What to Do in a Pet Emergency
If your pet is in an emergency, you should have some basic knowledge of what to do. As a pet owner, it can be hard to know when your dog or cat is having a real medical emergency, and if you’re worried, even if it’s the middle of the night, it’s always best to contact your nearest emergency veterinarian.
With just a phone call, you can describe your pet’s signs and symptoms, and the veterinary staff will be able to offer you recommendations and whether or not you should bring your pet in.
6 Things to Do in a Pet Emergency
If your pet has suffered trauma or is experiencing a medical emergency, it’s important to follow some guidelines listed below. Of course, the first thing is to contact your local veterinarian or emergency veterinary clinic.
Here are things that you can do in preparation for going to the vet for a pet emergency:
Contact Your Veterinarian or Emergency Clinic Immediately
If your pet has experienced trauma, such as being hit by a car, or has collapsed, call your veterinarian immediately. You can explain to the staff and doctors what has happened to your pet, the signs and symptoms, and follow the veterinarian’s advice.
Try to Keep Calm
If the veterinarian recommends bringing your pet in, try to remain calm, and assess the scene for any additional threats to you or your pet, and prepare to transport your pet to the clinic.
Try to Keep Your Pet Warm
If your dog or cat is in shock or pain, try to keep him as still and as quiet as possible. Try to keep moving your pet to a minimum, especially if there are neurological symptoms such as a seizure, broken bones, or any chance of a spinal or back injury.
Safely Get Your Pet Ready for Transport
If possible, try to get a household member or neighbor to help you. For a small dog or cat, you can put her into her carrier by removing the top of the carrier for easy and safe access, or use an appropriate container such as a plastic or strong cardboard box.
For a larger dog, you can make a stretcher made out of some rigid material or a sturdy piece of wood. It’s important to carefully move your pet onto a blanket, towel, or coat so that it can be gently moved to a carrier, box, or stretcher. A thick blanket can help stabilize the spine and neck and prevent your pet from inadvertently biting or scratching you.
Know Proper Restraint Techniques
Many injured pets can be shocked, panicked, painful, and disoriented, and the stress of an emergency involving a pet can cause a normally loving dog or cat to act out aggressively. Although most panicky dogs and cats can respond to gentle handling and a calm, familiar voice, it is important to keep in mind to keep safe when approaching or touching an injured pet.
If you have any questions about how to restrain an injured pet, contact your veterinarian. Also, many kennels and shelters offer basic first-aid courses to pet owners as well. It might be worth it to invest in a soft muzzle as well to minimize the chances of biting injuries.
Wrap Up Your Pet in a Big Blanket to Minimize Movement
As mentioned above, big, thick blankets can be your best tool when handling and transporting an injured pet. Always be very cautious if there is a possibility of broken bones or spinal injury, in which case lay your pet on a board or make-shift stretcher and try immobilize her with straps and a big blanket. In the event of a suspected neck injury, try to immobilize the head and neck with a blanket or towel.
How Do I Know if My Pet is Having a Medical Emergency?
Below are listed a few signs and symptoms that indicate that your pet is having a medical emergency. Without quick treatment, these situations can be very serious and potentially fatal. While this list doesn’t include every emergency condition, it can give you a place to start.
However, when in doubt, call your veterinarian or emergency veterinarian, and keep in mind that the sooner a problem is treated, the less expensive it will be in the long run.
Signs and symptoms of a pet emergency include:
If your pet has noisy breathing, if you notice abdominal breathing, or if your pet is stretching his head and neck out trying to get a breath, or if your cat is open-mouth breathing, get to an ER as soon as possible.
These signs may indicate respiratory distress and can lead to impending cardiac arrest.
If your pet experiences collapse, or where he can’t get up and is very weak, this can indicate an emergency.
If your dog or cat is panting constantly, this may also indicate a respiratory emergency.
A Distended or Bloated Abdomen
If your pet, especially dogs, appears to have a distended abdomen, call the ER right away. This could indicate a GDV (Gastric Dilatation Volvulus) or fluid in the abdomen.
