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Is It A Pet Emergency?

Emergency. It’s a word that most pet owners dread, conjuring up images of panic and life-or-death situations.   In the event of an emergency, it is helpful for owners to have as much information as possible so that they can remain calm.  After all, it is hard to help your pet if you yourself are panicking.

Picture of a cat's face

Pet emergencies come in two varieties.  The first is more severe (and luckily less common), requiring immediate or rapid veterinary intervention to save a pet’s life.  In these cases, the veterinary staff will usually stop whatever they are doing and handle your pet’s emergency. The second type should be seen that day, but can usually wait a few hours to be handled.  It has always been our hospital policy to make every effort to see our patients in the event of an emergency.  If you are ever concerned about your pet, please call us.  Our staff is well trained in triaging cases. 

The following animal emergencies should receive immediate care or consultation by a qualified veterinary staff member.

  1. Severe bleeding or bleeding that won’t stop after 5 minutes: Excessive blood loss can lead to anemia.  Severe and continued bleeding could even result in death.  Severe bleeding cases should be handled by the nearest qualified veterinarian.
  2. Bleeding from nose, mouth, rectum, coughing up blood or blood in the urine:  This can indicate internal bleeding or an inability to clot blood.  As mentioned in #1, this bleeding can lead to a severe loss of red blood cells, but it also can be a sign of a more serious problem (whatever is causing the internal bleeding).  Contact your veterinarian or your nearest emergency clinic. 
  3. Choking or difficulty breathing:  There are many things that can cause these symptoms.  Regardless of the cause, any breathing difficulty should be addressed quickly by a veterinarian.
  4. Inability to urinate or difficulty/pain urinating or passing stool:  Urination and passing stool are the body’s ways of eliminating waste.  If a pet is unable to pass waste out of their system, toxins can back up into the body systems.  Urine, because it is passed so often, is the most critical.  A pet’s inability to urinate could become life-threatening (not to mention extremely painful) in under 48 hours.  Please call us immediately if you suspect your pet is unable to pass urine.
  5. Poison ingestion:  if your pet has ingested a poison, time is of the essence.  When caught early, the veterinarian can make your pet vomit which removes much of the offending substance and can significantly decrease the toxic effects.  Quick administration of anti-poison charcoal solutions and IV fluids can further help keep your pet safe.
    Common toxins include: chocolate, rat/gopher/ant bait, antifreeze (Ethylene Glycol toxicity), Xylitol (artificial sweetener), and owners’ medications
  6. Seizures or Staggering:  This can be caused by a number of conditions, ranging from toxicity to neurologic problems.  In any case, sudden onset of seizing, staggering or circling should be addressed quickly by a veterinarian.
  7. Broken bones, severe lameness or inability to use/move leg(s):  Fractures or severe soft tissue damage can be very painful, but quick intervention can help alleviate your pet’s pain while preventing further damage. 
    Complete paralysis should be treated as an emergency and addressed as soon as possible.
  8. Lacerations & Bite Wounds:  If your pet suffers a laceration or a bite wound, it is important to have it seen quickly by a veterinarian.  While it is not a “life or death” emergency (unless it is bleeding profusely), quick handling of these injuries can prevent infection and help your pet recovery quickly
  9. Sudden extreme pain or severe anxiety: If your pet suddenly seems extremely painful or is suddenly overwhelmed with anxiety/panic it could be the sign of an emergency condition.  Contact your vet immediately if you see these symptoms come on suddenly.
  10. Heat Stress or Heat Stroke: This is sadly common in Southern California, where temperatures can reach in to the 100s.  Signs of Heat Stress/stroke are excessive panting and drooling, dark pink gums, inability or refusal to move, pink dogs/spots on the skin of the ear flap, gums and whites of the eyes, and an excessively high body-temperature (over 105°f). 
    Heat Stroke is considered a life-threatening condition and should be addressed immediately by your nearest veterinarian.
    **If you have confirmed that your pet’s body temperature is above 105°f, you can start to help them by wetting their feet (do not soak their entire body), while you bring them to the nearest veterinarian.
  11. Severe Vomiting or Diarrhea:  More than 2 episodes of vomiting in a 24 hour period is considered cause for concern.  Excessive vomiting can lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalance, which can be a severe problem for your pet.  If your pet seems to be unable to keep anything down, restrict access to food/water and call your veterinarian.
    While diarrhea will not dehydrate your pet as quickly, continual diarrhea can be the sign of a serious problem and should be addressed sooner than later.
  12. Refusal to drink for 24 hours or more: Pets may vary in how much they drink, but most pets should drink at least a few times per day (reptiles excluded).  Refusal to take in water can by itself lead to dehydration, but it may also be a sign of a larger systemic problem causing the pet to not want to drink.
  13. Injury to the Eye(s): Injuries to the eye should be addressed quickly.  Not only are they very painful, but left unattended could lead to permanent damage to your pet’s eye.
  14. Unconsciousness:  If your pet suddenly faints or becomes unconscious, it should be address immediately by the nearest veterinary facility.
  15. Birds/Rabbits/Guinea Pigs – Not eating/Not Passing Stool:  With certain “exotic” pets, normal and continual eating and stool production are a sign of health.  If your Rabbit, Guinea Pig, Chinchilla or Pet Bird suddenly stops eating and/or stops producing stool, OR if their stool suddenly seems unusual looking, call us immediately.  Those symptoms can be the sign of a severe condition that can cause your exotic pet to deteriorate rapidly without intervention.

Emergency Preparedness

In the event of an emergency, it is helpful to be prepared.  Knowing how to handle an emergency and where to take your pet can help you remain calm, which is the best way to help you help your pet.

Know Your Local Emergency Clinic:  Find out where your nearest emergency clinic is located and how to best contact them.  Keep their contact information near your phone or even on speed dial.  It is definitely better to have this information and not need it than need it and not have it!

For a list of Emergency Clinics in San Diego, Click Here.

Know Your General Practitioner’s Emergency Policy:  Ask your regular veterinarian what their policy is on emergency care.  Some vets are not prepared to handle true life or death cases either due to lack of equipment or lack of staff training. 
At All Pets Animal Hospital, our staff is happy, trained and prepared to deal with patient emergencies during business hours.  In the event of an emergency feel free to bring your pet in, if we are closer than your emergency clinic.
It is ideal for an owner to call us before coming down or while on the way, so we can prepare to handle your pet’s case. 
If you are not sure if you have an emergency, please give us a call.  Our staff is trained to help triage our clients’ concerns about their pets’ health.

Know How to Take Your Pet’s Temperature (dogs/cats):  A pet’s body temperature can be an important piece of information in determining your pet’s status.  Normal body temperature for dogs and cats is 100°-102.5°f (excited pets may get as high as 103°f).  Temperatures much above that can indicate fever or overheating while temperatures much below that can indicate an inability for the pet to regulate its own body temperature, which is a sign of significant debilitation.
For detailed instructions on taking your dog or cat's temperature, Click Here.

Know What Your Pet’s Gums Look Like:  Pale/White/Blue/Gray gums can be a serious sign in a pet dog or cat (rabbits & small mammals too, but they can be harder to observe).  It is a good idea to become familiar with your pet’s mucus membrane (gum) color when they are healthy, as this can vary a lot from animal to animal.  Gum color can also vary when the pet is at rest vs when they are active.