after they tried to grab a seizing dog’s tongue. I also have seen quite a few fractured dog teeth after owners used screwdrivers or other tools to try to access a seizing dog’s tongue. Please don’t worry about the tongue being swallowed.

    Instead, I recommend that you focus on your dog’s surroundings. If he is at the top of a flight of stairs, use a pillow to prevent him from falling. If he is at the foot of a book case, don’t let him knock it over. Wait one to two minutes for the seizure to end, and then head to the hospital with your pet. If the seizure lasts longer than two minutes, use a thick blanket to pick up your dog and place him in a carrier or in the car, taking great care not to be bitten. Please resist the urge to cover him with the blanket while driving, since seizures cause high body temperature. When you get to our office, let our staff take over.

  4. Collapse or profound weakness
    I recommend that you not delay, and that you not administer medications, since they might actually cause more harm than good. Avoid stress, high temperatures, and contact with the abdomen.

  5. Profuse hemorrhage or major known trauma
    If your dog is bleeding, apply gentle continuous pressure to the area with a towel or something similar, but only if it can be done without causing significant pain. Take care to be gentle, since aggressive pressure may cause pain and provoke a bite. The same principle applies to dogs who have suffered major trauma. They may be in significant pain, and contact with the traumatized area may exacerbate that pain and trigger a bite. Dogs (even the world’s friendliest) in severe pain are very likely to bite if touched in the wrong spot. When in doubt, use a thick blanket as a sling to help the dog into a carrier or into the car.

  6. Protracted vomiting or diarrhea
    Owners of dogs with severe gastrointestinal symptoms often worry, correctly, about dehydration.  However, severe vomiting generally is associated with severe irritation of the stomach. Severely inflamed stomachs may respond with more vomiting if they come into contact with water or food.  Therefore, dogs with protracted vomiting and diarrhea should not be fed or offered water. Rather, they should come  in for injectable fluids and resting of the GI tract.

  7. Struggling to urinate
    The key to this problem is not to let it go on for any longer than necessary. Please call as soon as you realize something’s wrong. Try not to cause pain to your dog by pressing on her bladder. Your dog’s bladder is in the abdomen near the hind legs, so try to avoid pressure to that area.

  8. Not eating or drinking
    Again, it’s best not to let it go on for too long. Try not to let time slip by while trying multiple different foods and hoping that the problem is merely one of palatability. If your dog won’t consume foods that he generally loves, that is a sign of a problem.

  9. Coughing
    Excitement, activity, stimulation of the throat, and stress tend to exacerbate coughing. I recommend that you stay calm, avoid neck leads, and remember that coughing sometimes is accompanied by difficulty breathing — the No. 1 veterinary emergency.

  10. Loss of use of the rear legs
    Dogs who are “down in the rear” may be in substantial pain; that pain often is felt most strongly in the back (small breeds) or hips (large breeds). These dogs will need to be lifted into the car.  Lift very slowly and gently, supporting the entire back as you do so and taking care not to be bitten.  If you can, please transport your dog here in a carrier or crate and keep the carrier as level as possible.  Please do not administer non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) such as Rimadyl, aspirin, or Metacam — these medications may significantly interfere with our ability to treat the problem. Human painkillers such as ibuprofen or naproxen (Aleve) can be toxic to dogs, so it’s best to avoid them as well.

  11. Severe pain
    Please avoid human painkillers -- they can be toxic to dogs. And please consult with us before administering any NSAIDs — as above, such medications may interfere with other treatments. It may be necessary to use a blanket to sling your dog into the car. Remember that even the friendliest dogs may bite their owners when they are in pain.

  12. Known exposure to toxins
    My biggest piece of advice is to call us or the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center (at 888-426-4435) as soon as you realize that your dog has consumed something inappropriate. I recommend that you do not administer hydrogen peroxide or salt (two commonly used substances that sometimes cause vomiting) since both can be dangerous even if they work (and they often do not). Toxicological emergencies are complex, and home treatment should be avoided.  Immediate veterinary attention can make a huge difference in outcome.

I hope that you and your dog never find yourselves in an emergency situation. But if you do, I hope that these suggestions help you both through the crisis.

by Dr. Eric Barchas, DVM
Medical Director of San Bruno Pet Hospital