4 Reasons Young Dogs End Up At The Emergency Vet

Young dogs might end up at emergency vets for many reasons, so we list four common dog emergencies to try to avoid.

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Emergency veterinary visits can be scary; find out how to avoid them.Jim Parkin/iStock/Thinkstock
Dr. Brian Roberts

Do you have a young dog, one who is older than 6 months but not yet 3 years old? Well, you and I are in the same boat; we have a dog who is an adolescent. My dog, Trixie, is a mix of what we think is Havanese with Shih Tzu. She’s a small dog, full of energy, and the most common phrase you’ll hear about her is “Trixie, NO!”

Scheduled veterinary visits can be stressful and require some definite planning. Emergency visits are even more stressful, needing your immediate action. If you’ve never been to an after-hours veterinary clinic or an emergency vet, consider yourself lucky.

Young dogs are relatively healthy. At this life stage, infectious disease, birth defects and cancer are quite rare. The age of a dog allows veterinarians to have categories of disorders that are either more or less likely to occur. By the time a dog reaches adolescence, most birth defects would have been discovered by your veterinarian. Although young dogs think they are indestructible, obviously, they aren’t.

Here are four common reasons a young dog would need to see an emergency vet.

1. Poisoning

Poisons and toxins are all around in the environment. Certain household foods, cleaners and plants can be very dangerous to dogs, but young dogs seem to seek these items out! Did you know that grapes and raisins can cause kidney problems and even kidney failure in dogs? We don’t yet understand why the kidneys are targeted. Some dogs eat a few grapes and never get sick; others suffer kidney problems after a few raisins. We put Trixie in her kennel when my kids eat grapes or yogurt-covered raisins.

Chocolate and onions are other foods to keep away from Fido. Chocolate contains caffeine and theobromine, which cause increased neuronal activity, elevated heart rate and possibly even seizures if enough is ingested. Onions damage red blood cells and if enough red blood cells become oxidized, they no longer deliver oxygen to the body effectively.

Think of your young dog as a human child: if there’s something accessible, he’ll get into it. Make sure all medications are placed out of Fido’s reach. Even asthma inhalers can be deadly for a dog. If a dog bites into an inhaler, he will get a large dose of steroid or a bronchodilator. Bronchodilators are stimulants in high doses and also deplete the body of potassium rather quickly. Tremors, seizures and profound muscle weakness are signs of albuterol toxicity, a common bronchodilator for inhalers.

Ornamental and household plants that can cause trouble for dogs are oleander, sago palm, poinsettias and rhododendron. Oleander affects the heart and may cause irregular heart rhythms, tremors and vomiting. Sago palm contains a chemical that damages the liver. In severe cases, a majority of the liver cells become necrotic or die, causing the patient to become jaundiced (yellow). Poinsettias and rhododendron mainly affect the gastrointestinal tract, causing drooling, vomiting and ulcers in the mouth.

The list of toxins and poisonous plants that can affect your young dog is exhaustive. For more information, visit the ASPCA Animal Poison Control website or the Pet Poison Helpline.

2. Bite Wounds

It’s not uncommon for dogs to fight, even those who live together. Some of the worst cases I’ve seen were dogs from the same household fighting over food or treats. Much of the damage caused by bite wounds is under the surface. Even a very severe bite may not cause a lot of bleeding. However, the tissues under the skin (subcutaneous connective tissue, fat and muscles) are torn and ripped when the biting dog thrashes back and forth. Bite wounds are considered “dirty” or immediately infected. The mouth has a lot of bacteria living in the saliva and on the dental tartar. So, proper drainage and antibiotics are part of the treatment needed.

If you’ve ever been bitten, then you know dog bites are very painful. It is the same for dogs. The pain develops over a number of hours, worsening the whole time. Along with pain is inflammation, characterized by redness, swelling and disuse of the affected area. When the emergency vet assesses bite wounds, it’s pretty common to give local and general anesthesia. The wounds are probed and, many times, wounds to the chest or abdomen require X-rays or an ultrasound to assess for internal damage.

