How to Know When Your Pet Needs Emergency Care

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The winter holiday season is one of the busiest times at veterinary hospitals and veterinary emergency centers as our pets find plenty of opportunities to get into trouble and need emergency care. That is certainly true here at West Loop Veterinary Care.

Often, when pets need emergency care, every minute counts. Many pets try to hide or minimize their discomfort, but situations can escalate quickly. It’s important to understand in advance what are some of the signals that a pet is in distress and requires emergency veterinary care. If you are unsure if your pet’s situation is an emergency, contact your veterinarian or a veterinary emergency center for guidance.

Here are some of the main signs indicating that a pet may have a serious health problem that should be addressed immediately:

Ingestion of Poison or Toxins

Pets, especially dogs, love to consume interesting items they encounter. These can include food, plants, household products, candy, and items found on the street.  At West Loop Veterinary Care, we regularly treat cats and dogs who have consumed items they shouldn’t. Generally speaking, prompt treatment often results in the best outcomes and the lowest costs. Time is of the essence. If your cat or dog consumes any of the following items, please contact West Loop Veterinary Care or a local veterinary emergency center immediately:

  • Antifreeze
  • Rodent poison
  • Medication not prescribed for your pet
  • Household cleaners
  • Xylitol, a sugar substitute found in sugar-free gum, candy, and baked goods as well as in some peanut butter and some toothpaste.
  • Chocolate included in candy and baked goods
  • Grapes and raisins
  • Onion and garlic
  • For Cats – Any part of a lily plant
  • Amaryllis, daffodils, mistletoe, holly, or other toxic plants
  • Alcohol, marijuana, and other prescription, over-the-counter and non-prescription drugs

If you are not sure whether or not something they have ingested is toxic, you can also contact the ASPCA Poison Control Hotline.

Symptoms to Watch For

Sometimes, pets may show symptoms of an emergency situation and you may or may not know the cause. If your pet shows any of the following symptoms, you should contact West Loop Veterinary Care or a veterinary emergency center immediately.

Breathing/Consciousness/Neurological Symptoms

  • Difficulty breathing or not breathing
  • No pulse or heartbeat
  • Increased heart rate
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizure—either had one or is currently having one
  • Difficulty standing, walking, or staying balanced
  • Bleeding from the eyes, nose, and/or mouth
  • Sudden blindness, disorientation, or dizziness
  • Choking/object stuck in the throat

Gastrointestinal Symptoms

  • Multiple bouts of diarrhea and/or vomiting in a single day or a single bout each day for several days
  • Heaving without vomiting
  • Blood in urine, stool, and/or vomit
  • Straining or unable to urinate
  • Abdomen is swollen, warm, and/or hard to the touch

Behavioral Symptoms

Increased or uncharacteristic behaviors, such as excessive:

  • Growling, whimpering, meowing, or panting
  • Shaking
  • Hiding
  • Reluctance to socialize
  • Aggressiveness
  • Neediness or seeking an unusual amount of affection


  • Broken bone(s)
  • Any bite from another animal
  • Fall from an elevated place that could result in injury
  • Hit by a vehicle—they may have internal injuries even if there is no obvious external damage
  • Large wounds
  • Limping


  • High rectal temperature
  • Bright red tongue
  • Pale gums

What To Do

If your cat or dog is facing an emergency, here are some steps you should follow:

  • Stay calm and keep your pet as calm and comfortable as possible.
  • Gather as much information as possible, including what happened, when did symptoms begin, and what you believe caused the symptoms (e.g., trauma, accident, what was ingested)
  • If your pet ingested a poison or toxin, be prepared to let the veterinarian know when you call:
    • What poison or toxin you believe was ingested
    • When it was ingested
    • How much was ingested
    • If possible, have the product name and label available when you call
    • It is also helpful to be able to provide your pet’s age and weight
  • Call your veterinarian and provide the necessary information.
  • If recommended transfer your pet, ideally in its carrier, safely to West Loop Veterinary Care or to a local veterinary emergency center.


With the holidays approaching, we understand that many animals get into things they shouldn’t, run out the door as visitors come and go, and encounter items they might night normally touch. A few tips to help avoid problems include:

  • Keep pets on their regular diet
  • Be certain pets are secure and away from the door as guests come and go
  • Store purses, bags, and coats so they are out of the reach of curious pets
  • Keep food, alcohol, marijuana, and medications out of the reach of pets
  • If you have cats, don’t allow lilies in your home
  • Keep other toxic plants and flowers out of the reach of pets
  • Keep decorations out of the reach of curious pets
  • Know your pet’s age and weight
  • Keep handy the phone number for your pet’s veterinarian and the local veterinary emergency clinic

Emergency Animal Hospital in Chicago, IL

When you have any concerns about your pets, please contact West Loop Veterinary Care immediately at 312-421-2275 during our extended business hours Monday – Saturday. We can help you determine the best course of action for your pet.

If your pet should encounter an emergency situation outside of our business hours, please contact Veterinary Emergency Group, 755 W. North Ave., 312-757-5444 or Premier Veterinary Group, 3927 W. Belmont, 773-516-5800. We work closely with these providers to offer top-level 24-7 seamless care for your pets.


West Loop:
(312) 421-2275

(312) 766-5959