I tend to think, if the owner thinks it's an emergency, it is. It is to them, and a clinic should address their concerns as such, even if they are freaking out a bit too much over something minimal. I would have a fit if someone talked down to me because I didn't understand that whatever was freaking me out was minimal. I've had it happen; we don't return to those clinics!
Many years ago before I knew any better, I saw blood coming out of my cat's ear. Just a tiny bit, but I sorta' freaked and thought his ear was truly bleeding from the tympanic membrane, or ear drum. After I calmed down, I was able to discern he got a scratch from playing and it just went deeper into his canal than what seemed obvious at first. Another time, I took my other cat to the emergency vet because he didn't eat his dinner. Yep. He is such a huge, huge pig, that I figured if he was skipping dinner that something must be really wrong. On top of it, he hissed at me when I went to palpate his abdomen; I think I feared a urinary obstruction at the time. The vet was nice, and my cat ended up just having a fever of unknown origin which was easily treated.
Here is a quick list I extrapolated from an emergency brochure, regarding when to treat the condition as an emergency:
- hit by car, or trauma from a fall
- vomit and/or diarrhea
- difficulty breathing, and/or discolored gums (pale, blue, bright red)
- broken bones
- bleeding from eyes, nose, or mouth
- blood in urine or feces
- collapse or inability to stand
- ingestion of a suspected poison, antifreeze, human meds or household cleaners
- signs of extreme pain such as whining or shaking
- disorientation; bumping into objects, wobbly walking
- swollen abdomen that is hard and/or painful to the touch
- has gone 3-4 hours between delivering babies
- strains or is unable to urinate, especially in male cats
This list is not inclusive of every imaginable thing which would constitute an emergency, but it's a helpful guide. When in doubt, call your clinic and ask them. It's always important to note anything you think may have caused the emergency, such as ingested items, or how long your dog's condition has persisted. If your dog has had a seizure, it's of extra importance to note the duration of time between seizures.