Whether we like it or not, things happen. A pet emergency is no different. Many things are seemingly unpreventable – When a dog dashes into the road, or a cat eats tinsel – but are they?
Just as with children, we have to be aware of items in our homes that have potential danger. So let’s consider some thing we can do.
1. See things through your pets eyes. Many common household items have an attraction for pets. Some chemicals taste sweet or appetizing to them (antifreeze being a common one), but can then be deadly. Antifreeze and Tylenol damage the kidneys and can result in kidney failure; tinsel or twine (think play toys) can be eaten by a cat but turn intestines into a pleated accordion. Many thing eaten can be a foreign body and cause a blockage. Among things I saw in the veterinary hospital: super balls, rocks, plastic cooking bags, corn cobs, coins, and, of course, bones. It pays to watch your pet and see what attracts them – and then make sure those items are out of reach. Prevention is the best medicine.
2. Have a pet emergency kit. Many companies make pet first aid kits. Usually they have a variety of bandages, alcohol or iodine wipes, ace bandage, gauze pads, tweezers and plastic gloves. An assembled pet kit will cost you $20-30. You can however make up your own kit from easily obtainable items. The Humane Society has a great list on their website. From an auto accident to a dog or cat fight, it’s easier to pull out a first aid kit than scramble for items to cover wounds or stop bleeding. It also helps to have a good pet first aid book, to help with an unfamiliar situation. These are no substitute for medical attention, but may help control or prevent further damage until you get to your vet. Which leads to number 3.
3. Establish a good relationship with your veterinarian. Don’t make every little thing an emergency (for instance, ticks are not an emergency). Let them get to know you, so when you call and say you have an emergency, they will know you mean it. It also helps if they know what is your pets normal demeanor. Also, learn to trust your instincts. Even if your pet is not obviously bleeding or sick, but just doesn’t act right, go in for a check up, not as an emergency, but just for an exam. And express your concerns, that you know something is just not right. Pet owners know their pets better than anyone else. Find out how your veterinary office handles emergencies: Do they cover their own calls after hours or on weekends? Is there an emergency veterinary service in the area they refer to? Is there any special number to reach someone outside regular office hours?
Some true emergencies
While it may sound strange, something like a broken bone, while quite serious and something that should be treated as soon as possible, it not necessarily a true emergency. A broken bone can be set and treated a couple days from now, once immobilized. But a true emergency is something that requires action right now, to prevent death or serous long term damage.
1. Gastric torsion or dilatation (volvulus), or “bloat” – while it mostly affects large dog breeds with deep chests (Great Danes, collies, Wolfhounds and the like), I have also seen it happen in Beagles and Bichons. the mechanism that regulates stomach gases fails, and the gas begins to fill up the stomach, stretching the abdomen, and putting pressure on the diaphragm, making it hard to breathe. In some cases, the excessive air causes the stomach to twist (think of a balloon, when you twist each end), and volvulus occurs. This can reduce blood flow to the heart as well as the rest of the body. A dog will have a large abdomen, and often stand in a strange stance, with elbows struck out and head and neck extended. Often a dog will vomit, try to vomit, or just spit up foam. this is a true emergency, and you need to seek help immediately. Even with surgery, as many as 50% will still die. It is also extremely expensive. And without surgery to untwist and tack down the stomach, it can happen again.
2. Heat Stroke – in this situation the dog or cat can no longer regulate it’s body temperature and overheating results. Once the body starts to overheat, the animal pants excessively trying to cool itself. Since dogs and cats don’t sweat, panting (moving air quickly in and out) is the way blood is cooled and body temperature regulated. A pets normal temperature is someplace in the 101-102.5 range . A body temperature of 103 and higher, accompanied with panting and or disorientation or collapse is a true emergency. While being exposed to high temperatures may be a primary cause (the hot car, or being out in the sun), I have also seen a dog go into heatstroke on a 50 degree day. So being in a hot environment may not be the cause- remember the dogs mechanism for regulating it’s body temperature fails. In all cases, get the dog out of the heat, if applicable,, and into shade or a cooler environment, and cool the body with lukewarm (not cold) water, alcohol, soda….whatever is on hand….by pouring it over the head and down thee spine. Or use wet towels draped over the dogs body. Then get to the vet. Please note, pets with snub noses, like Bulldogs, Pugs and Persians, already have shortened compromised respiratory systems, and heat and humidity will affect them sooner and more extremely than a dog or cat with normal anatomy.
3. Respiratory emergencies – anything that blocks the airways (a ball stuck in the back of the mouth for example) and reduces or stops breathing is a true emergency. Without air to oxygenate the blood, a pet will faint. Check to see if you see anything in the mouth, and if so try to remove BUT make sure not to push it any further into the throat.
4. Excessive bleeding /arterial bleeding – Deep wounds that produce spurting blood may rapidly decrease blood volume in the injured pet. Auto accidents, fractures or cuts may all be contributing factors. Find the closest pressure point and apply firm deep pressure – you should see a decrease in the spurting action. Apply a heavy padded bandage to the wound, adding gauze or more tape as needed. Tourniquet use is questionable in most situations, especially if you do not have training in how to use one. Then seek veterinary help.
5. Poisoning – I’ve already mentioned antifreeze, but there are many other things that can cause poisoning as well. Mouse/rat bait contains warfarin, which can affect bleeding factors. I’ve seen dog eat poison mushrooms, and die within hours . Household chemicals like bleach, toilet cleaners, ammonia, and other cleansers can be poisons, causes early signs of vomiting. Batteries can cause moth burns and bleeding ulcers (as well as being a foreign body). Fertilizers and lawn chemicals can cause a poison reaction. Chocolate and grapes/raisins can cause seizures and death. And lastly, topical pesticides for fleas and ticks. While most of the highly poisoness chemicals used in the 1960-1970’s are off the market, I remember seeing a kitten who had been dipped with lindane, a popular dog insecticidal dip at the time. However is can be a lethal poison, and cats readily absorb such chemicals through the skin. The kitten was already in seizures. Even though I got it into a sink and shampooed within seconds from the time the owner walked through the door, it was never normal again and had neurological issues, even after being treated with drugs for poisoning.
In all these cases, help the veterinary office to help you by being ready and waiting. Call, or have someone else call, while you are on the way. This gives the receptionist time to alert the doctor and technician staff, and for them to assemble equipment that might be necessary. In a true emergency, the minutes count.