Dog Emergencies

Witnessing your dog have an emergency can be traumatic, whether they’ve been hit by a car, experienced a devastating injury, or are suddenly having difficulty breathing. In the midst of an emergency, you may need to quickly take action. 

If you are in San Francisco, CA, and your dog is experiencing an emergency during our business hours, please call us immediately at 415-907-7576. If you are out of our area or seeing this after hours, please go to Google and search for “emergency veterinarian near me open now”.

On this page, you will find the most frequently asked questions about dog emergency care with answers provided by experienced veterinarians.

emergency car

What should I do if my dog is having an emergency?

The first question to ask yourself is, “What is an emergency?” From a veterinarian’s perspective, an emergency is anything that warrants immediate medical care in order to avoid very negative consequences, such as loss of life or a much sicker dog. 

The most obvious dog emergencies include: 

  • Fractures
  • Being hit by a car
  • Blood loss
  • Toxins ingested 
  • Trouble breathing
  • Sudden collapse

The following may not be life-threatening, but should also be considered dog emergencies:

  • Ocular problems such as injury to a dog’s eye 
  • Pregnancy issues, including birthing difficulties
  • Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus (GDV), commonly referred to as “bloat”
  • Seizures 

{What are some signs and symptoms that my dog might be experiencing in an emergency?

While external bleeding is a visible emergency, internal bleeding is harder to determine. Check the color of your dog's gums - if they are any color other than light pink, it could be a sign that something is wrong.

Respiratory distress is always an emergency, which can be heart-related, fluid in the chest, or pneumonia. Signs and symptoms include increased respiratory rate, increased heart rate, and open-mouth breathing. Dogs pant when they’re hot or have been exercising, but if they haven't been running recently, are not stressed, and seem restless or unable to rest comfortably, those are warning signs of a possible emergency. 

Sudden collapse is also a significant sign of an emergency that could be related to the heart or lungs. Tremors might mean a seizure, while excessive diarrhea or vomiting with blood is also a significant sign of distress. 

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has developed a list of 13 animal emergencies that require immediate attention, including:

  • Severe bleeding or bleeding that doesn't stop within five minutes
  • Choking, difficulty breathing or nonstop coughing and gagging
  • Bleeding from nose, mouth, rectum, coughing up blood, or blood in urine
  • Inability to urinate or pass feces (stool), or obvious pain associated with urinating or passing stool
  • Injuries to your pet's eye(s)
  • You suspect or know your pet has eaten something poisonous (such as antifreeze, xylitol, chocolate, rodent poison, etc.)
  • Seizures and/or staggering
  • Fractured bones, severe lameness or inability to move leg(s)
  • Obvious signs of pain or extreme anxiety
  • Heat stress or heatstroke
  • Severe vomiting or diarrhea – more than two episodes in a 24-hour period, or either of these combined with obvious illness or any of the other problems listed here
  • Refusal to drink for 24 hours or more
  • Unconsciousness

Is it best to call an emergency hospital before coming in?

If you can safely do so, it is best to call the emergency facility you’re bringing your dog to before arriving. Regardless of whether it is your regular veterinarian or an emergency hospital, you should give them advance notice so they can prepare and be ready for your dog the minute you walk in. Being ready in advance with emergency fluids and medications, an IV catheter, and whatever else they’ll need will save time and expedite the process.

Should I give my dog first aid at home, and what should I have in a first aid kit?

While it’s always smart to be prepared to deal with an emergency situation, you could be putting yourself in harm’s way since a dog will not be in their normal demeanor when they are traumatized or hurt. For this reason, it’s best to transport them safely and securely to your veterinarian or emergency hospital as soon as possible. 

At SF Vet Hospital, we believe you can do more harm than good by trying to administer first aid at home. If there is an actively bleeding wound, minimize blood loss by bandaging or wrapping the area and applying pressure as you make your way to see us. 

How will a veterinarian treat my dog in an emergency?

With any emergency situation, your veterinarian will take the utmost care, working in a methodical and organized manner to help your dog while communicating with you every step of the way.  In a dog emergency situation, your veterinarian will:

  • Check their vitals
  • Check for dehydration and blood loss
  • Use an IV catheter to administer fluids quickly 
  • Supply oxygen therapy if needed 

Once the veterinarian has stabilized your dog with a steady heart rate and steady breathing, they will start diagnostics such as blood work, x-rays, ultrasound, and anything else to help figure out what's going on with your dog. 

Why is prompt treatment in an emergency so important for my dog’s health?

An emergency can't wait, and if not handled quickly, permanent injury or death could be the end result. The dog must be treated sooner rather than later. If you're in doubt, call your veterinarian, tell them what's going on, and heed their advice. 

There are many situations that an owner thinks are emergencies, but a veterinarian will tell you it’s not. However, always consult with your veterinarian first. Perhaps it's just diarrhea or something else that is stressful to the owner, but to a veterinarian, there are a host of things you can do at home to alleviate the problem. 

How do you perform CPR on a dog?

CPR on a dog is very similar to what is done to humans, specifically the way cardiac compressions are given over the thorax to help the heart pump. Dog CPR also includes giving breaths. The ASPCA offers step-by-step instructions for dog CPR, as well as the Heimlich maneuver in the event your dog is choking. 

Our Location


2001 Harrison Street,
San Francisco, CA 94110




8:00 am - 7:00 pm


8:00 am - 7:00 pm


8:00 am - 7:00 pm


8:00 am - 7:00 pm


8:00 am - 7:00 pm


8:00 am - 7:00 pm


9:00 am - 7:00 pm