Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He has been working with dogs for more than 40 years.
If you do not have access to an emergency clinic for your dog, there are things you can do immediately at home. If it is not something you can take care of on your own or you are not prepared to deal with an emergency, I will list some alternative things you can do.
Be Prepared to Help Your Dog
The first thing you need to do if something is wrong is to grab your emergency kit. If you do not have an emergency kit and are reading this article before the emergency is taking place, take the time to make a list and get things together. There are about 20 essentials in any small kit you need to put together for your dog.
When dealing with dogs, especially one that is in pain, a muzzle is important and may save you both a lot of heartaches. If you do not have one in your emergency kit or need to take care of your dog immediately, the following video will give you an idea of how to muzzle your dog quickly.
Things You Can Do at Home If No Emergency Vet Is Available
If no help is available, here are some things you can try depending on the situation.
This is something that you can and should take care of at home. Read this article that has images to help you save your dog´s life.
I have included a link in the reference section and if you want to learn this technique then you can sign up for a course in some areas. (This is not something that can be taught over the internet as you really need hands-on practice.) It is a good idea to learn CPR but keep in mind that this is most likely not going to work.
If a wound is small it is usually easy to apply some pressure to stop the bleeding before cleaning and bandaging.
Hit by a Car
I would really prefer that everyone with a dog that has been hit by a car was able to get help from a vet, but I know this is not always possible.
How much you can do for your dog depends on how serious the accident was. A few years ago one of my Schnauzers was run over by a truck full of concrete. Even before I could get her back to the clinic she died. Other dogs will go into shock and die without immediate fluids. The “ideal” accident, of course, is when the dog is mainly suffering from “road rash.” So what can you do?
- Remove any dirt from the nose so that your dog can breathe normally.
- Put the dog on his or her chest.
- Flush the eyes with sterile saline to remove any sand or gravel that will cause irritation later.
- Clean any road rash with chlorhexidine. If you have it, you can put some coconut oil on the wounds to improve healing. (Do not use an antibiotic ointment as your dog will lick it off and get sick afterwards.)
- Make sure your dog has a bowl of fresh water by her side. She may be sore and not want to get up. Food is not that important at this moment but it is important that she drinks and stays hydrated.
If your dog is not eating, it is rarely an emergency. When a dog is vomiting the first thing that the owner needs to do is stop putting food in his bowl. Do not try to tempt your dog to eat by giving him or her some special food.
If your dog continues to avoid eating he will become weak so you should consult your regular veterinarian and look into the problem. It is not an emergency.
Almost all cases of lameness can be taken care of at home the first evening. This is not to say that they will get better at home, but they are not emergencies that need to be taken care of immediately. Even a broken bone can be stabilized and repaired later if no emergency care is available.
- Confine your dog. (This can be in your living room but if the dog is going to jump up every time someone shows up at the door she is better off in the laundry room or back bedroom.)
- Do a physical exam and look for a wound. If you need more help, here is an article I wrote on how to diagnose lameness at home.
- If the paw is injured, clean it.
- Apply a cool compress to the injured area if the leg, if appropriate.
- If you have examined the dog´s leg and there is no wound, only a sore muscle, sit on the ground with him and massage the sore area gently.
These problems are never emergencies. If your dog is biting at his skin and is so uncomfortable that he cannot sleep it is okay to give a small dose on Benadryl (not Benadryl-D) at 1 to 2 mg/pound. Some dogs will itch less but almost all dogs are going to sleep more comfortably. There are other antihistamines you can give your dog if there is no emergency vet available.
If your dog is developing a hot spot, you can take care of it immediately and the problem might clear up even before a visit to your vet. The basic treatments at home are outlined in this article.
Asking for Help on the Internet
Remote care is not easy with dogs. It is not like when a physician is treating a human patient since the dog cannot tell you where he is in pain or any other symptoms; many conditions in dogs can only be diagnosed and treated properly after an examination and lab work.
Some conditions, like a dog in shock or suffering from repeated seizures, can only be treated with medication and you cannot help even with a good first aid kit.
Online veterinary care was developed mainly for asking about behavior and basic care and is not a good option in an emergency.
