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Emergency!? What Emergency!?

As pet care professionals, our clients often ask us for advice as to whether or not they should take their dog to the vet or try the “wait and see” approach when something isn’t quite right. Sure, we’ve seen a lot over the years, but we’re not vets and sometimes we feel uncomfortable offering this advice, weighing what we would do if it were our own pet against how badly we would feel if we gave the wrong advice. When we heard that Dr. Scott Bainbridge was hosting a talk at Dundas West Animal Hospital on the subject of ‘recognizing pet emergencies’ a few of us pet sitters jumped at the chance to attend.

Not surprisingly, the first thing Dr. B discussed was poop. Yes! Every dog walker’s favourite topic! Many dog owners, especially newbies with puppies, book vet appointments for diarrhea, but Scott says you don’t always need to do that. Many owners panic when they see blood in their dog’s stool. Believe me, I get it! But it’s important to know that drops of red blood after a bout of diarrhea are completely normal: it’s usually the result of repeated straining. If your dog’s stool is dark and tar-like in colour, that’s a different type of blood and you should see a vet as son as you can.

So at the first sign of diarrhea, Dr. B recommends a fast. He says 24 hours is an appropriate amount of time to give the bowels a chance to recover. When you reintroduce food, start with a simple homemade concoction of white rice (cooked more than you would for a human), lean ground meat (cooked and fat drained) and low fat cottage cheese. Feed small, frequent meals for two days. When your dog produces a normal stool, start to mix in the “diarrhea diet” with his regular food. The issue should clear up but if it doesn’t your vet will arrange to either have your dog seen or have you drop off a stool sample; sometimes diarrhea can be caused by parasites such as Giardia. Please note that if symptoms like dehydration, vomiting, or lethargy accompany the diarrhea, please call your vet right away.

Sometimes there are underlying diseases IBS/IBD are at play and flare-ups can be caused by dietary indiscretion (new treats, or a found ‘snack’ in the park), or sometimes they occur for no apparent reason. If you have a dog that experiences chronic bouts of diarrhea, mucous coated stools or flatulence, it is wise to look into a home made diet since typically offending ingredients such as gluten can be eliminated. Fresh, cooked food is also much easier to digest. Bowel disease also reduces the absorption of nutrients in the intestine, therefore dogs may experience deficiencies and even malnutrition. Please consult a professional before beginning a home cooking program. I digress.

Like us, dogs often react to bug bites and poison ivy. The inflammation is most obvious in the face/jowl area, you also might see hives, but unless your dog is having trouble breathing, don’t panic. Try administering Benadryl – your vet can advise the dosage.

Owners of deep-chested or barrel-chested dogs should all be warned of the signs and danger of Gastric Torsion AKA Bloat. This is a very serious condition where the stomach actually flips and blood supply is cut off. You have a 2 hour window to save a dog’s life, so rush to the nearest vet. Signs: Gaging and unproductive vomiting, bloated bellies (sometimes), pale gums, often an arched back, circling, looking uncomfortable, and/or not wanting to lay down. You can help prevent this by not allowing your dog to exercise an hour after eating or taking a large drink and by feeding smaller, more frequent meals. Personally speaking, I strongly believe that feeding a fresh food diet also goes a long way since kibble takes longer to digest and expands in the stomach. Kibble also requires a dog to drink more. Find out if you have a susceptible breed and talk to your vet about a surgical fix, which includes tacking the stomach in place. Some vets now do this during spay/neuter surgery.

It’s important for all dog owners and especially dog walkers to understand that dogs are very susceptible to heat stroke. Brachycephalic (squish faced) breeds, even more so. During extreme heat shorten your walks and avoid strenuous activities. Clinical signs of heat stroke include excessive panting and drooling, choking, gasping, blue tinged gums, glassy eyes, coma and seizures. What to do? Cool your dog with lukewarm water (never cold. ever) and transport him to the vet immediately.

Vomiting paired with constipation? It could be a foreign body obstruction, like rope from a toy or pantyhose. Your dog will likely also show symptoms of abdominal pain. This is a definite emergency.

If your dog is in a fight with another dog, check him over thoroughly for puncture wounds. They are not always obvious. Clean wounds with antiseptic soap and visit your vet for further inspection during regular hours. Sometimes an abscess will form and this is something you really want to prevent, as it is painful and dangerous.

Limping is a hot topic for me. Over the years, so many of my clients have chosen not to comply with mine and their vet’s advice to “take it easy” and the result is repeated visits to the clinic, sometimes x-rays, and a delayed healing time. If the lameness is minor, you need to rest your dog for at least seven days. Obviously if your dog is not weight-bearing or vocalizes very loudly at the time of injury, it means a trip to the vet. You can help avoid injuries like these by not playing on ice, avoiding areas with holes in the ground and keeping your dog thin. The latter also helps speed recovery.

Like any gathering of dog people in one room, we drifted off topic numerous times and as a result, Dr. Bainbridge didn’t have a chance to cover all the subjects he had intended. That said, it was fun and very informational. I recommend the talks at DWAH to any pet owner or pet care professional.

Taken from his notes, here’s what we missed:

Treatment of cut pads

  • Apply pressure to the area up to 2 minutes at a time to stop bleeding. If it doesn’t stop, go to the emergency vet.
  • Clean the wound with antiseptic soap.
  • Larger lacerations require stitches, so make an appointment and fast your dog.

Ripped toe nails

  • Soak the foot in antibacterial soap
  • Clip the rest of the toe nail
  • Use a bar of soap for hemostasis. I imagine this means rub a dry bar on the tip of the nail to block the nail from bleeding.


  • Generalized seizures involve a dog laying on his side, vocalizing, shaking, paddling, and often they will defecate/urinate.
  • When the seizure is over the dog may have trouble seeing or walking, but this is rarely permanent.
  • Try to keep your dog on a soft surface and talk to him calmly to reassure him.
  • After the seizure, record how long it lasted
  • If he seems fine afterwards, book an appointment with your vet. But any seizure that lasts 5 minutes or more requires immediate medical intervention.

Personal note: There are many cases of “epilepsy” where a switch to a real food diet stopped the seizures. Preservatives in kibble, natural and chemical, seem to have a greater impact on dogs prone to seizures. You have nothing to lose from trying. This website will help guide you through making the food and supplementing the diet of a healthy adult dog with epilepsy.


  • The signs including pawing at the face, coughing, drooling, gagging, or collapsing.
  • Attempt to open your dog’s jaws (may need two people) and reach back to scoop out the object.
  • Check the roof of the mouth, usually between back teeth where sticks often become wedged. Pull it out.
  • Modified Heimlich: compress the trachea just below the larynx with a few quick squeezes.
  • If your dog is small enough you can try picking them up and shaking them gently.

Eye Injuries

  • For immediate relief you can flush with saline and apply Polysporin Ophthalmic from the pharmacy.
  • Make a vet appointment. Eyes are very sensitive and unforgiving.

Thanks again to Dr. Scott Bainbridge and DWAH for hosting the free talk and helping to educate dog owners and pet care professionals.

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