Pet Emergencies: What Can and Cannot Wait

No pet parent wants to have to take their dog or cat to the emergency vet. It is scary to see your pet having a severe issue that could risk their life.

You must know the appropriate place to take your pet when considering pet emergencies. If it is not a true emergency, it can probably wait for your regular vet to treat them. However, if your pet has an obstruction or a traumatic accident, take them to the emergency vet immediately. 

Veterinary urgent care is another option that is becoming more available. If you want to know about pet emergencies and what can and cannot wait, read this article.

Pet Emergencies in Wilmington, Delaware

Where to Take My Pet for Emergencies

Knowing the right place to take your dog or cat can be confusing when something is wrong. You want to know what emergencies can and cannot wait. There are three possible places you can take your pet if a situation arises:

When to Take Your Pet to Your Regular Vet

If the problem does not appear serious and is not life-threatening, you can probably wait to see your regular veterinarian. Some of these problems include:

  • Coughing without signs of arduous breathing and your pet is able to rest
  • Itchy or inflamed skin or ears or fluid in the ear
  • Sneezing, runny nose, or mild cold symptoms
  • Vomiting that has not gone beyond 24 hours and your pet otherwise has normal behavior
  • Diarrhea that has not gone beyond 48 hours and your pet otherwise has normal behavior
  • Limping that is mild and your pet is still using his or her leg despite the limp

If you are not comfortable waiting to take your dog or cat to the vet, do not be reluctant to take them to the emergency vet if you notice symptoms worsening or if your pet is having pain. It is better to be in safe hands and take your pet to the vet.

When to Take Your Pet to Veterinary Urgent Care

Urgent veterinary care may be the best option if your pet is in stable condition, but you do not choose to wait to see your regular veterinarian. Some problems that can be treated on an urgent care basis include:

  • Allergic reactions with associated symptoms
  • Diarrhea, constipation, or retching with a change of behavior
  • Minor bites or porcupine quills
  • Minor wounds and injuries

Blood in urine or stool is another common problem treated in urgent veterinary care. Pets who lack appetite may be seen. Ticks can also be removed from your pet. Overall, pet urgent care is a good place to go when you can’t wait it out, but it isn’t a dire, “right now”, type of emergency.

When to Take Your Pet to Emergency Vet

You should always take your companion to the emergency vet if they are experiencing any of the following:

  • Broken Bones or open fracture
  • Choking or trouble breathing
  • Collapsed or paralyzed
  • Inability to defecate or urinate
  • Obstruction in the bowel, urinary tract, or throat
  • Severe trauma like being struck by a car or getting into a fight with another animal
  • Toxin or foreign body ingestion
  • Seizures that are prolonged or clustered

Some other emergencies include snake bites, loss of consciousness, heatstroke, or if your pet is going into labor or if they are having difficulty with labor.

The above is a brief overview of what constitutes a pet emergency and what can most likely wait. Again, you may need to take your pet to the emergency vet if the problem worsens.

A Closer Look at What Can and Cannot Wait

Regarding pets and emergencies, some situations can be tricky, and more information may be necessary to ascertain if it is a true emergency or if it can wait. The following includes a closer look at these situations and how to know if it might be something that cannot wait:


You will need to pay attention to this one to know if it is a true emergency. There are many reasons why your pet may be vomiting. If your pet is vomiting but can still engage in normal behavior, like eating, walking or playing, it might not be an emergency. Your dog or cat could have wolfed down their food, or maybe they ate too many treats.

Whatever the case, if it does not appear to be serious, you should not be worried. However, if your pet lacks energy, does not want to get up or move around, and is not acting normal, you may need to take them to the vet. If your pet’s condition does not improve within 24 hours or gets worse, or if there is blood in their vomit, it justifies an immediate vet visit.

Inability to Urinate

This problem commonly occurs when there is a urinary obstruction. If your cat is in the litterbox, crying, and cannot urinate, you must take them to the vet. Any obstruction is painful and life-threatening for pets, and it requires immediate attention. Also, toxins can build up from not eliminating the waste, and it can cause them to become very sick. You have to take your pet to the vet if you suspect there is an obstruction.

Difficulty Breathing

If your pet has difficulty breathing, you must get them to the vet immediately. Some of the signs they are struggling to breathe include:

  • Coughing
  • Gagging
  • Open mouth breathing
  • Panting
  • Wheezing

Check their gums if you find any of these indications in your pet. If they are pale, blue, or gray, they need to be seen immediately, as this is an emergency.


Many times, when pets are limping, it is not an emergency. However, if your pet was involved in a traumatic accident, such as being hit by a car accident and limping, or if they fell, you should take them to the emergency vet. Do not try giving them human medications like Tylenol or Advil, as it is toxic for pets. If your pet is having significant pain, you should take them to the vet.

Difficulty Giving Birth

If your pet is pregnant with a litter of kittens or puppies, and they are going through difficult labor, you should take them to the emergency vet, especially if the following symptoms are present:

  • Contractions are lasting longer than thirty minutes, with no delivery of kitten or puppy
  • It has been longer than two hours between kittens or puppies
  • It has been longer than four hours since abdominal contractions with no delivery
  • If there is a bloody discharge

If you see that your pregnant cat or dog is in extreme pain, take them to the emergency vet. You may need assistance in helping your pet give birth.

Toxin Exposure

If your dog gets into your medications or chocolate stash, you should call the Animal Poison Control Center, which can guide you. However, if your cat ate flowers that are poisonous to them, a trip to the emergency vet may be necessary. Do not wait for your pet to demonstrate symptoms; you need to take immediate action before the toxin takes effect.


If your cat or dog cannot walk, you must immediately take them to the emergency vet. The longer you wait to seek emergency help, the lower the chance of recovery from the paralysis. The following causes of paralysis can disrupt communication between a dog’s spine and the brain:

  • Herniated discs
  • Nerve problems
  • Spinal compression
  • Tumors

These situations are emergencies that require immediate treatment, and you need to take them to the emergency vet.


Your pet’s health is critical, and you want to ensure you make the right decisions for them. If you find that your pup or cat is suffering from a problem that could be extremely harmful to their health or dangerous to their life, you should take them to the emergency vet. Minor issues can usually wait for your regular vet. If you are concerned about any health issue with your pet, reach out to Wilmington Animal Hospital in Wilmington, DE at (302) 762-2694!