You are not going to find a vet to diagnose and treat your emergency on the internet. If you just want to ask questions though there are a lot of good services available.
I am not going to recommend any specific service since they vary all of the time. Many of them are run by large corporations like Banfield and Petco and only cost about $20. More expensive services are available but are unable to meet your dog´s emergency needs.
If you have a situation in which they might help, just type “online vet care for my dog” (followed by the name of the city and state you live in) into your search engine.
Situations Where You Have to Take Your Dog to the Vet
The purpose of the article is to inform people what they can do when there is no emergency vet available. Sometimes, however, there is just nothing you can do if there is not a vet to help. If this is the case, the dog is going to suffer and might die before morning when your regular vet is available.
The following is a list of conditions that must see the emergency vet. Your dog may not make it many hours without help.
Eyeball Out of Socket (Proptosed Eye)
If your dog is small and has large eyes, especially a breed like the Pug, it will not take much for the eye to come out of place. This condition is painful and there is always swelling so that it is almost impossible to put the eye back into place at home.
If the dog is taken immediately to an emergency veterinarian he can be sedated, the eyelids opened at the edges to allow the eye to be put back into place, and then sutured so that it does not happen again right away.
If this is not something you can do, try at least wrapping a moist bandana around the eye. Without prompt treatment, your dog will most likely lose his eye.
If your dog is vomiting and has neurological symptoms (like seizures) he may have been poisoned. If you have an idea what kind of poison he has consumed or need to ask more questions you can contact a poison control center. Some dogs can be given a product like hydrogen peroxide (about one milliliter per pound, so you need a syringe from your first aid kit) to vomit up the poison but call first because some pets can become worse if they are forced to vomit. If you do not have any idea what the dog has eaten you can try giving activated charcoal by mouth. (We use liquid in the clinic but I keep activated charcoal capsules at home next to my first aid kit. A dog should be given two capsules every 10 pounds, but make sure he is no longer vomiting.
If this is not something you have on hand from Amazon, you can purchase it at some pharmacies. This needs to be given as soon as possible so be sure to call and check if the pharmacy has the product.
Swollen Abdomen but No Vomiting
Bloat is a condition that mostly affects large dog breeds with a big chest, like Great Danes, but many other dogs can be affected. Some of these dogs can survive if a stomach tube is passed to relieve pressure but many others need emergency surgery so the stomach can be deflated and tacked into place. If you cannot pass a stomach tube then try to encourage the dog to sit up or, ideally, walk around.
Unable to Use Back Legs
A back injury on a dog like a Dachshund is an emergency because if the swelling is not reduced immediately the damage to the spinal cord will cause permanent lameness.
The only thing you can do at home is to restrict your dog´s movements so that he does not damage the spinal cord anymore. (No standing up, no walking around, and certainly no jumping up at the door. If your dog is excitable and you are worried about someone coming over, take him to a back room and stay with him.)
Some wounds will pump blood out and will not be helped by pressure or even a tourniquet. If the wound is very bad, like a severed major artery, the dog will die before you can even get any help.
Take your forceps out of your first aid kit and put some pressure on the wound and try to identify the severed vessel. If you can grab the end of the artery and close the forceps your dog might live until the morning so that you can take him to the vet for a transfusion.
There are many other conditions that an emergency vet can help with, but if this is not a possibility, then your dog will most likely survive until the morning.
Your dog will be in a lot of pain so you need to keep him confined until you can take him to the vet. Put him in a bedroom, throw a sleeping bag down on the floor next to him so that he will rest more comfortably, and make sure that you provide water. It is a good idea to splint the leg with a rolled-up magazine until you can get him to the vet but if moving the broken leg is very painful for the dog, just let him be.
Be sure to learn the difference between coughing and choking. Choking needs to be taken care of immediately, even before seeking an emergency vet, while coughing is uncomfortable but not usually life-threatening.
Dogs with epilepsy usually stop after one seizure. If your dog has a seizure, does not wake up, and goes into another seizure, he has a condition called status epilepticus. When the body goes through a seizure all of the muscles are stimulated, and eventually, his body temperature will rise high enough to cause permanent brain damage.
