If your pet experiences an emergency situation, receiving prompt veterinary attention improves their survival chances. However, some pets conceal illness signs, to avoid making themselves vulnerable. Our team at Kennedy Heights Animal and Bird Hospital reviews signs that indicate an emergency, to help you determine when your pet—whether furry, feathered, or scaly— requires immediate veterinary care.

Veterinary emergencies in dogs and cats

Numerous issues can result in your dog and cat needing veterinary emergency care. These include:

  • Trauma — Common traumatic events include traffic accidents, falls, gunshot wounds, and animal fights. 
  • Collapse — Conditions that could cause your pet to collapse include heart disease, vascular disease, hemorrhage, respiratory disease, poisoning, neurological disease, and musculoskeletal disease.
  • Difficulty breathing — If your pet is in respiratory distress, you will notice increased abdominal movement when they inhale and exhale, noisy breathing, and possibly, pale or blue-tinged mucous membranes. 
  • Vomiting — Vomiting is not always a cause for concern, but if your pet also exhibits other signs, such as diarrhea, fever, lethargy, pain, or abdominal distention, they should be seen by a veterinary professional. Also, vomiting continuously, or retching unproductively, indicate an emergency.
  • Straining to urinate — A urinary tract blockage can cause bladder rupture and kidney failure, and must be alleviated as soon as possible.

Veterinary emergencies in pet birds

Birds are a prey species, and are therefore excellent at concealing illness signs. Indications of a veterinary emergency include:

  • Fluffed bird — When a bird’s feathers are elevated, this is a general indication that they are ill, and will need further diagnostics to determine the problem.
  • Sitting on the cage floor — Most birds prefer to perch in the highest location possible, so sitting on the cage floor indicates the bird is not feeling well.
  • Broken blood feather — When a blood feather is damaged, significant, acute bleeding can occur. Acceptable blood loss in birds is 1 mL per 100 grams of body weight, which means controlling the bleeding is vital to their survival.

Veterinary emergencies in pet rabbits

Rabbits also tend to hide illness signs. Issues that should be addressed with emergency veterinary care include:

  • Flystrike — Flies are attracted by damp fur soiled by urine and feces. These flies can lay up to 200 eggs on the skin, which can hatch maggots in hours. The maggots grow by feeding on the rabbit’s flesh, and they can cover a large area quickly.
  • Anorexia — The smallest change in your rabbit’s appetite can indicate illness. You may also notice a reduction in the size or amount of fecal pellets. These are signs that your rabbit is suffering from gastrointestinal stasis, a painful, serious condition.
  • Mouth breathing — Rabbits breathe through their nose, so if they are open-mouth breathing, they are in severe distress.
  • Fecal changes — If you notice that your rabbit’s droppings have become smaller, harder, or decreased in number, seek veterinary care immediately. These fecal changes can indicate GI stasis (i.e., slowed GI motility), which can cause serious problems in rabbits.

Veterinary emergencies in pet ferrets

Conditions that constitute a veterinary emergency for ferrets include:

  • Seizures — Hypoglycemia is the most common reason ferrets seizure, but other causes include electrolyte disorders, intoxication, liver problems, and hypothyroidism.
  • Anemia — Causes include gastrointestinal ulceration, trauma, and rodenticide poisoning. Estrogen toxicity can also cause anemia in intact females, because persistent estrus leads to bone marrow suppression.
  • Gastrointestinal obstruction — Foreign body ingestion is common in ferrets, with signs that include anorexia, lethargy, and diarrhea. Older ferrets can develop large hairballs that can cause intestinal obstruction. 

Veterinary emergencies in pet guinea pigs

Conditions that constitute a veterinary emergency for guinea pigs include:

  • Heat stress — Guinea pigs are heat-sensitive, and can overheat easily in temperatures higher than 85 degrees. Signs include lethargy, panting, drooling, and seizures.
  • Pneumonia — Guinea pigs naturally harbor many bacteria that can cause disease if the pig is stressed from other illnesses, overcrowding, or pregnancy. Signs include decreased appetite, ocular and nasal discharge, and trouble breathing.
  • Scurvy — Guinea pigs cannot produce their own vitamin C, and if their diet does not include enough supplements, they can develop scurvy. Signs include an unkempt coat, decreased appetite, diarrhea, lethargy, swollen feet or joints, and ulcers on their gums or skin.

Veterinary emergencies in reptiles

Conditions that constitute a veterinary emergency for reptiles include:

  • Impactions — Reptiles can develop a gastrointestinal impaction from eating bedding or feeder insects that are too large or hard-shelled, low temperatures in their environment, and dehydration. Signs include lethargy, anorexia, difficulty breathing, and straining to defecate.
  • Burns — Reptiles can be burned from hot rocks, heat pads, and heat lamps. In severe cases, the skin may be charred or melted away. In milder cases, signs include swelling, drying, or blanching to the scales. In some cases, the skin and scales turn yellow-brown, and develop a moist film at the edges.
  • Egg binding — Female egg-laying reptiles can produce eggs when a male is not present, and this process can be compromised if the reptile is ill, malnourished, injured, or kept at inappropriate temperatures. Signs include lethargy, anorexia, straining, and a swollen cloaca.

Veterinary emergencies are upsetting situations, but getting your pet the care they need as quickly as possible improves their prognosis. If you are concerned your pet is experiencing an emergency, contact our American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA)-accredited team at Kennedy Heights Animal and Bird Hospital, to ensure they get the care they need.