Updated 06 November 2014

10 pet emergencies

Rex is vomiting and Kitty is scratching. When should you get to the vet without delay?


Your pets are like members of your family. They sleep on your bed (not the Great Dane), they eat in your kitchen, and they lie in front of your heater, whether it's switched on or not.

You take good care of them and it worries you when they get ill. The big question is when you should load Fido and Fluffy in the car and take them to the vet immediately, and when it's OK to wait till the morning and see whether things get better.

We asked veterinarian Dr Cedric Tutt, for advice on this tricky issue. These are the things that warrant immediate action:

Allergic reaction
When an animal emerges from shrubs or bushes yelping, it has probably been stung, or bitten. The culprit could be a bee, or even a snake. When an animal's face starts swelling, medical attention is needed right away. Your animal could be allergic to that particular type of venom.

Eye injury
This can happen easily. Your kitten can take a swipe at your dog or your cat has a fight with the tomcat next door, and the eye is severely scratched. This could lead to a loss of sight, or a cut in the cornea, or even a ruptured eye.

If your animal vomits once, it could just be feeling nauseous, or have eaten something disagreeable, but when it starts vomiting a few times over a period of 24 hours, it could have something stuck in its digestive system. Dogs often have bones (or other objects such as kids' toys) stuck in their throats - especially after its owners have tossed it many bones after the weekend braai. Objects can also get stuck where the neck joins the body, in the animal's stomach or in its intestine. These will have to be removed by a vet.

Not eating
This is often the first sign that all is not well. If an animal does not have diarrhoea, and is not vomiting, a lack of appetite is worrying. Watch out for any blood in body fluids, such as the faeces, the urine, or in its vomit. This could have many causes, including cystitis or tick bite fever.

These will not heal if simply left. If a dog or a cat is limping after a fight, or after a fall (or possibly even after being knocked down by a car), swift medical attention is needed. Fractures are usually accompanied by swelling of the area.

Broken jaw
This can happen to both cats and dogs. Fights can cause this type of fracture, and so can being hit by a car. Animals with broken jaws are usually unable to close their mouths and they register this as a mouth obstruction, which they then try to remove. They could do themselves serious damage in the process.

Flea allergies
Fleas are not merely an irritation to animals, but also to their owners. Animals with flea-bite dermatitis can scratch themselves to shreds in a very short time. And here's the bad news – for every flea on the animal, there are about eight in your house. Speak to your vet about the most effective de-fleaing treatment. And on this topic – fleas and worms share a life cycle. If your child kisses the dog (just think where that muzzle has been!), it could get worms that way. Deworm pets and kids – and yourself on a regular basis.

Unusual lumps
A hardened, raised lump could be one of a few things: an abscess (often present in cats after they've been involved in a fight), a tumour, or a haematoma (accumulation of blood in the tissues). All three of these are potentially serious and need attention.

Hair loss
If an animal's skin goes scaly, and it itches, it could have mites. The bad news is that some of these can spread to the humans living in the same house. If the animal is treated, it sorts out the problem.

Pale skin
When an animal's eyelids or gums go pale, it has either suffered blood loss, or it could have tick bite fever. Even if an animal is black, their eyelids or gums could become a sort of greyish colour. Get the animal to the vet.


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