Your Guide To Handling An Out-Of-Hours Dog Emergency

By Gemma Hopkins on 12 December 2017

  • What constitutes an emergency?
  • Immediate treatment you can perform yourself
  • Where to find emergency care for your dog
  • What to expect when you get to the vet
  • Insurance, costs, and payment.
  • What you can have planned in advance to make the process easier?

You never want anything bad to happen to your dog, but, sadly, sometimes these things do happen. It can be made worse if it is out of hours and your vet isn’t on hand for advice and guidance. If you are in such a situation right now or need to prepare for the future, then there are steps you can follow for such emergencies. Here is your guide on what to do.

What constitutes an emergency?

The first step to handling an out of hours emergency is to remain calm and assess whether the situation is actually an emergency or not. Many people panic and rush around trying to find an emergency animal hospital, but this response can cause more harm than good.

Here is a list of different situations you may find yourself in that require an emergency vet:

  • Your dog is panting, can’t lie down comfortably and keeps trying to vomit
  • Your dog is extremely weak or collapses
  • Your dog can’t breathe properly
  • Your dog has bloody vomit or diarrhoea
  • Your dog doesn’t eat for more than a day
  • Your dog has an inability to urinate
  • Your dog has a seizure (they can come in clusters and become more frequent over time, which means it’s time to take them to a vet)
  • Your dog cannot use their rear legs – this is more common in dogs with long backs and short rear legs and could be a sign of spinal damage. Rapid treatment can significantly improve their subsequent quality of life in such a circumstance.
  • Your dog experiences persistent coughing
  • Your dog has eaten dangerous poisons – make sure you pick up or make note of any labelling on the substance
  • Your dog experiences trauma
  • Your dog experiences severe pain (this requires you to seek emergency medical assistance under the Animal Welfare Act)

Immediate treatment you can perform yourself.

To help offset the effects of an emergency, or to handle some minor injuries yourself, here are some steps you can take. Keep your dog warm at all times, unless of course they are suffering from hyperthermia (overheating).

Place a tightly wrapped towel or a bandage over any wounds or bleeding, or, if you cannot bandage the area, place a pad on the area and press down firmly until you are with the vet. However, it is important that you do not apply your own splint. Run cold water over any scalded or burned areas for five minutes.

Under no circumstances should you make your dog sick – the only exception is if you have been advised to do so by your veterinary surgeon.

Where to find emergency care for your dog.

You should hopefully know whether or not your regular vet has an out of hours clinic. If your usual veterinary practice is closed their answerphone message should provide details of the out of hours emergency clinic. If not, you can use Find A Vet to search for a 24-hour animal hospital. Alternatively, you can call Vetfone to get emergency advice from accredited veterinary nurses.

It is always advisable to phone your emergency out of hours practice before you arrive, so they know you are coming just in case they are planning to start a big surgical procedure, in which case the vet may either be able to wait for you, or give you the best advice on where to be seen.


What to expect when you get to the vet.

Once you arrive, you will need to be clear and concise in providing your vet with as much information as possible regarding the emergency. For example, if your dog has swallowed or eaten something they shouldn’t have, you need to tell the vet exactly what it was and ideally provide the labelling.

It can be helpful to take any medications your dog is currently receiving with you and any relevant notes you may have especially if you are not seeing your usual vet.

In many cases, while your dog is undergoing treatment, you will be unable to remain in the room with them. However, you may need to be present in some circumstances, and, during these times, it will be up to you to help them stay calm.


Insurance, costs, and payment.

Depending on what the problem is with your dog, the costs may run quite high. You need to be prepared for this and ensure you have necessary funds. Before undergoing any expensive treatment, your vet should make you aware of the anticipated costs so you can decide whether or not you can afford it.

Such topics are never pleasant, which is why it’s always worth having full insurance for your dog, read more here. For most treatments, you will need to pay an excess or additional charges, but insurance will help make such unwanted situations much more affordable. Take all your insurance papers with you or make sure you have some way of providing the clinic access to them.

Read more about pet insurance here

What you can have planned in advance to make the process easier?

Beyond sorting out suitable insurance, there are other steps you can take to prepare for any emergencies. Have all of your dog’s medical records stored together in one place that is easily accessible. When you leave the house to go to the vet, you can then quickly take them with you. You can have a bag prepared for such eventualities that has all of the necessary paperwork ready.

You can also prepare a dog-specific first aid kit in your house, in case you ever have an emergency. Beneficial items to include are things like large bandages, saline solution, a muzzle and an Elizabethan dog collar. Finally, you can research and have the contact details and address of your local out of hours veterinary clinic to hand and keep a record of them alongside your dog’s first aid kit and medical records.



Gemma holds an RCVS Certificate in Veterinary Cardiology and continues to work part time in practice to remain up to date and continue her interest in cardiology.

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