If your dog is in status epilepticus he needs an IV injection of valium or another drug to stop the seizures, but if there is no way to get to an emergency vet then try to keep him as cool as possible.
What You Can Do if You Cannot Afford an Emergency Vet
If your dog is in bad shape and there is nothing you can do at home, do not decide that you cannot visit the emergency vet because you cannot afford it.
Between the examination fee (office call), lab work, and the charges for the necessary procedure, most emergency vet visits are going to cost you at least $500. Most parts of the US have higher charges in metro areas where emergency clinics are plentiful, so plan on spending at least $1000 and even more if surgery is needed. What can you do if you do not have this much money in your bank balance?
- Try to call your regular veterinarian: If your dog needs veterinary care that you cannot afford, the first thing you should do is talk to your regular veterinarian. (If you do not take your dog to the vet and do not have a regular veterinarian this is going to be very difficult.) Your regular vet will know the closest emergency clinic and might even know the person on call at that clinic.
- Ask for a payment plan at the emergency vet: Unfortunately, asking for a payment plan often does not usually work with an emergency clinic. The vet on call is often an employee and cannot offer free services, and the emergency clinic may have never seen you before and will not plan on seeing you in the future to make payments on your bill.
- Pay with a credit card: The best solution is to pay with a credit card. If you do not have a card or the card you have does not have enough to cover your dog´s visit you need to ask for an alternative. If you do not have a regular credit card your best option is CareCredit. This is an alternative credit card that is accepted by many emergency clinics. They offer on-the-spot approval, so if you do not have a credit card to pay your emergency visit they may approve it just when you need it. Unfortunately, they will check your credit rating. If you have not been able to obtain a regular credit card, you may not be able to get a card with this company.
- Consider an organization that helps you pay your dog´s bills: Many of the helpful sites that have set up lists of organizations to help you when you cannot pay your vet are not going to be much help in an emergency. (Those lists will not help you much in an emergency. Do not expect any help from groups like the ASPCA or thepetfund.com.)
- Ask for emergency treatment so that your dog does not suffer: No veterinarian wants to see a dog suffer. If you cannot pay and are not able to obtain credit or set up a payment plan, almost all vets will offer temporary treatment. If your dog is suffering and surgery is the only option to save his life in the short term, emergency treatment may be euthanasia.
- Allow your dog to suffer until the next day when you can take him to your regular vet: This is obviously this is the worst choice. No veterinarian wants your pet to be in pain. Please explore all of the other options before making your dog suffer.
- Emergency care: The red cross offers basic CPR classes for dogs and cats in some cities. You will have to search for classes in your area.
- Remote veterinary services: This AVMA site encourages veterinarians to only provide remote services when a veterinarian-client-patient relationship already exists. During the pandemic, some of these rules have been relaxed but do not be surprised if you are unable to get a vet to suggest treatments that violate these rules.
- Online veterinary services: These may not be able to help in an emergency, but some (like vetlive.com) do not charge if they are not able to help. You can also try Petcoach.co or Ask a Vet, but the best thing you can do for your pet is to search to include your city. This increases your chance of finding someone locally.
- Care Credit: If you need financing, read the section above before contacting this site. You should take your dog to the emergency vet immediately and then you can contact this site and apply for help online.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Abby Slutsky from America on August 16, 2020:
I checked to see if I could find any for you. There was at least something for insulin for cats on this list https://www.gofundme.com/c/blog/help-with-vet-bill...
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on August 16, 2020:
Hi Abby, I thought about putting some of them on this list but could not find one that was actually willing to help. All of them were willing to take donations, however!
(If someone has had a positive experience except for GoFundMe and that type of organization I certainly would like to hear about it.)
Abby Slutsky from America on August 16, 2020:
Well, as you know, no dogs for me. However, you have given lots of good advice. I think this is a terrific article for experienced and novice dog owners. I did not know that there were organizations that would assist with medical bills for dogs. Could you share any of the sites that list them? Dog owners might find that helpful.
Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on August 15, 2020:
DrMark, this article seems to be comprehensive. Thanks.
Liz Westwood from UK on August 15, 2020:
This is a great fact file for any dog owner. You have given great advice across a broad range of different scenarios.