Yonge Sheppard Animal Hospital

280 Sheppard Ave E. Unit 102, Toronto, ON M2N 3B1 | 647-260-8387 | yonge.sheppard.vets@gmail.com

Decoding Pet Emergencies: When to Rush and When to Relax

A Triage Guide from the team at Yonge Sheppard Animal Hospital

Hey there, pet parents and furry friends!  We know you’d move mountains to keep your four-legged companions happy and healthy. But let’s face it, sometimes deciphering their mysterious signals can feel like translating ancient hieroglyphics. Fret not! The dogtors at Yonge Sheppard Animal Hospital are here with a guide.

Topics Covered:

🚨 The True Emergencies of Emergencies 🚨

Think of this as the red alert category – situations where speed is your best friend. Your pet needs to be seen as soon as possible.

1. Difficulty Breathing

Rapid, labored breathing or gasping for air.  A resting respiratory rate GREATER than 36 breaths / min.

2. Unstoppable Bleeding

Any wound that won’t stop bleeding.

3. Severe Trauma

Accidents like being hit by a car, falling from a height or being bitten by another animal.

4. Non-productive Retching
Pets who are trying to throw up/vomit but nothing is coming up. This symptom, especially in large breed dogs, could be GDV (Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus), and needs to be evaluated right away.
5. Urinary Straining
Straining to pee with nothing coming out – this is most common in male cats. Not being able to pee can become life threatening in as little as 12 hours. If your pet is straining to pee, but is still producing urine, or if they’re urinating where they shouldn’t or has blood in their pee, see here.
6. Seizures
Convulsions or fits lasting more than 5 minutes or multiple seizures occurring in a day or a sudden change in mental status. For what to do if your pet experienced a single isolated seizure, see here.
7. Toxic Ingestion
From chocolates to lilies, if you know your pet has ingested something toxic, inducing vomiting within an hour of ingestion can be critical. If you’re not sure what they ate is toxic, the best number to call is the ASPCA Animal Poison Control at (888) 426-4435, available 24/7 for 365 days of the year.

🚑 Urgent but not "Let's Break the Sound Barrier" Urgent 🚑

Think of this as the yellow light, proceed with caution category- Your pet should be evaluated by a veterinarian sooner rather than later but will likely be ok to wait until morning. 

1. Eye Issues

Sudden onset of squinting/eye pain or sudden blindness

2. Not Eating

The timeframe to wait to worry about your pet not eating depends on their age and weight:

Cats or Puppies/Kittens that weigh LESS than 1kg: 24 hours

Dogs that weigh MORE than 1kg: 48 hours

3. Vomiting

If it persists for more than 24 hours.

4. Single Isolated Seizure

A single isolated seizure is not a full emergency but warrants evaluation and close monitoring 

5. Leg Issues
If your pet is unable to move their legs or is unable to put any weight on the affected leg. For what to do if your pet is limping, but able to put weight on the leg, please see here.

🐾 "Don't panic, We Got This!" Situations 🐾

The green light: certainly need to keep an eye on the situation but likely ok to be seen at the time of our next available appointment. 

1. Diarrhea

 Diarrhea, even with a little bit of blood, is usually ok to wait provided your pet is eating and drinking with relatively normal energy levels. 

2. Ears and Skin

 Ear infections or itchiness – although uncomfortable, are not usually life threatening. But because they are uncomfortable, we don’t want your pet itching themselves to the point of hurting themselves with their nails. Keep a cone on them to prevent them from scratching their ears or licking/biting itchy areas until they can be seen.


For itchy or irritated skin, we also want to keep those areas as dry as possible, and with a good airflow over it. For this reason, we don’t recommend using a t-shirt or other fabric to cover irritated skin to prevent your pet from bothering with that area. The t-shirt will prevent good airflow, and will trap moisture that may make the irritation worse. 

3. Urinary Troubles

Straining to pee, blood in the urine , peeing more frequently? Certainly something that we need to evaluate and monitor closely but not a true emergency unless they are not producing urine. 

4. Coughing

A cough with a normal breathing pattern and good energy and appetite – good news, this is ok to wait/monitor. t’s useful to monitor your pets resting respiratory rate. Learn how to take a respiratory rate here.

5. Limping

Limping but still putting weight on it? It should probably be checked out but have your pet rest, and minimize the use of the injured leg until they can be seen by the vet.

Still not so sure what to do? Here are some helpful resources and contacts for emergency situations:

☎ Resources and Contacts for Emergency Situations ☎

A 24-hour telehealth service for pets. Experienced veterinary technicians can help you assess the situation and, if needed, connect you with a veterinarian (charges may apply).

Great for when you’re unsure if your furry friend ate something they shouldn’t have (charges apply).

Please be aware that, just like their human counterparts, veterinary emergency clinics are busy.  Be prepared to wait and remember they operate on a triage-based timeline where the sickest pets are seen first.  Protip: bring your phone and charger, a snack, any medications you might need and a great book. 

Of course, these are general guidelines, if you are ever unsure, don’t hesitate to have your pet evaluated by a veterinarian or qualified veterinary professional. 

So, next time your furball does something eyebrow-raising, just refer to our little guide and remember, we’re always here to make your pet parenting journey a bit more pawsome! 🐕🐈

Stay curious and keep wagging (or purring) on!

– The Yonge Sheppard Animal Hospital Team 🐾