It’s late at night, on the weekend or even daylight mid-week.  Your veterinarian may or may not be open, but your dog or cat is in distress.  When MUST you not delay and get him to professional medical help?

Hopefully you know animal life-saving skills such as choking management, how to stop bleeding, treat for Shock and Heatstroke and how to perform Cardio Pulmonary Cerebral Resuscitation, however…


SITUATIONS THAT REQUIRE IMMEDIATE VETERINARY CARE, regardless of what first-aid techniques you perform, include:

  • Cardio and/or Pulmonary Arrest

Anytime you perform Rescue Breathing and/or CPR (even if pet is resuscitated – CPR isn’t a cure:  You haven’t administered anti-dote for poisoning, stopped internal bleeding or cured a disease), or whenever an animal is having difficulty breathing.

  • Trauma

Blow to the head, chest or abdomen or anytime an animal has been unconscious

  • Seizure

First-time seizure or tremors lasting more than five minutes.  In the case of an epileptic animal, a seizure lasting longer than is normal for that pet.

  • Balance Issues

Staggering or inability to maintain balance

  • Paralysis or loss of use of limb
  • Bleeding

Arterial or venous bleeding (severe blood loss), or any bleeding you can’t control within 5 minutes. Coughing up blood or bleeding from nose, eyes, ears, mouth or rectum; blood in urine

  • Intestinal/Kidney Stoppages

Inability to urinate or defecate or obvious train when attempting to do so

  • Heatstroke or Distress

Anytime body temperature has reached 104°F or higher, it is a medical emergency!

  • Burns (heat, chemical or electrical)
  • Eye Injuries & Prolapses (protrusions)

Injuries to the eye including sudden blindness, bulging or prolapse (also if to rectum, penis or vagina)

  • Won’t Drink

Pet refuses to drink for more than 24 hours

  • Vomit or Diarrhea (more than twice in 24 hours) or containing blood
  • Bones

Fractures or exposed bones or suspected muscle/tendon strains or tears

  • Wounds

Larger than 1” in length and/or more than ½” deep including bites and especially those which are prone to abscesses and infections; puncture wounds especially to the chest

  • Poisoning

Ingested, inhaled, absorbed including venomous snakes, scorpions, jelly fish and spiders.

  • Shock

Depletion of oxygen to the body due to blood loss, trauma, anaphylaxis or pulmonary/cardiac arrest.  Capillary Refill Time (CRT) is greater than 2 seconds.

  • Bloat (distended abdomen)


For any of the above, do calm, effective and immediate first-aid to prevent further injury and make the pet more comfortable, then…GET TO YOUR Veterinarian AT ONCE!


If at any time you notice these Basic Signs of Injury or Illness in your pet, the animal’s health needs to be addressed. Canines are pack animals and it is in their best interest in the wild to not let on when they are hurt, so this often carries down to our domestic pets, especially if you have a multi-dog household. An animal who is injured or weakened can lose his place in the hierarchy, so he’ll do his best to keep symptoms hidden. It therefore is your task to seek out anything that is not right with your pet by performing weekly head-to-tail exams at home.

  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Tenderness/Lameness
  • Open sores
  • Bleeding, pus or discharge from any orifice or wound
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Rapid or decreased heart rate
  • Excessive panting
  • Frequent or infrequent urination
  • Vomiting/diarrhea/constipation
  • Restlessness
  • Lethargy
  • Change in eating/drinking habits
  • Anything that is not normal for YOUR pet may not be right!

Communication with your Veterinarian is always important and you should always feel comfortable seeking out their guidance, expertise and assistance. YOU are the voice for your dog or cat who cannot speak for himself.  Be proactive by getting regular check-ups, reading pet food labels, ensuring your pet gets daily exercise and regular grooming and an abundance of quality time spent with you…his or her best friend!

Denise Fleck is an award winning author & radio show host, and a Pet First-Aid & CPR instructor who has personally taught more than 15,000 humans animal life saving skills and millions more via national television appearances.  She has authored 10 books including “The Pet Safety Bible,” and offers pet tips twice weekly at  Learn more at