Pet Emergencies: The 411
by Lara de Courtivron, VMD
Critical Care and Veterinary Specialists of Sarasota
Being caught off guard when your pets need emergency care can often result in high veterinary bills or even loss of a beloved pet. With a few pointers on emergency prevention and preparedness, pet owners can quickly assist their pets or even avoid emergencies in the first place.
P – Prepare in Advance:
- Make a list of local veterinary ERs (phone numbers and addresses) and know how to get to them in advance. Time is of the essence when an emergency arises. With situations such as bleeding, choking or seizuring, there is no time to waste in getting to a veterinarian. Additionally, if you own an exotic pet (reptiles, birds, ferrets, other small mammals), be aware that many vet ERs are not set-up to treat them. Speak with your regular veterinarian in advance to see whom he or she recommends after hours.
- Place window decal alerts on your front door and windows to let emergency rescue personnel know how many animals are in the house if an emergency arises.
- Think about getting pet insurance. There are now many pet insurance companies to choose from, offering anything from basic wellness plans to emergency only plans. In my experience, most clients who have pet health insurance seem very satisfied with it; however, it is important to do your research as some companies have breed and age restrictions, and deductibles and coverage limits vary. The following website is an excellent place to start: www.petinsurancereview.com.
- Puppy and kitten proof your home. Just as with small children, common objects (power cords, needles, thread, Q-tips, styrofoam peanuts, corn cobs, bones, small children’s toys, paper shredders, hand creams, etc.) can prove very dangerous to curious pets learning to explore their environment.
- All puppies and kittens need their full schedule of vaccinations and, due to the prevalence of heartworm disease in the south, monthly heartworm prevention really is necessary. Just these two precautions can potentially save a pet’s life and save owners money on unexpected veterinary bills.
E – Educate Yourself
- Many people are surprised to learn that their pets can have the same illnesses and diseases as humans. While some diseases are unique to animals, as a general rule, if humans can get it then animals probably can too. Some common health issues seen in dogs and cats include diabetes, epilepsy, thyroid problems, asthma, heart disease, “slipped” (ruptured) discs, kidney stones, kidney failure, pneumonia, allergies, glaucoma, stroke, meningitis, and numerous forms of cancer, just to name a few. As with humans, hospitalization and extensive medical treatment are often necessary in an acute crisis, but a good quality of life can often be attained afterwards.
- Know the things in your home and yard that may be hazardous to your pets’ health. Every year a list of the Top 10 Pet Toxins is posted on the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center website (www. aspca.org/apcc). In 2011 these included the following: prescription human medications, insecticides, over-the-counter human medications, people food, household products (fire logs, paints, etc.), veterinary medications, rodenticides, plants, lawn and garden products, and automotive parts. Additionally, it is important to know the local/regional dangers to your pets. In Southwest Florida, we see King Sago Palm poisoning, bufo toad poisoning, snake bites, near drowning in swimming pools and heat stroke, among others. All of these can be life threatening.
- Never assume that any foods or medications are safe. Advil, Tylenol, Vitamin D, topical creams, chocolate, raisins, grapes, onions, garlic and sugar substitutes like Xylitol (used in sugar free gum) can be extremely toxic to animals, causing liver failure, kidney failure, seizures and internal bleeding.
- Know your breeds. Certain breeds of dogs and cats are genetically predisposed to various diseases or are at greater risk for certain health complications. For instance, small breed puppies are more prone to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), deep-chested large breed dogs are more likely to get bloat or GDV (twisted stomach), young male cats are more likely to get urinary tract obstructions (most often a blockage of the urethra), long bodied dogs such as dachshunds and corgis are prone to spinal cord issues (usually ruptured discs), certain breeds of cats and dogs are predisposed to structural heart problems, and brachycephalic breeds (dogs with flat muzzles such as English bulldogs, Pugs, French bulldogs, Boston terriers, etc.) are much more susceptible to heat stroke.
T – Treat What You Can At Home
- Have a Pet First Aid Kit ready to go. The first aid brochure available on Critical Vet Care Facebook page, , tells how to make an appropriate first aid kit and has information about what to do in some common emergencies. More information is available at two of my favorite sites: www.veterinarypartner.com (look under First Aid & Emergency Care) and http://www.avma.org/myveterinarian/emergency_firstaid.asp.
- Sign up for a pet emergency first aid course in your community. CCVSS holds these classes on the first Wednesday of the month at 4 pm for adults and children.
- Program this number into your cell phone: The ASPCA 24-Hour Emergency Veterinary Poison Hotline, 1-888-426-4435. The service costs $65, but it is well worth the price in an emergency. The ASPCA APCC has an extensive database of pet poisons and always has knowledgeable veterinarians ready to answer questions and give advice. Even if you know you are headed into a vet ER, I recommend calling this number in a known case of poisoning to have a case number established and a doctor working on the problem before getting to your local ER. In some instances, it may even save you a trip to the vet.
S – Seek Medical Help
- Know the problems that require immediate medical attention:
-Known trauma (hit-by-car, dog or cat bites, eye injuries, fractures, etc.). Often these injuries can be more extensive than they initially seem.
-Vomiting more than two times in 24 hours, or vomiting and diarrhea occurring within the same day
-Seizures lasting more than 1-2 minutes or multiple seizures in a day
-Choking, excessive coughing or difficulty breathing
-Inability to urinate or defecate for more than 24 hours
-Any overt signs of pain (vocalizing, trembling, hiding, refusing to walk)
-Refusal to eat or drink, especially when offered a favorite food or treat
2. When in doubt, call your family veterinarian or local veterinary ER.
3. Unfortunately, although it is actually a great value for the money, emergency veterinary care can be expensive. Just as with human hospitals, keeping a facility open and staffed 24-hours a day and having the equipment needed for diagnosing and treating all types of emergencies is not cheap. Just a standard ER exam will run anywhere from $85 – $135, and additional diagnostic tests like blood work, x-rays and ultrasound are often needed to obtain an accurate diagnosis or to begin to rule-out certain problems / diseases. While an ER veterinarian will try to give as accurate an estimate of costs as possible, the nature of emergency medicine can make this difficult. Sometimes the identification and treatment of an illness is straightforward, while other times the problem / disease cannot be determined easily. Plus, the course of a disease or an individual’s response to treatment is unpredictable. As veterinarians, we want to save all of our patients, and prevention and preparedness is always the best place to begin.