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Many of us grew up hearing that as long our pet had a wet nose, he or she was in good health. In truth, there are many signs that we as pet parents need to be
aware of in order to ensure our furkids are happy, healthy and comfortable.

It can be difficult to decide whether or not to rush off to the vet immediately, or if it’s okay to leave something until the next day. Twisted Whiskers has put together a
list of 10 pet emergencies that can’t be ignored and that need veterinary attention as a matter of urgency. We’ve also made a handy list of essentials for your home Pet First Aid Kit.

Dogs and cats may suffer injury to their eyes in a variety of ways, like running into twigs in the garden, fights or tumbles with other pets, etc.

Any damage to the structure of the eye, be it a scratch or a visible ulcerated area on the cornea, needs to be seen by a vet immediately, as your pet’s sight may be permanently affected if not taken care of as a matter of urgency. Corneal injuries are also very painful, and pets usually keep the eye closed. NEVER be tempted to use eye drops prescribed previously, no matter how similar the symptoms. There are a couple of reasons for this. Using the incorrect medication for a condition may do more harm than good. Eye drops have a shelf life and need to be stored correctly (some require refrigeration), or used up and thrown away within a prescribed time period, after which they are no longer safe to use. Eye infections, too, are very painful and pets can cause further trauma to the eye by rubbing or scratching. The worst form of eye injury, and one that requires emergency attention, is where the eye-ball pops out of its socket as a result of a blow to the head.

The most serious cause of a suddenly swollen abdomen is gastric torsion (also known as GDV or “bloat”), where the stomach sometimes twists on itself, closing off the entrance or exit to the gut. The contents ferment and gas and fluid build-up rapidly, distending the stomach to a dangerous size, affecting breathing and blood circulation. This is one of the most common causes of death in dogs, second only to cancer! Most at risk are large breeds, and those with deep chests. If your dog’s chest and tummy are very tight to the touch, he is trying to vomit (unsuccessfully, managing only to get rid of foamy saliva), if he’s pacing and whining and visibly anxious, or looking weak, GET TO THE VET IMMEDIATELY. This is ‘blue lights and sirens’ stuff, as time is crucial!

Bloat can be prevented by feeding your dog smaller portions of food (ideally twice or 3 times per day, instead of one big meal), and ensuring that he doesn’t drink lots of water or run around madly before or after eating. Good quality premium veterinary diets are best as they contain more protein and the types of carbohydrates that are less likely to absorb a lot of water and bulk out in the stomach. The recommended portion sizes are also lower in good quality diets, making them safe for dogs in the At Risk categories.

Any bleeding that doesn’t stop within 5 minutes of careful pressure applied to the wound should be seen by a vet. The cause of the injury also affects how serious it is: a torn nail or a cut on the ear or tail may bleed a lot but these wounds are not serious. However any puncture wounds can be a lot more dangerous than they look. They may not bleed much, and puncture wounds are often dismissed as less serious than wounds that spurt fountains of blood. However, the shearing damage done by teeth, powerful jaws, or a foreign object to the tissues and structures under the skin are invisible from the outside and are often life-threatening. Any deep puncture wounds introduce bacteria and may affect internal structures like muscles and organs. They need prompt expert evaluation, cleaning and usually antibiotics to prevent abscesses and death of the tissue, besides pain management. Bleeding from nose, ears or rectum should be treated as an emergency too.

Many tummy upsets are caused by dietary indiscretion, not so fondly known as “garbage disease” and should resolve within 24 hours. Any vomiting or diarrhoea that happens multiple times in a day and is accompanied by pain, prevents the pet from keeping water down, or has blood in it, needs to be treated as an emergency, especially if the pet seems listless. If your pet is a young pup or kitty, or a “golden oldie” with some other health concerns like heart and kidney issues, vomiting and diarrhoea should always be viewed as serious.

No dog or cat will voluntarily go on a hunger strike for a prolonged period – there is always a good reason for inappetance. Even pets who are picky eaters tend to have a routine and they seldom miss meals or snacks all day without sampling a little of what’s on offer. Some pets might regularly miss a meal or two but if they are otherwise perky and behave normally and aren’t losing weight as a result, it may not be cause to worry. If the disinterest in food is accompanied by other symptoms like lethargy, vomiting, diarrhoea (especially if both occur together), pain or other unusual behaviour, you guessed it, off to the vet immediately!

