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Don’t Panic! – What to do in a Vet Emergency

Don’t Panic! Cat Henstridge BVSc MRCVS Thankfully, medical emergencies don’t happen very often with our pets, however, when they do occur they can be very frightening and it is easy to panic when a beloved animal is seriously ill. This article will hopefully help you by explaining some common emergency situations and what to do. Firstly, all vets have to provide an emergency service out-of-hours, so you will always be able to contact a vet if you need one. Some practices run their out-of-hours and others will use a separate, dedicated emergency clinic. It is useful to know your vet’s arrangements before you need them but usually a quick call to the surgery will give an answer-phone message with the instructions you need (so remember to have a pen close to hand if you call!) The best place for a sick pet to be seen is the surgery and although sometimes your vet may be able to visit, it is likely you will need to take them in, so make sure you have some arrangements in place, especially if you have a large dog who you might not be able to carry if they collapsed. Cuts and bleeding wounds are a common problem, particularly in dogs who don’t aways look before they leap! Firstly, identify where the wound is, and if it is bleeding, stem the flow with constant, even pressure using a clean towel. If the blood is oozing from the wound it is unlikely in the short term there will be significant blood loss but if it is dripping quickly or pumping out, then pressure application is vital, even if your pet resents it. Resist the temptation to check if the bleeding has stopped, just keep the pressure on and pick up the phone! If the wound isn’t bleeding badly your vet may advise you to wait until normal opening hours but to keep it covered so your pet can’t lick it and don’t apply any wound powders or gels as these can make stitching the skin more difficult. Dogs having epileptic fits are a frequent reason for calls to the out-of-hours services (they can occur in cats but are very rare). When they happen they are usually unexpected and very frightening to watch. However, they normally only last a minute or so and usually by the time you get in touch with a vet, your pet is already coming round. During a classic fit, the dog will fall on their side, shake violently and sometimes lose control of their bowels or bladder. The best thing you can do is turn off the lights, TV or radio, stay calm and move anything your pet could hurt themselves on. You can hold them gently but be aware some dogs are very disorientated when they come out of the fit and may snap at you. Continue to keep the environment dark and quiet and then call for more advice. Road traffic accidents are extremely scary and often cause very painful injuries. If you see it happen, make sure your pet is under control (when they are frightened and hurt, animals have a tendancy to run away if they can), keep them warm with a coat or blanket and get them to the vet as soon as possible. If you have to lift or move them do so as gently as possible, keeping the body level and avoiding any obviously damaged areas. It is a very good idea to tie something dogs noses, like a scarf, or cover cat’s heads before moving them as pets who are in pain have a tendency to lash out, even towards people they know. A very common opener to a call to the emergency vet is ‘I’ve just realised my pet has eaten.........’, and again it is usually dogs! Unfortunately there are many things around our houses and gardens which are toxic to our pets. If an animal has eaten something they shouldn’t, even if you are not sure it is poisonous, the best approach is to call the vet straight away and make sure you keep all the packaging so you can tell them exactly what it is and it’s active ingredients. Upset tummies are a regular occurrence at any time but many pets wait until the middle of the night before vomiting or having diarrhoea all over the carpets! In many cases they can be safely left until morning but if they are passing blood (from either end), are vomiting continually, or you know they have swallowed something solid (such as a toy, stone or bones), you should call the vets immediately for advice. Other problems which should definitely trigger a call to your vets regardless of the time of day include any animal which is collapsed, has very pale gums, a rapidly expanding stomach, especially in large breed dogs, being unable to stand on a leg and any bitch giving birth who appears to be struggling. Hopefully an animal emergency will never happen to you but if it does remember, keep calm, take steps to ensure both your pet and yourself are as safe as possible, stem any bleeding with pressure, keep them comfortable and ring your vet as soon as possible. Even if it isn’t an obvious emergency, it is never the wrong decision to call for some advice, you won’t be charged and while you may just need your mind putting at ease, you might just be saving your pet’s life! If you are unsure if you are dealing with a genuine emergency you can use this free interactive pet symptom checker written by UK vets.

Pet Emergencies Happen When You Least Expect Them

A couple of weeks ago I was enjoying a Sunday afternoon walk along the seafront with my husband and our dog, when we came across a couple crouched over a small dog on the pavement. At first I thought they were drying the dog after a dip in the sea, but when we got close I could see that the dog was having a fit. I asked if I could help at all, and they were very relieved to find an off-duty vet on the scene. Luckily all that was needed in this case was some advice and some reassurance, and the fit soon stopped. The owners were able to take him home to rest, and I advised them to phone their own vet to discuss what to do next. Blood tests to rule out certain problems would be helpful, but could wait until Monday. If the dog continues to have fits it might need to take medication to control them. If the fit had not stopped within 10-15 minutes, then an urgent call to the nearest vets would have been needed. I have already written about fits in dogs in a previous blog, so I won’t repeat it all here. More detailed advice about dog seizures and fits can be found in the blog Epilepsy in Dogs and Cats. Emergencies can crop up at any time, wherever you are. One tip that could help to reduce the distress in an emergency is to make sure that your usual veterinary surgery’s telephone number is in your mobile phone. If you take your pet on holiday with you, it would also be worth locating the nearest vets when you arrive and take a note of their number. Even if a problem occurs out of hours it should be possible to get help quickly by dialling the usual surgery number. All veterinary practices in the UK have a duty to provide 24 hour cover for their patients, but the way in which they provide this may vary. In some practices, the regular staff will provide out of hours cover in the usual place. The advantage of this is having access to all the pet’s history, as well as familiar people and surroundings for the pet and owner. Other practices may share a rota with neighbouring practices. This might mean taking your pet to a different practice from your usual one, but each practice being on call less frequently can be a very efficient way of providing the necessary service. Another way is to use the services of a dedicated out of hours veterinary centre which is staffed by vets and nurses working shifts to cover all hours. The single most important thing to remember when you have an emergency is to telephone first. Even if you know that your pet definitely needs to be seen, it will save time if you turn up at the right place and the staff are expecting you and are prepared for your arrival. In some cases, you may find that advice is all that is needed. BrodieThe most common injuries which arise when out and about are things like cut pads, bite wounds, stick injuries and of course road accidents. Many illnesses can also have a fairly sudden onset, sometimes needing an out-of-hours visit to the vets. Carrying a small first aid kit with you can help with emergencies such as cuts, bites or torn nails. If bleeding is part of the problem, then a temporary bandage applied just until you can get to the surgery can save a lot of mess but could also stop your dog from losing so much blood. A hankie or a sock can be very useful substitutes for a bandage, or anything clean with which you can apply pressure for a few minutes. However, there is a risk of making matters worse if a bandage is too tight or applied for too long. The circulation may be reduced so much that tissue starts to die, so just use a bandage as a first aid measure until bleeding stops or you can get to your vet’s surgery. The other thing that can reduce the stress when the unexpected happens is having your pet insured. This can give peace of mind by removing concerns about the cost of emergency treatment, allowing the owner to concentrate on getting their pet better as quickly as possible. Insurance policies vary in what is covered, so do compare the cover provided and not just the cost of premiums when taking out a policy. Working as a vet seeing emergencies outside of normal working hours can be very interesting and exciting because you never know what sort of case the next one will be. As pet owners, we would all prefer not to have to make use of the emergency service but we are glad it’s there if we need it. If you think you have an emergency please contact your vet or check your pet's symptoms with our Interactive Pet Symptom Guide if you are unsure how urgent the problem may be.
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