Expect more severe bites that require surgery to mean that your young dog will need to recover in the hospital. Additional surgery may need to be performed, and you will need more time to care for your dog after he goes home. Giving the medication for pain control and the antibiotics are of utmost importance. The emergency vet staff will also inform you about proper wound care, because it’s likely there will be a drain or bandage that will need to be looked after.

3. Motor Vehicle Trauma

When a 2,500-pound car goes head to head with a 30-pound dog, the car will win. Dogs suffering trauma from getting “hit by car,” as we say, are more common than you would think. Even during my internship in New York City, where not too many folks let their dogs run around off-leash, we still saw plenty of cases. While in Florida, it was usually a case where a door or gate was left open and the dog ran out, only to get traumatized while crossing a nearby street. If this does happen, please follow these guidelines:

  • Approach with caution; your dog is in pain and he doesn’t understand that you are trying to help.
  • If your dog is trying to bite, use a belt or towel to gently muzzle his mouth.
  • If your dog cannot walk, place him on a board or a blanket to transport. An ironing board works well as a stretcher.
  • Cover any open wounds with a clean towel or sheet (no tourniquets).
  • Try to control active bleeding using direct pressure.

Call the emergency vet office and let them know what happened, how big your dog is and your estimated time of arrival at the office.

Once you arrive, someone from the emergency vet staff will check vital signs and likely take your dog to the treatment area so oxygen, pain medication and IV fluids can be given to treat for shock.

About 50 percent of dogs who are “hit by car” and sustain a leg injury will also have an injury to the chest or lungs. Lung bruising or contusions are common and sometimes the lung will tear. Torn lungs will leak air into the chest, called a pneumothorax. The leaked air occupies a space between the inside of the chest and the lung, causing the lung to collapse. Difficulty breathing then occurs. Other injuries to the chest include broken ribs and tearing of muscles, such as the diaphragm. The diaphragm is the main muscle used to breathe and it also separates the chest from the abdomen. Damage to it results in difficulty breathing and herniation of abdominal organs into the chest.

Sometimes, a dog may only have some scrapes and bruises, while more severe cases have crush injury, head injury and broken bones. Don’t be surprised if the initial assessment by the emergency vet team changes after more tests, such as X-rays, are performed, as these may show other injuries.

4. Vomiting And Diarrhea (Gastroenteritis)

One of the more common reasons young dogs go the emergency vet is because they are vomiting or have diarrhea. Loss of stomach contents and extra water in the stool can lead to dehydration, which can lead to low blood pressure and, finally, organ damage. Now, a dog who vomits a couple of times will not get very dehydrated; nor will a dog who has a few bouts of diarrhea. The more times they lose fluids and the longer it goes on for, the worse the dehydration can get.

Far too many things to list can cause vomiting and diarrhea. Eating unaccustomed treats, garbage, etc. — otherwise known as dietary indiscretion — is a top cause. Others include something getting stuck in the GI tract like a bone or a toy. Liver disease, kidney disease, medications, toxins, pancreatitis and even brain tumors can cause vomiting. The emergency vet team will run tests to determine the cause.

For you, the most important thing is knowing when to take your dog to a vet. If your dog is acting very lethargic, doesn’t want to get up, has dry gums and the eyes are “sunken in”— he must be seen by a vet. I tell people who called our ER, “If you’re concerned enough to call, you should be prepared to bring your dog to be seen.” Remember, the ER cannot diagnose your pet over the phone or via email or Facebook.

Be prepared to leave your pet if the emergency vet recommends hospitalization and fluid therapy. Fluids with salts and minerals are given intravenously, bypassing the GI tract so as to not lead to more vomiting or diarrhea. Sometimes fluids may be given under the skin, called “subcutaneous fluids.” Those are used for mild cases. Anti-vomiting medications, called antiemetics can be given, but usually only if X-rays ruled out obstruction.

Regardless if your dog is discharged after some antiemetics are given or if he spends a night in the hospital getting fluids, you’ll need to feed a different diet for a few days. We typically recommend a very bland diet of boiled chicken and rice or a prescription diet that is highly digestible.

I hope you never have to visit the emergency vet with your young dog. If you always walk him on a leash, and keep the garbage, human medications and household chemicals out of his reach, you’ll improve the chances of never having to visit the emergency vet.

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Dogs · Health and Care