Veterinary emergency hospitals exist for a reason—pets get sick and injured at all hours of the day and night. Most pet owners feel panicked and overwhelmed when something happens to their pets during these off times and unsure what to do next. The Wales Animal Clinic team shares our guide to common emergencies and how you can determine whether your pet’s condition can wait a few hours or days for treatment.

When to schedule a regular veterinary visit

Regularly scheduled veterinary visits are those appointments that you schedule ahead of time for non-urgent needs. When you call, we always try to make your pet’s appointment in the next few days or weeks, depending on the type of appointment you need. If you’re calling about a sick visit, please provide as much detail as possible about your pet’s condition, so we can schedule you appropriately, or refer you for more urgent care.

Common reasons to schedule a regular veterinary visit include:

  • Wellness and preventive care, including vaccinations
  • Veterinary grooming visits (e.g., nail trims, shaving mats)
  • Skin or ear problems
  • Eye irritation or discharge
  • Sneezing or coughing 
  • Changes in eating or drinking habits
  • Changes in energy levels
  • Intermittent vomiting or diarrhea with no other illness signs
  • Slow weight changes
  • Joint pain or stiffness
  • Bad breath

When to seek urgent or emergency veterinary care

Serious or painful conditions require action sooner than the next available regular appointment slot. Urgent issues that should be seen on the same day include:

  • Blood in urine or stool
  • Torn nails
  • Bite or other wounds
  • Vomiting, diarrhea, or refusal to eat for more than 24 hours, or which is accompanied by other illness signs, such as lethargy or abdominal pain
  • Unusual lethargy
  • Refusal to eat for more than 24 hours
  • Limping
  • Suspected pain
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • A single seizure
  • Hives or facial swelling
  • Eye squinting

The following serious or life-threatening illness signs mean your pet requires immediate emergency care:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Inability to urinate, especially for male cats
  • Toxin ingestion
  • Multiple seizures or tremors
  • Bleeding
  • Pale gums
  • Trauma (e.g., hit by a car, fall from a height)
  • Fractures
  • Severe pain
  • Continuous, severe, or bloody vomiting, diarrhea, or unproductive retching
  • Sudden weakness or paralysis
  • Disorientation or stumbling gait
  • Dull or unresponsive mental status
  • Collapse

Common pet emergency scenarios 

Some of the most common situations that may mean your pet requires emergency or urgent care include:

  • Dog fights — Dog bites can range from minor punctures to life-threatening crush injuries, depending on the size of the dogs involved. Avoid socializing with dogs you don’t know, and keep your pet in a fenced area or on a leash when outdoors.
  • Allergic reactions — While anaphylactic shock is rare in pets, milder allergic reactions to insect bites or inhaled allergens that cause hives and facial swelling are common.
  • Toxin ingestion — Many substances are potentially toxic to pets, including anti-freeze, chocolate, xylitol, some human medications, and rat poisons. Keep drugs and chemicals out of your pet’s reach.
  • Vehicle trauma — Unfortunately, dogs frequently are hit by cars. The impact may seem minor and your dog may seem OK, but internal injuries are always a possibility, and you should always seek emergency care.
  • Blocked cat — Male cats have narrow urethras that can easily become blocked with debris from their urinary tract. Any male cat who is often in their litter box, pacing, or crying out should be treated as an emergency.

When you aren’t sure about your pet’s condition

Anytime you are concerned about your pet, reach out to our knowledgeable Wales Animal Clinic team. We will do our best to accommodate you if your pet’s condition is urgent, or direct you to the nearest emergency facility best equipped to handle the situation. 

After hours, you can contact your local emergency hospital directly, or try one of the many available third-party services that will connect you to a veterinary professional for their advice., AskVet, AirVet, and many others offer this service, although all require membership or a per-call fee. If your pet ingested a toxic or suspected toxic substance, you can also reach out to the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center or Pet Poison Helpline.

When your beloved pet is sick or injured, you may struggle to step back and evaluate the situation objectively. Use our list of common emergent and non-emergent medical signs and scenarios to guide your decisions, or call our Wales Animal Clinic team for advice or to schedule a non-urgent veterinary visit. Call your nearest veterinary emergency facility for after-hours advice and care, or get help from a remote teletriage and pet advice service.