Is my pet having an emergency?

How do I know if my pet is having an emergency? What NEEDS to be seen NOW? What can wait until later today or tomorrow?

As with a lot of veterinary medicine, what classifies as an emergency can be a gray area.  The list below is far from complete, but it outlines a few of the most common pet medical emergencies.  When in doubt, call us at 503-207-2744 during business hours.  Our team will ask you a few questions to figure out your pet’s situation and get you in to see a veterinarian if it is an urgent care situation – we will ALWAYS help your pet in an emergency.

If you know your pet is having an emergency, come straight in to the hospital during business hours – give us a call when you’re on your way (if you can) so we can prepare for your arrival.

Open-mouth breathing in a cat

Healthy cats don’t pant. End of story. This needs to be seen NOW.

Cannot urinate

This is especially key in a male cat as they could have a urinary blockage, which is a life-threatening emergency, but it can occur in dogs too (much more likely male than female). This needs to be seen NOW.

Unproductive retching

The dog that is trying to vomit repeatedly but nothing is coming up. Likely a bigger barrel-chested dog, but not always. This could be GDV, which needs to be seen, stabilized, and have surgery ASAP.


A drop isn’t likely to be life threatening. A puddle is a problem!


There’s a big range here- a scratch that doesn’t really break the skin is very different from “I can see bone or muscle.” The latter needs to be seen ASAP.

Ingestion of toxins or objects

Chocolate, sugar-free/xylitol gum, rat bait, snail bait, human medications, pet medications not meant for that pet or more than as prescribed, inanimate objects. Call us immediately with details of what and how much was ingested!  There is a range of toxicity and danger, and we will need to know specific details to determine if what was ingested was toxic or eaten in a large enough amount to be threatening. If there is packaging- a bag, box, or bottle, ingredient list, package insert, etc – bring it with you if you come in to see the veterinarian. It is crucial to provide the right treatment for toxicity cases!


A first time seizure; a stable seizure patient having a cluster of seizures; a seizure that just won’t stop (status epilepticus) – all need to be seen immediately.


Call us with details – how often, for how long, etc. We’ll help determine if it’s an emergency or not.


This is a tricky one that a little background info will help, so call us with details.  A pet screaming uncontrollably needs to be seen immediately.

Bug bites & stings

Not all pets will have a severe reaction to a bee sting, but if it happens it is an emergency, so watch for swelling and difficulty breathing- if you see either of these symptoms, your pet needs to be seen ASAP. Also, if your pet has had a reaction before they likely will again, so be prepared to come into the hospital.

Dog fights/Hit by car

There is a wide range of the wounds that can be seen from bruises to punctures, lacerations to broken bones. Severe injuries are obvious, but subtle injuries can also be emergencies – even if there is no visible injury but the pet is acting “shocked” or yelping, this needs to be seen immediately.

Pale gums

The gums are supposed to be a nice light pink color; if they’re white that’s a problem! Your pet needs to be seen ASAP.


Commonly this looks like a dog or cat that can’t move his back legs or pee. The faster the treatment the better the chance of the little one walking again!

Thanks to Dr. Marcus for compiling this list.

What's Next

  • 1

    Call us or schedule an appointment online.

  • 2

    Meet with a doctor for an initial exam.

  • 3

    Put a plan together for your pet.