When Are Your Pet’s Symptoms an Emergency? 

A guide for concerned pet parents.

Team LemonadeTeam Lemonade
pet emergency

Anxious cat dad? Worried dog mom? The question you might find yourself asking is, “When is something an emergency, and when is it more of a wait-and-see scenario?”

We know you’d do anything to keep your pet healthy and safe, but sometimes there’s no need to rush to the vet at the first barf or funky poo. 

Lemonade’s on-staff vet, Dr. Stephanie Liff helped to break down the basics for us. 

That said, if your pet is displaying any symptoms that are concerning to you, call your vet for guidance. 

Pet emergency room: Yea or nay? 

To get started, here’s some symptoms you probably shouldn’t worry about:

  • A bout of diarrhea that lasts less than 24 hours. 
  • One episode of vomiting, especially if it’s a “scarf and barf” resulting from your pet eating too rapidly. If your pet has problems chowing down at a normal speed, consider purchasing a ‘slow feeder’ bowl.
  • If your pet has just been spayed or neutered, you might see some common temporary reactions for 24–48 hours that aren’t an emergency. They include lethargy, poor appetite, diarrhea, constipation, and mild vomiting. 

According to Dr. Liff, here are some key symptoms that might warrant an immediate visit to the pet ER.

  • Difficulty breathing. Call your vet right away if your pet is having trouble breathing (constant panting, fainting, blue gums, and foaming at the mouth are some common signs).
  • Refractory vomiting. If your pup experiences more than three separate episodes of vomiting in an hour, it might be time to call the vet. Keep in mind that your dog or cat might heave more than once in a row to clear their systems, but that still only counts as one “episode” of vomiting. 
  • Seizures. Call your vet if your pet suddenly has trouble balancing, makes chomping motions, foams at the mouth, stiffens, or begins jerking around. 
  • Difficulty urinating for more than 24 hours. This is especially concerning in male cats, as this could indicate a UTI, which is a common and fatal ailment for neutered male cats. 

ALSO: If you know for a fact that your pet has ingested something toxic (prescription meds, poison, cleaning supplies) this warrants an emergency vet visit—no matter the symptoms your pup might be showing.

The truth about your pet’s poop

New pet parents often have “poop anxiety.” Maybe your pet’s stool seems a little funky, but repeat after us: Not every weird poop is an emergency 💩!

Here’s some important intel:

  • The average pet poops at least once a day. Pooping more than four times a day could be considered excessive.
  • But just because your pet may occasionally go 24 hours without a bowel movement, that doesn’t make it an emergency (unless they’re actively trying to poop, and failing to).
  • Take a look at the color of your pet’s poop. Various shades of brown mean everything’s OK. If it’s black, red, yellow or any other color, for a second time, reach out to your vet.
  • What about diarrhea? If your pet’s poop is watery and formless, it could be an issue with the large intestine—visit your vet if the diarrhea persists for more than 24 to 48 hours. 
  • That brings us to a good rule of …paw: Only call the vet if you notice an out-of-the-ordinary poop issue occurring consistently for more than 24 hours. 
  • If you notice rice-like grains in your pet’s poop, they probably have worms. A bit gross, but not a medical emergency. Call up your vet and describe the situation—they’ll either prescribe you a few doses of deworming medication on the spot, or have you bring over a stool sample so they can take a closer look. FYI: Clean up and wash your hands to keep worms from spreading to other critters (human or otherwise) in your household. 

Learn more about your dog’s poop

“Sometimes my poop is just a little weird, okay?”

Toxic foods

Pets, especially young pups, love to eat. And they don’t always eat the right stuff—but typically it’s not an emergency, unless it’s considered a ‘toxic’ food.

According to Dr. Liff, the following foods are especially harmful—and if your pet scarfs any of them by accident, professional treatment is probably a good idea.

  • Any food or snack containing the artificial sweetener Xylitol. Many types of peanut butter actually use Xylitol. Make sure to check ingredient labels! 
  • More than an ounce of dark chocolate (depending on weight of your pet)
  • Grapes or raisins
  • Prescription human drugs, as well as OTC meds like Advil or Tylenol
  • Onions
  • Cherry pits (they contain cyanide)
  • Corn on the cob 
  • Bones (aside from poultry bones, which typically fragment and can pass, depending on the size of your pet)

The following foods aren’t great for your pet to eat, but they also aren’t an emergency. If your pet chows down on any of these, keep an eye on them, but it probably won’t be more than a tummy ache: 

  • Avocado (unless it’s the pit)
  • Fatty meals or food waste (like bacon fat)

What if the thing your pet scarfed isn’t food at all? If your pup decides to swallow an object, it’s the size that matters—in relation to the size of your pet.

For a small object, like a hair tie (we’re looking at you, Whiskers) you can consider inducing vomiting using hydrogen peroxide or Clevor. For a large or sharp object, don’t induce vomiting—call your vet.


Pets, just like us, can suffer from environmental and food-related allergies. 

But how do you know when your pet’s allergic reaction—or skin rash—is a sign of something urgent?

According to Dr. Liff, here are a few common itchy, allergy-related symptoms that may be uncomfortable, but aren’t reason for immediate alarm.

  • Hives aren’t typically an emergency. They look like raised, flattened bumps—often red in color—and they make your pet’s fur appear to be “standing on end.” You can bathe your pet in dish soap with aloe and them give Benadryl (1mg for every pound of weight) up to every 6 hours. Call your vet to confirm your pup’s recommended dosage. 
  • Mild itching or redness.
  • Sneezing, runny eyes.

On the other hand, if you notice your pet exhibiting any of the following symptoms, you’ll want to take more immediate action.

  • If your pet is having trouble breathing, get to the vet ASAP. Signs of that include constant panting, fainting, blue gums, and foaming at the mouth.
  • Dogs with adorably smushed-in faces, like French bulldogs, pugs, and boxers (aka Brachycephalic dogs) should almost always proceed to the vet if they have facial swelling or hives.  

Before we go…

The responsibility of caring for a new pet can be a bit overwhelming, but your new addition can also bring so much joy and fun to your everyday life. In a word: It’s totally worth it. 

Plus, pet insurance, like coverage offered by Lemonade can help give you some peace of mind, knowing that when the unexpected strikes, you can give your pet the care they need without stressing about the vet bills.


A few quick words, because we <3 our lawyers: This post is general in nature, and any statement in it doesn’t alter the terms, conditions, exclusions, or limitations of policies issued by Lemonade, which differ according to your state of residence. You’re encouraged to discuss your specific circumstances with your own professional advisors. The purpose of this post is merely to provide you with info and insights you can use to make such discussions more productive! Naturally, all comments by, or references to, third parties represent their own views, and Lemonade assumes no responsibility for them. Coverage may not be available in all states.


Please note: Lemonade articles and other editorial content are meant for educational purposes only, and should not be relied upon instead of professional legal, insurance or financial advice. The content of these educational articles does not alter the terms, conditions, exclusions, or limitations of policies issued by Lemonade, which differ according to your state of residence. While we regularly review previously published content to ensure it is accurate and up-to-date, there may be instances in which legal conditions or policy details have changed since publication. Any hypothetical examples used in Lemonade editorial content are purely expositional. Hypothetical examples do not alter or bind Lemonade to any application of your insurance policy to the particular facts and circumstances of any actual claim.