Signs your dog needs to visit an emergency veterinary clinic

As pet owners, our pets hold a very special place in our hearts and lives, and their well-being is of paramount importance. While routine visits to the vet are essential for maintaining their health, there are certain situations where immediate medical attention becomes crucial. Below are five of the most obvious signs that indicate your dog needs emergency veterinary attention.

Recognising these signs quickly can be critical in ensuring the well-being and safety of your pets.

1. Collapse or Loss of Balance:

If your dog suddenly collapses or becomes weak and unsteady on its feet, it may be a cause for concern. Collapsing can indicate a variety of serious conditions, including heart problems, neurological issues, or internal bleeding. Immediate veterinary intervention is vital to determine the underlying cause and provide appropriate treatment. Firstly, let’s look as some of the indicators mentioned above:

Heart-related issues stand as a prime culprit, with conditions such as heart issues or cardiac arrhythmias disrupting the normal flow of blood, thereby depriving vital organs of necessary nutrients and oxygen. This can result in your dog suddenly becoming weak or collapsing.

Neurological concerns are another area of worry. Seizures, for instance, can cause dramatic episodes of collapse, leaving your dog temporarily incapacitated. Similarly, vestibular disease, which affects balance, can make it appear as though your dog is unsteady on its feet or experiencing a distressing collapse.

Internal bleeding is a further grave condition that might not be immediately obvious but can lead to collapse. This could stem from a range of issues, such as a ruptured spleen or gastrointestinal ulcers, each causing a critical loss of blood internally and, consequently, leading to a sudden and alarming drop in your dog’s strength and vigour.

Recognising these potential causes can empower you as a pet owner to act swiftly and decisively, ensuring your dog receives the care they need in a timely manner. It’s about understanding the silent cues your dog may be sending, acknowledging the severity of what a collapse could signify, and promptly seeking professional veterinary care at Normanhurst Vets. For information on how to transport your pet in an emergency situation, read our article on what to do.

2. Difficulty breathing:

Breathing difficulties are often an indication of a serious medical emergency. If your dog is panting excessively, gasping for air, or displaying signs of laboured breathing, it requires immediate attention. Respiratory distress can be caused by various factors such as allergies, heart disease, or even foreign object obstruction. Our vets at Normanhurst Vet can assess the situation and take the necessary steps to relieve your dog’s discomfort.

Allergies are a frequent source of discomfort for many dogs, manifesting in ways that affect their breathing. Pollen, dust, mould, or even certain foods can trigger allergic reactions, leading to inflammation in the airways that makes every breath a battle. These allergic responses can sometimes be seasonal or may flare up unexpectedly due to new exposures in their environment.

Heart disease, albeit a more serious consideration, is another prevalent cause of breathing difficulties in dogs. It can lead to a build-up of fluid in the lungs or around the heart, known as congestive heart failure, making it difficult for them to catch their breath. This condition may not only cause laboured breathing but could also result in coughing and an apparent lack of energy or willingness to exercise.

Respiratory infections, such as kennel cough or canine influenza, are also common reasons for breathing difficulties. These infections can inflame the airways, leading to a persistent cough and difficulties in breathing. These signs require timely medical intervention to prevent them from escalating into more severe conditions.

A particularly distressing cause is the possibility of a foreign object becoming lodged in a dog’s airway. Whether it’s a small toy, a piece of bone, or any other object they may have curiously ingested, such obstructions can induce sudden and severe breathing challenges that demand immediate attention.

If you’re the owner of a Pug, a Boston Terrier, a Bulldog or other brachycephalic breeds, you’ll know they have a unique set of health issues, including breathing problems. If you have questions about your short-nosed family member, feel free to discuss their specific needs with Normanhurst Vets.

3. Open wounds:

Visible open wounds should never be ignored, as they can lead to infection and further complications if left untreated. Whether it’s a deep laceration, a bite wound, or an injury caused by an accident, it is crucial to seek immediate veterinary care. A professional will properly clean the wound, assess the extent of the damage, and administer appropriate treatment, which may include stitches or medication.

4. Swelling around the head and/or face:

Swelling around the head or face of your dog should be taken seriously. It could be indicative of an allergic reaction, insect bite, dental problem, or even an underlying infection. Swelling can potentially obstruct the airway, leading to breathing difficulties. An emergency vet can quickly diagnose the cause of the swelling and provide the necessary treatment to alleviate discomfort and prevent further complications.

The spectrum of allergens capable of affecting dogs is broad, and identifying the exact trigger can be a challenging endeavour. It might be a specific protein in their diet, an innocuous household substance, or an outdoor allergen that sets off this reaction. If your dog has an allergic reaction, make an appointment with Normanhurst Vet so we can get to the bottom of the cause, and recommend treatment. Often, the longer you leave an allergic response, the worse it gets and the harder and longer it takes to treat.

Insect bites or stings are a common cause in facial swelling in dogs. Bee and wasp stings are notorious for triggering significant swelling, redness, and discomfort. Similarly, spider bites, depending on the species, can lead to adverse reactions that may require urgent veterinary care.

When dental issues such as infections, abscesses, or gum disease occur, they can manifest as swelling around the mouth, face, or head, causing discomfort and distress to your dog. These issues often stem from poor dental hygiene, broken or decayed teeth, old age, or a lack of regular veterinary dental assessments. If you notice your dog is showing distress, perhaps pawing at their mouth, carefully check that nothing has become lodged in their mouth and speak to us about a consultation as soon as possible.

Swelling around the head and face can also indicate an underlying infection such as skin, ear, or sinus infections. These are typically caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, or parasites and highlight the necessity for quick and decisive action to avoid any worsening of your pet’s condition. Veterinary intervention is crucial to carry out various diagnostic tests and uncover the root cause of the infection. With a clear diagnosis, a comprehensive treatment plan can be developed to target the infection directly, aiming to reduce the swelling and relieve any discomfort your dog may be experiencing.

5. Persistent vomiting:

While occasional vomiting may not necessarily be alarming, persistent or frequent vomiting is a sign that your dog requires immediate medical attention. It could indicate an underlying condition such as gastrointestinal blockage, poisoning, or an infection. Dehydration and electrolyte imbalances can occur rapidly in these situations, making it crucial to seek veterinary help.

What to do next?

If you notice any of the above signs, it’s time to contact an emergency veterinary clinic. As animal lovers ourselves, the team here at Normanhurst Vet Practice understands the deep concern and worry you experience when your pet suffers an injury or is simply not feeling well. If you find yourself needing to transport your pet in an emergency situation, take a breath and read our advise on safe ways to move them.

When an emergency does happen, rest assured that our dedicated team at Normanhurst Vet Practice is here to assist you. Simply make a call to 02 9489 6000 between 8am and 7pm from Monday to Friday. On weekends, our services are available from 8am to 4pm on Saturdays, and from 10am to noon on Sundays.

Outside these hours, NEVS, the Northside Emergency Veterinary Service, 335 Mona Vale Road, Terry Hills, operates 24/7 every day of the year. Simply phone (02) 9452 2933 to contact their dedicated emergency team. More information is available at

Alternatively, for after-hours emergencies, you can take your sick or injured pet to SASH (Small Animal Specialist Hospital). SASH are located at 1 Richardson Place, North Ryde and they offer a 24/7/365 service. You can call them on (02) 9889 0289 so they are expecting you.