Emergency Medicine & Your Pet

None of us likes to think about emergencies with our pets, but they do occur. Here is some information about emergency situations that we hope will be helpful. First, what is an emergency? An emergency is any medical condition requiring veterinary attention within a matter of minutes to hours. Some of these conditions are life threatening and require immediate treatment. Most, however, are conditions in which prompt medical attention will greatly improve your pet’s recovery. Hopefully, the following paragraphs will help you determine the severity of your pet’s condition.

Life threatening emergencies are generally rather obvious: severe bleeding, broken legs, pets hit by cars, continuous seizures. Always remember your own safety in dealing with animals in severe pain. Try to gently support the injury while moving your pet to a veterinarian immediately. Less obvious, but equally urgent emergencies, include gastric distention (bloat), urinary blockage, and pyometra (infection of the uterus). Signs of bloat, usually seen in large, deep-chested dogs, are an inability to get comfortable, drooling due to a difficulty swallowing, and a distended abdomen. This disease can rapidly lead to shock and death if not treated immediately. Urinary blockages are usually seen in male cats, but can occur in male dogs and, less commonly, in female dogs and cats. These animals will strain to urinate frequently with little or no urine produced. Male cats tend to vocalize while straining. This emergency can lead to kidney failure, bladder rupture, and death if not treated quickly. Pyometra, an infection of the uterus, is a chronic disease that is always treated as an emergency when diagnosed. By the time your pet shows signs, which include a discharge from the vagina, excessive urination and drinking, she is already experiencing kidney failure and other serious metabolic changes. Emergency surgery is necessary.

Other conditions requiring immediate attention include various poisonings. Anytime you suspect your pet has swallowed antifreeze, you should call a veterinarian immediately. This poison MUST be treated before your pet acts ill in order to save him. Rat and mouse poisonings must also be treated immediately to allow for uncomplicated recoveries. Ibuprofen and acetaminophen (Tylenol), especially in cats, can be poisonous and should be treated early is suspected. Always consult a veterinarian before giving your pet any human medicine. And don’t forget that chocolate is poisonous to dogs and cats.

The list of emergency situations which are not life threatening is very long, comprising most cases seen at emergency clinics. Probably the best advice for these cases is to realize that a behavior change is the first sign noted in most illnesses in pets. You are the expert concerning your pet’s behavior. If you believe a significant change in behavior has occurred, seek veterinary attention soon. It is better for us to determine nothing is seriously wrong, than for a true emergency to go untreated.

The best advice we can give you concerning emergencies and your pet is to prevent as many as possible. Keep all poisons safely away from pets; keep your pets controlled and away from other animals and traffic; have your pets regularly examined by your veterinarian for proper vaccinations; spay and neuter all non-breeding animals. Also, find out how your veterinarian handles emergency calls. If your area has a central emergency clinic, know how to get there quickly. Have the phone numbers readily available. Stay calm. Be safe.

by Steve Shrum, D.V.M. of Holly Tree Animal Hospital &
Peggy Rardin, Vet Tech, of the Greenville Animal Emergency Clinic

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