Trying to Vomit or Non-Productive Retching
If your dog is trying to vomit and appears to have a distended abdomen, this could also indicate a GDV, where the stomach flips over on itself. This is a medical emergency and can be fatal if not treated immediately.
If your pet is acting very tired and lethargic, this is not normal and may warrant a visit to the ER.
If your pet is coughing, and can’t rest because of it, call the ER. Also, if your pet is coughing up pink, foamy liquid or blood, call the ER right away.
Anxiety, Restlessness or Can’t Get Comfortable
This may indicate a pain response or an underlying medical condition.
Obvious Wounds, Bleeding, Swelling, or Broken Bones
These may be a result of trauma and injury and should be treated as soon as possible.
Unable to Move or Walk or Dragging of the Back Legs
These symptoms constitute a pet emergency. If you have a cat and it cannot move its back legs call the ER immediately. This may signal a saddle thrombus, which is a blood clot that lodges at the base of the aorta.
If not treated, this condition can be fatal.
High Heart Rate
The normal heart rate for small dogs is 100-140 beats per minute and for larger dogs 60-100 beats per minute. For cats, the normal heart rate ranges between 140-220 beats per minute. If your pet is experiencing a high rate (greater than 160 BPM), this indicates an emergency, and may a result of cardiac issues.
If you want to take your pet’s heart rate, place your index and middle finger along the femoral vein on the inside of your pet’s lower leg/thigh, just below the groin area. Count the beats for 15 seconds and then multiply by four.
High Respiratory Rate
If your pet’s respiratory rate is more than 60 breaths per minute at home while resting, this may indicate a respiratory pet emergency.
Pale or Abnormal Gum Color
Pale gums, purple gums, or bright red gums are abnormal.
If your pet is painful, and cries out in pain when moving, or cannot get comfortable, this warrants an ER visit.
This may indicate ingestion of a foreign body or a toxin.
Abnormal Rectal or Vaginal Discharge
If you notice an abnormal discharge that is red, pink, or odiferous, this may indicate an underlying condition or infection.
Jaundiced Eyes or Gums
Jaundice is a condition where excess bilirubin, formed when hemoglobin (the part of red blood cells that carries oxygen), is broken down. If your pet has jaundice, this may be an indication of hepatitis, gallstones, and tumors.
If your pet has suffered bite wounds or was involved in a fight with another animal, he will need immediate medical attention, and possibly surgery.
If your pet is experiencing seizures (more than 2-3 minutes or having more than 2-3 seizures in 24 hours), this is indeed a medical pet emergency.
Poisoning or Toxin Ingestion
If you suspect that your pet has ingested a poison or a toxin, call the veterinary ER immediately. The ingestion of poisons and toxins can be potentially fatal if not treated as soon as possible.
If you think that your pet has been poisoned, or has ingested a toxin, you can always call the non-profit ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (888-426-4435) or the Pet Poison Helpline (800-213-6680).
If your pet feels warmer than usual, or if his temperature is over 103, contact the ER immediately.
If your pet’s temperature is less than 99, this is abnormal, and you should contact the ER as soon as possible.
Straining to Urinate
If your pet is trying to urinate, especially if you have a male cat, call the ER immediately. Male cats can present with a condition called a “blocked tom,” where the urethra is blocked with crystals, making it difficult for your cat to urinate. This is an emergency and can be fatal without immediate treatment.
If your dog is unable to urinate, this also constitutes an emergency and requires immediate attention to prevent bladder rupture.
Straining to Defecate
This may indicate a blockage and may require immediate attention.
Seek Immediate Help for Your Pet’s Emergency
In the event of a pet emergency, remember to call your veterinarian and/or an emergency right away, stay calm, and take precautions to ensure both your safety and that of your pet. In any emergency situation, it’s always best to get immediate help so your pet has the best chance at recovering as quickly as possible.
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