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.