It’s very worrying for us as pet owners when our furry companions get sick. What’s even worse, is when they get sick after hours during the night or at the weekend when your usual vet is closed. It can be confusing to know what to do or who to contact, fortunately, there are emergency vets available. You may be wondering does your pet need to see an emergency vet and what you should do if they’re unwell. We’ll discuss everything that you need to know now.
When to Call the Veterinarian
We dread to think of our pets getting sick, especially after hours or on the weekend. Luckily, all veterinary clinics have a plan in place for after-hours veterinary care. They may provide an out-of-hours emergency service themselves or they may outsource this to a 24-hour veterinary hospital. Either way, if you check their website or ring their phone number, there should be clear instructions on how to contact the veterinarian.
Even if you know that your vet has an emergency service available, you may be worried about contacting them. It can be hard to know if our pet is sick enough to need veterinary care. My advice in this situation is to ring your emergency vet regardless. They will be more than happy to advise you and assess whether your pet needs to be seen urgently. It’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to our furry companion’s health.
However, there are some health concerns that absolutely need to be seen by an emergency veterinarian or at least triaged over the phone. These include but aren’t limited to pets that;
- Have been involved in a trauma e.g. road traffic accident, dog fight, fall from a height
- Aren’t eating or drinking
- Have eaten something toxic or poisonous
- Are unable to urinate or defaecate
- Are seizuring, collapsed, or wobbly
- Have labored breathing or excessive panting
- Are choking
- Have swollen areas e.g. swelling after a bee sting
- Are bleeding e.g. from a wound
- Are collapsed or unresponsive
This list isn’t exhaustive but if you know your pet is unwell and not acting like themselves, ring the emergency veterinarian and they can advise you. After all, you know your pet the best.
What Symptoms to Check First
Our pets can show different symptoms when they’re unwell, some more urgent than others. If you have time, you can check their symptoms so you can tell the vet on the phone and they can triage your emergency.
If your pet is showing symptoms such as pale gums, increased breathing effort, noisy breathing, bleeding, straining to urinate (especially male cats), swelling, seizures or collapse then you should ring your emergency vet as soon as possible. Time is of the essence.
Other less urgent but very important symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, reduced appetite, drinking more or less, or changes in behavior. It’s important to know details about these symptoms if your pet is displaying them. For example, if your pet is vomiting you should know how many times they’ve vomited (approximately), what was in their vomit (e.g. was it bile or did it have food, plastic, blood, etc.), when did the vomiting start, is it getting worse, has your pet kept any food down, etc. If your pet is having seizures try to time how long the seizure lasted and what times they’ve had seizures. If you think your pet has eaten something harmful, try to find out when they ate it and how much they ate.
Any details that you have will really help your vet when they take a history from you. It may help them find out what is making your pet unwell or lean them towards certain tests.
What You Should Do When Your Animal is in Distress
Even though it’s difficult, the most important thing initially is to keep calm if your pet is in distress. When our pets are distressed we’re likely to become distressed too and this is understandable but it can make the situation worse. Our pets feed off our emotions and we could make them more distressed if we act panicked. For this reason, keep outwardly calm if you can.
Check your pet over – are they breathing? Are they responsive? Are they collapsed or seizuring? Are they bleeding?
Ring your veterinarian as soon as possible, or ask a family member to do so if you need to attend to your pet. Keep the environment calm, quiet, and free from loud noises and music. Remove other pets if possible as they may become stressed and stimulate the distressed pet. If your pet has a visible wound that is small and not bleeding heavily, you can flush it with sterile saline if you have this available and cover it with a clean dressing. If your pet is bleeding heavily from a wound, apply pressure with a clean cloth or towel and get to your emergency vet as soon as possible.
If your pet is panting excessively and feels very warm, have windows open or turn on the air con on the way to the vet. On the other hand, if your pet is collapsed and feels cold place a blanket on them to keep them warm. You may also need to lift them into the car if they’re weak or collapsed. Always take care handling a pet that is distressed as they may bite or scratch without meaning to as they could be disorientated or in pain.
The vet on the phone will give you advice on what to do based on your pet’s symptoms, every situation is different.
What You Should NOT Do When Your Animal is in Distress
In an emergency situation, it’s important not to do anything that could make the situation worse. This is easier said than done as these situations can be stressful when our pet is very unwell. Things to avoid include;
- Avoid giving your pet any human medication or any pet medication unless advised by your emergency veterinarian over the phone.
- If they’re choking, avoid trying to remove the item yourself. You may get bitten or even push the item further into their airway. Pets often need to be sedated to remove items from their airway.
- If they feel warm and are excessively panting (potential heat stroke), keep them cool but don’t put ice or very cold water on them. This can make the situation worse and compromise their circulation.
- Don’t put any creams or powders on open wounds.
- If your pet is seizuring, don’t disturb them. You can place a blanket under their head if possible and remove anything harmful nearby. If they continue seizuring constantly, your vet will advise you on how to move them safely.
- If your pet has eaten something harmful, don’t make them vomit unless your vet advises you to do so. Some sharp objects and caustic liquids can cause a lot of trauma to the esophagus if the pet vomits them back up.
- Don’t waste time before you contact your vet, prompt advice and treatment can make a big difference in your pet’s outcome. Remain calm and bring them to your vet as soon as it is safe to do so and follow the advice your vet gives you on the phone.
What To Do If Your Dog/Cat Ate Something Wrong
A really common emergency is pets that have eaten something they shouldn’t have. This can include toxins/poisons or even inedible objects that may cause a bowel obstruction (a foreign body). It’s important to try and find out when your pet ate the substance/object, how much they ate, and if they’ve developed any symptoms.
If your pet has eaten something harmful, ring your vet straight away. If they’ve eaten something like chocolate or grapes/raisins in the last couple of hours, your vet will likely induce vomiting which will bring the food back up. However, if they’ve eaten something sharp or hard, your vet may decide to perform some x-rays and do an ultrasound to see where the item is. Some cases of foreign bodies need intravenous fluids, hospitalization, and even abdominal surgery.
Early treatment results in the best outcomes.
If your pet becomes unwell after hours or during a weekend, emergency veterinarians are available for advice and to treat your furry family members if necessary. It can be difficult to know if your pet needs to be seen but in general, if they’re having difficulty breathing, are collapsed, unable to toilet, have a severe tummy upset, or aren’t eating or drinking it’s likely that they need veterinary attention. Your emergency vet can advise over the phone and assess if your pet needs to be seen so don’t hesitate in ringing them if you’re concerned about your pet. Emergency veterinarians exist to provide emergency veterinary services for your pets so don’t delay in ringing them if you find yourself in a pet emergency.