Key Reminders to Know when to Go to the Veterinary ER

Pet pug in a veterinary clinic

By Marisa Robillard, LVT and Lead ER Tech

When is it time to go to the veterinary ER? When is it OK to wait?

With the shortage of veterinarians in the field and the limited ability of the local ER clinics to accommodate the influx of incoming emergencies in recent years, you may have concerns if you have a pet that gets sick or injured when your regular vet is closed or unable to see you.

I am here to tell you that it is AWAYS ok to call. Each situation can be evaluated based on the patient’s age, breed, and clinical signs, but there are a few times that we may recommend that you wait and seek care from your regular veterinarian prior to coming in.

The following will hopefully help you assess what constitutes a true emergency.


Cuts and scrapes that CAN wait:

  • Small cuts that do not appear to need stitches and are no longer actively bleeding, or minimally bleeding.
  • These injuries can usually be managed well at home by cleaning gently with warm water. If your pet seems to not want to leave it alone, Elizabethan collars can be purchased over the counter. Follow up with your primary DVM for any additional care needed.

Cuts and scrapes that SHOULD NOT wait:

  • Any cut that you feel may need stitches or has uncontrolled bleeding.
  • Bite wounds, especially from an animal of unknown vaccine status.
  • Any injury to the eye.


GI issues that CAN wait:

  • Your pet vomits once or twice but is otherwise acting normally and holding down water

GI issues that SHOULD NOT wait:

  • If your pet is unable to hold down water and also has diarrhea, it is important to get your pet seen to evaluate their hydration status and rule out anything more serious.

Frequently, we see blood in the vomit and diarrhea of pets with significant GI inflammation. DO NOT PANIC! While this can be alarming to see, it often is just a sign of this severe inflammation.

  • If you have a puppy that has not finished their vaccine schedule and is experiencing vomiting and/or diarrhea, Parvo virus is something that should be tested for. Seeking veterinary attention is recommended because this intestinal virus can be life threatening.
  • Any large dog that is trying to vomit and unable to, having unproductive retching, and/or has a distended abdomen needs to be seen immediately. These can be signz of gastric dilation and volvulus or “bloat”. This is a life threatening situation that requires surgical intervention.


Urinary issues that CAN wait:

  • Your pet is urinating more frequently, but is otherwise acting normally and there is no blood in the urine.

As long as your pet is able to urinate and does not seem distressed when doing so, it is OK to monitor at home until you can have a complete evaluation at your primary DVM.

Urinary issues that SHOULD NOT wait:

  • If you have a male cat that is unable to or having difficulty urinating, this can be a life-threatening emergency. Please seek veterinary care immediately.
  • If your pet’s urine is bloody, it can be a sign of several possible issues including but not limited to infection and bladder stones. Seeking veterinary attention is advised.
  • Straining to urinate in any species or sex should be evaluated as well.


Respiratory issues that CAN wait:

  • Exposure to kennel cough when pet is still eating and drinking and breathing normally
  • Sneezing with no evidence of blood when pet is still eating and drinking

Respiratory issues that SHOULD NOT wait:

  • Any short-faced dog that is having difficulty breathing.
  • Open mouth breathing in a feline with no prior upper respiratory infection.


Wounds that CAN wait:

  • Hotspots can worsen and spread very quickly. However, if you are able to keep the area free from ahri and dry, you can wait to be seet at your local DVM.
  • Broken or cut toenails can also be managed at home. If bleeding is not controlled on its own by using styptic powder or corn starch, a light bandage or sock can be placed until you are seen at your local DVM. Many times, just leaving a bandage on for a period of time will allow the area to stop bleeding and there is no need for medical intervention.

Wounds that SHOULD NOT wait:

  • Any wound that has discolored discharge, appears infected and/or has an infestation of maggots should be assessed and antibiotics considered.
  • Porcupine quills. Do not try to remove or cut quills on your own. It is painful and can potentially cause quills to break and migrate to vital organs depending on their location. Sedation is necessary for most quill removals.


Neurologic issues that CAN wait:

  • A single seizure in a dog less than 5 years old that has not had access to any toxic material.

While very frightening, a single seizure in a young dog can indicate the start of epilepsy or it can be a one-time occurrence. Document the episode including the length of the seizure, what your pet did during the seizure, and any odd behavior afterward. Make an appointment with your regular DVM to have your pet evaluated.

Neurologic issues that SHOULD NOT wait:

  • Multiple seizures in a pet of any age
  • Inability to use hind limbs
  • Ataxia, or a lack of voluntary muscle coordination


If your pet has ingested anything toxic, or you are not sure if it is toxic, the best course of action is to call the ASPCA Pet Poison Control Line at 888-426-4435. They are staffed with veterinary toxicologists 24 hours a day and will direct you based on the species and size of your pet and the ingested item. If they advise you to seek medical attention, write down the case number and bring that with you when you arrive.


Lameness that CAN wait:

  • Lameness when your pet is still bearing weight on the limb and is otherwise acting normally.

Lameness that SHOULD NOT wait:

  • When a pet is not bearing weight on a limb.
  • When there is the potential for a broken bone from a traumatic event (i.e. hit by a car, fell from a height)
  • Lameness coupled with lethargy and abnormal behavior.


If your pet has experienced any kind of trauma, it is important to have them evaluated for injuries that they may be masking or are not external. This includes being hit by any vehicle at any speed, falls, and fights. While some pets may appear to act normally after a traumatic event, there can be a significant internal injury that requires immediate medical intervention.

Drop us a message or give us a call for any inquiries and concerns. You can access the latest news and announcements from our Facebook page (@NorthwayVeterinaryHospital) and our Instagram account (@nvh_vet).

# # #

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Share on telegram
Share on email
Share on tumblr
Share on print

Nullam quis risus eget urna mollis ornare vel eu leo. Aenean lacinia bibendum nulla sed