How to cope with pet emergencies

Pet emergencies can be terrifying for pet owners because very few of us know what to do when they happen. Instead, we panic and in our distress, fail to take action fast enough. What is essential is that you get your pet to the vet as soon as you can, and call ahead if possible so they can prepare for your arrival.

Common pet emergencies


This could include car accidents and bite wounds. The first rule is not to put yourself in danger so be extra careful when handling an injured animal. If there is significant bleeding, hold a dishtowel tightly against the wound. Cover your pet (including his head) with a blanket if there is a risk of being bitten or scratched. Put smaller animals into a basket or carrier. Get your pet to the vet as quickly as possible as it is always cheaper (and less traumatic for  your pet) to have the wound attended to immediately than to wait a few days.

Respiratory problems

Stay calm and keep your pet calm by letting him or her lie quietly in a box or carrier. This is particularly important if you’re dealing with a cat or bird. Don’t hold your pet tightly against you and keep your car cool. Get to the vet asap.


If you realise your pet has ingested poison, phone your vet immediately for advice. Never, ever try to self-medicate your pet or try to induce vomiting without talking to your vet first. If your pet has eaten rat poison, the symptoms may only show up two weeks later. If you see him eating it, get him to the vet immediately even if he looks absolutely fine. If we wait for symptoms to show, it’ll be too late to save him.

Keep this number pinned to your fridge, and recorded in your phone:

Poison Hotline 0861 555 777


If your pet has a seizure or fit, do NOT put your hand in his mouth. He cannot swallow his tongue. Stay calm and time the length of the seizure. Note whether your pet’s tongue is pink or blue (this will help the vet make a diagnosis). If the seizure lasts longer than two minutes, get your pet to the vet immediately. If it lasts less than two minutes, monitor him for the next 24 hours and if he has another seizure then you must get him to your vet.


If your dog has been locked in a hot car and shows signs of heatstroke (symptoms include excessive panting and drooling and restlessness),  cool him down with a wet towel or run cool (not icy) water over his body. Keep the air-conditioning on while you drive him to the vet

Loss of consciousness

If your dog is unconscious and has stopped breathing, administer CPR and continue the practice until you get him to the vet. If he’s still breathing, get him to the vet as fast as possible.

Emergency action should also be taken if

  • Your pet vomits repeatedly
  • Has several episodes of diahorrea
  • Is struggling to pee or defecate
  • Has stopped drinking water for more than eight hours; has stopped eating for more than 24 hours
  • Is drowning
  • Is in severe pain

When you arrive at the vet try to explain exactly what’s happened. Your pet may be rushed away for treatment. The vet will report back to you the moment your pet is stabilised.

Be prepared for pet emergencies

  1. Keep your vet’s telephone numbers close at hand, and on display for the rest of the family and/or petsitters
  2. Check with your vet (before an emergency occurs) what their after hours telephone numbers are and keep them close at hand
  3. Get pet insurance/medical aid
  4. Stay calm
  5. Do not put yourself in danger while trying to help your pet
  6. Get your pet to the vet as soon as possible
  7. Do not try to self-administer medication or treatment unless directed by your vet

The sooner we respond to an emergency situation, the greater the chances of a good outcome.