Friday, July 22, 2011

What is an emergency?

Frequently my office fields calls from pet owners describing a problem their pet is having and whether they should come in or if they will be ok to watch and wait. Unfortunately, it is difficult to judge the severity of most situations via a phone call. Just think, sometimes it is difficult to tell exactly what is going on when the pet is actually in front of us for an exam, so imagine how much harder it is when we haven't performed an exam. Below are a few situations that warrant a trip to the veterinary office, although this by no means is an exhaustive list of emergency situations.

1. Vomiting more than 2-3 times in 24 hours or attempting to vomit but nothing comes up.

Vomiting can be caused by many diseases and does not necessarily mean something is wrong with the stomach or intestines. There are many metabolic problems such as kidney failure, diabetes with complications and liver diseases that can cause vomiting. In larger breed dogs, non-productive retching and a large "bloated" belly are very concerning and could be a bloated/twisted stomach that requires an emergency visit. At the very least, if your vet thinks the problem is not severe and will pass with a little time, your pet can be made more comfortable with anti-vomiting medications.

2. Persistent watery diarrhea in a pet that is quiet and not drinking water or vomiting.

Just like vomiting, diarrhea can occur for multiple reasons. It becomes a problem when your pet is not able to drink enough water to supplement for all the fluids it is losing. When dehydration sets in it can make your pet very sick.

3. Collapse

Although most pets with collapse will get up right away as if nothing ever happened, this does not mean you should ignore the problem. A dangerous heart problem or many other concerning diseases can cause collapse/fainting.

4. More than one seizure in 24 hours or a seizure lasting more than 5 minutes.

Luckily most seizures stop on their own in less than a minute (although that minute can feel like an eternity). The best thing to do if your pet has a seizure is move anything they can bump into or prevent them from falling down the stairs. The next best thing is to look at your watch and time it. If it is taking more than 3 minutes start getting ready to safely carry your pet to the car and head to the vet. Stay away from the mouth to avoid having a severe bite injury!

5. Cat or Dog unable to urinate or urinating very small amounts while straining.

This can be caused by urinary blockage which will be deadly if it is not corrected. Toxins from the body are cleared by the kidneys in the urine and if your pet cant urinate those toxins build up in the body. Some cats will act as if they are blocked but the best news from the vet is that the bladder is empty or is not blocked and they can go home on some medications.

6. After ingestion of a possible toxin or other item.

Dont wait a few hours to see if your pet will be sick. By that time the toxin has been absorbed and there might not be anything we can do to stop the damage. If you take your pet in soon after ingestion, depending on the toxin, your veterinarian may be able to make your pet vomit before large amounts of the toxin are absorbed.

7. Red, runny or squinty eye.

Eye problems are scary because they can lead to permanent vision loss in a short period of time! See your vet sooner rather than later.

8. Coughing or heavy breathing.

Respiratory problems are always an emergency. Again, they can be caused by problems in the lungs or heart failure among other things. If you wait too long it may be too late to intervene.

9. Swelling or bumps on the body suggestive of an allergic reaction.

Allergic reactions can become complicated and lead to shock and death. A few injections from your vet should help stop the reaction from progressing.

10. If you are concerned enough to call, it is best to come in.
This is what I always tell pet owners! The worst (or actually best!) thing that can happen is that I tell you all is OK and you can go back home with your beloved pet.