Blood in the urine, or reddishbrown urine may be a symptom of a number of different health concerns, including biliary, prostatitis or a bladder infection. Straining to urinate is of particular concern and needs to be treated as a life-threatening emergency in male dogs and cats!


This may be the result of your pet choking on something, exercising to a level that is too taxing for his weight or age, a throat infection or possibly an underlying heart condition. If you have a brachycephalic breed like a bulldog, pug or peke, or a Persian cat, be extra-vigilant about any difficulties in breathing – your pet’s airway is extremely cramped, making breathing a lifelong challenge. Anything outside of the normal snorting and snuffling should be treated as serious and warrants a veterinary visit. It goes without saying that no dogs should be exercised strenuously in the heat of the day, as heatstroke is a very real danger. If you notice that your dog is panting excessively with a purplish tinge to the tongue and gums after exercise or on a very hot day, has a rapid heart-rate, a high temperature (above 40 degrees C) and is clearly distressed, hose him down immediately with cool water and cover him with cold, wet towels. Have a fan or air-conditioning unit blow over his body and get him to the vet at breakneck speed.

If your pet favours a leg or is unable to get up after lying down, get him checked out at the earliest opportunity. Mobility problems as a result of osteoarthritis are common in older pets and, sadly, they’re often passed off as “part of getting old”. Your vet will be able to differentiate between arthritis and possibly something more
sinister. Regardless of their age, our pets deserve to be pain free and given the opportunity to participate in all the activities they enjoy. There is an array of pain management options and therapeutic diets which can make the world of difference to your furkid’s quality of life. Lameness in younger animals is usually the result of some sort of injury, a developmental bone issue or over-enthusiastic play. If the lameness persists past a few days without improvement, your pet can’t carry any weight on the limb or the symptom appears to come and go in the same limb, a vet visit is called for.

If you suspect your dog or cat has eaten or been exposed to something poisonous or harmful, get them to the vet immediately. Take the packaging with you, if possible, or let your vet know what the active ingredients in the product are. Signs that your pet may have been poisoned include vomiting, frothing at the mouth, bleeding from the nose or mouth, disorientation, rapid heartbeat or difficulty breathing. Apart from the obvious chemicals, pesticides and cleaners, a number of everyday household products and foodstuffs that we may not automatically consider problematic, are dangerous to our pets.

These include chocolate, algaecide, xylitol, caffeine and human medication.

If your pet ever experiences blunt trauma, eg. being bumped by a vehicle, falling from a height or accidentally whacked with a cricket bat, no matter how slight, visit the
vet immediately for a check-up. Depending on the area/s of the body affected, serious underlying damage may have occurred.

Now that we’ve looked at some of the serious stuff, what should every pet-parent have in their Pet First Aid Kit for everyday bumps and scrapes?

• A probiotic veterinary powder to treat mild diarrhoea
• A few tins of food formulated for pets with diarrhoea
• Burnshield hydrogel
• Antiseptic cream like betadine or fucidin
• Wound disinfectant that is safe for pet skin, such as hibitaine. Don’t use Savlon or Dettol as it isn’t formulated for the pH of pet skin.
• Buffered eye-wash to rinse out eyes
• Sterile non-adherent dressings to place onto open wounds
• Gauze swabs for wound cleaning or to absorb fluids
• Adhesive bandage, like self-adhering wrap in 50mm and 75mm width
• A litre of pouring saline to flush wounds
• Soothing skin spray
• Tweezers
• Gloves
Keeping our furry family members safe from every danger is impossible. But knowing what emergency signs and symptoms to look out for, having a great pet medical savings plan in place to give you options in the event of unforeseen veterinary expenses, and keeping your home Pet First Aid Kit well-stocked for those day-to-day mini-dramas, will give you the peace of mind that you’ve done everything in your power to manage problems and you can relax and enjoy the millions of non-stress-inducing moments of being a pet parent.

Written by Twisted Whiskers

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