Dogs get hurt and fall ill almost as frequently as children do – they just can’t help it. There are squirrels to chase, dirt to dig, weird things to lick and smelly stuff to roll around in; suffering the occasional wound or illness is part of the gig.

Most often, these injuries and illnesses are minor in nature and require only the simplest first-aid or rest. But occasionally, dogs suffer from more serious illnesses or injuries, and they need immediate veterinary attention. The difficult part for most dog owners is distinguishing between the two possibilities.

While it is always advisable to err on the side of caution and seek veterinary assistance or counsel if you have any doubts about your dog’s well-being, unnecessary trips to the vet are expensive and potentially stressful for your pup.

Common Conditions Requiring Veterinary Attention

Veterinary care is required anytime you observe the following conditions, symptoms or signs. Not all represent emergency situations, but all indicate the potential of a major health problem.

  • Serious traumatic wounds – This really shouldn’t need to be said, but traumatic injuries require immediate veterinary care. This includes things like animal bites or collisions with cars or bicycles.
  • Severe limping – If your dog is limping badly or suffering from an obviously damaged limb, take him to the vet for an evaluation. Carry your dog (if feasible) and try to support the injured limb gently while transporting your pet.
  • SeizuresSeizures may occur in response to a head injury, the ingestion of something toxic or an inherited disease. Some dogs may also experience idiopathic seizures, meaning that their cause is undetermined. In any case, contact your vet or emergency animal clinic at once and solicit their advice.
  • Abdominal distention and pain – If your dog appears to be in pain, and his abdomen is firm and enlarged, seek veterinary care without delay. Such symptoms may indicate your dog is suffering from bloat – a potentially fatal condition.
  • Breathing difficulties – Your dog cannot live without oxygen for very long at all, so immediate veterinary care is required for any dogs that are struggling to breathe. Be aware that breathing problems are more common in some breeds (particularly those with short faces) than others.
  • Unconsciousness – If you cannot rouse your dog, contact your vet immediately. Do not assume that he is simply sleeping heavily, dogs should usually be easy to wake. Try to keep your dog as immobile as possible while doing so, in case he is suffering from a neck injury.
  • Unusual behaviors or postures – Contact your vet if your dog begins tilting his head to the side or exhibiting strange movements, particularly if you are unable to find an obvious cause. Such problems may indicate a neurological issue, which will require veterinary care.
  • Difficulty in labor – Female dogs that appear to be having any type of prolonged distress or the inability to deliver their puppies relatively easily, contact your vet and follow his or her advice. This is especially important for owners who’ve never been through the whelping process before.
  • Extreme or prolonged lethargy – Dogs are lazy at times, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But if your dog begins laying around more often than usual, seek your vet’s advice.
  • Urinary problems – Dogs that pass blood in their urine, have trouble initiating a stream or appear to be in pain while urinating should be evaluated by a veterinarian. Such symptoms may indicate a bladder infection, urinary stones or sexually transmitted diseases, among other causes.

In addition to these specific recommendations, always listen to your instincts – you know your dog better than anyone else does, and you’ll have the best chance to notice when he is acting differently.

Common Conditions You Can Usually Treat at Home

  • Minor cuts or scrapes – Minor cuts and wounds – unless they occur near the eyes, ears, nose, genitals or anus – rarely require veterinary intervention. Wash the wound with soap and water and monitor it while it heals. However, if you observe any swelling, redness or discharge, contact your vet.
  • Isolated intestinal upset – Just like people, dogs occasionally suffer from bouts of diarrhea, constipation or excessive gas (which is actually more of a problem for their owner), and also like people, this is rarely a cause for concern, provided that the incidents are isolated or limited in duration. As long as the problem resolves within about 24 hours or so, and your dog is acting fine in all other ways, this is rarely a cause for a trip to the vet.
  • Isolated vomiting – As with intestinally oriented problems, vomiting is not a cause for concern unless it occurs repeatedly or persists over 24 hours or so. The same advice applies to dogs that hack up fur (or whatever else they’ve been chewing on) from time to time. Be sure to withhold food for 4 to 6 hours after your dog vomits, and then offer a small, easily digested meal. Only resume a normal feeding schedule once your pup is feeling better.
  • Minor itching – Dogs will scratch their itches from time to time, and this is rarely a cause for concern. However, constant scratching can indicate a number of health problems, and necessitate a trip to the vet.




Again, it is always better to seek unnecessary veterinary assistance than it is to allow your dog to suffer needlessly, but do your best to stay calm and make a deliberate decision when you’re faced with an injured or sick dog. Some veterinarians are willing to share their cell phone with clients so that they can get simple questions answered after hours, without having to take your dog into the emergency room.

Be sure to keep these lists handy (bookmark this page on your phone or print out the list and slap it on your fridge), so you can reference it at your time of need. Let us know if we left anything off either of the lists and please feel free to share your questions and comments below.