Our four-legged family members can communicate a lot to us. It’s easy to tell when your dog is hungry, needs to go outside, is in the mood to play, or wants a nice belly rub. It’s not so easy to tell what’s wrong when your pup isn’t acting like themselves.

It can be unsettling when your dog is experiencing a medical emergency, but, if you know the signs, symptoms and have a plan in place to provide timely care, most major issues can be avoided or dealt with before complications arise.

Don’t Eat That!

Okay, so your pet ate something you know they shouldn’t have. Don’t panic. Dogs have a bad habit of eating anything that seems remotely edible, so there’s a good chance they’ll get into something potentially toxic at some point during their lives. Chocolate, onions, avocados, raisins, grapes, and garlic are human foods known to be toxic to our four-legged friends. Other items commonly found in your home that are toxic to your pet include anti-inflammatory medication, plants such as lilies, household cleaners, and rat poison.

Dog Eating Something Dangerous, Helping Your Panicked Pup: How To Handle 5 Common Canine Medical Emergencies

If your pet ingests any of these items, or anything you think may potentially be toxic, contact Animal Poison Control and your veterinary provider.


If your dog has eaten something they shouldn’t, they may also be experiencing vomiting. However, vomiting does NOT mean your pup is experiencing a medical emergency. If your dog vomits once or twice, you shouldn’t be too concerned. If your dog experiences persistent vomiting in a short period, you could have a serious problem on your hands. Your dog may not only be sick, but they may also else become quickly dehydrated. Here’s how to check if your dog is dehydrated.

dog laying down, Helping Your Panicked Pup: How To Handle 5 Common Canine Medical Emergencies

If your dog frequently vomits when they are not sick and otherwise acts normal, there probably isn’t a reason to be concerned. Just make sure to mention it to your veterinarian during your next visit. If your dog doesn’t typically vomit and is vomiting repeatedly in a short period, contact your veterinarian or emergency veterinarian as soon as possible, especially if you see blood or black bile.  

Trouble Breathing

If your dog is wheezing, coughing repeatedly, is making a sound that sounds like a reverse sneeze, has shortness of breath is not caused by exercise, and your dog is reluctant to move, you may have an emergency on your hand. Dogs typically take around 10 to 20 breathes per minute, if they’re having trouble breathing, then they’re probably taking around 40 breathes per minute, and you need to act fast.

dog having trouble breathing, Helping Your Panicked Pup: How To Handle 5 Common Canine Medical Emergencies

If your dog is producing no air at all, they may have something stuck in their esophagus, and a Canine Heimlich may be in order. If they are just short of breath in general, get them to an emergency veterinarian as soon as possible. When your dog doesn’t get enough oxygen in their bloodstream, the situation could be life-threatening.


Many dogs have medical conditions that cause bloating, however, if your dog has a typically healthy gut and randomly develops a bloated stomach, you’ll want to get them checked out immediately. One possibility for bloat is stomach torsion, a condition when your dog’s stomach essentially flips, cutting off the blood supply to their stomach and becoming fatal in short order. However, your dog may also have a case of food bloat from eating something they shouldn’t have.

Dog with upset stomach, Helping Your Panicked Pup: How To Handle 5 Common Canine Medical Emergencies
The only way to know for sure is to have a veterinary provider take an X-ray. If your dog refuses to stand up, has an enlarged, painful abdomen, and is breathing heavily, it’s probably best to pay a visit to an emergency veterinarian and be safe rather than sorry.

Loose Stools

Diarrhea does NOT always mean there’s an emergency, but it can be a sign something is wrong. Your dog can have loose stools for several reasons that are not serious, ranging from eating grass, eating new food, or having too many treats. However, if your dog is lethargic, is having trouble standing, is also vomiting, has black or tarry stools, or stools with ANY amount of blood, contact your veterinary provider as soon as possible.

dog with upset stomach, Helping Your Panicked Pup: How To Handle 5 Common Canine Medical Emergencies


Experiencing an emergency with your dog can be scary, but remember, they count on you to stay calm and take care of them. Always keep a list of emergency contacts and a list of nearby animal hospitals handy, and remember to keep a close eye on your pup if they are acting strange.