Thursday, December 29, 2011

When Should You Rush Your Pet to the Vet?

By Linda Cole

It's not always easy trying to determine if a pet's injury or condition needs a vet's attention. If it's after hours, you don't want to waste your vet's time with a minor problem that can wait until the office is open, but you also don't want to not call just in case your pet needs professional help now. Emergencies happen and most vet clinics have numbers where they can be reached after hours and on holidays. Every pet owner should have that number written down and kept in a convenient place. Not all injuries or conditions require rushing your pet to the vet; however, there are warning signs and symptoms that can help you decide if it's a true emergency.

Minor injuries and some medical conditions can be taken care at home, but many pet owners haven't the foggiest idea what to do. There's nothing wrong with that, and it's why we have a trusted vet. Nevertheless, as responsible pet owners we should have a general idea of how to care for minor problems at home. An emergency trip to the vet is more expensive than an office call. One of the best ways to know if you need to call your vet is to know your cat or dog well. If your pet isn't acting like themselves, that's cause for concern and warrants a watchful eye from you.

Understanding how the weather can affect a pet is important because when it's hot outside, pets may not have their normal appetite. As long as they are drinking plenty of fresh water, skipping a meal now and then or not eating as much isn't a problem. But if they refuse to eat after missing one or two meals, that is a reason to be concerned. Hyperthermia (too hot) and hypothermia (too cold) are weather related conditions that can turn into an emergency.

Anytime you see your pet just lying around with a blank stare on their face or appearing to have no energy, that's a sign there's a problem. Whining when trying to walk, hiding, difficulty breathing and not eating when it's not hot outside, are all warning signs. Tenderness around a joint, stumbling or passing out for no apparent reason, crying out when touched, sudden aggression, a confused expression or uncontrollable bleeding are reasons to call your vet.

If an emergency happens during business hours, there's usually someone on staff, like a veterinary technician or receptionist at the office, who can help you decide if it is a true emergency or something that can be scheduled for a later time by making an appointment. After hours, you can talk with your vet and they can decide at the time you call if you need to run your pet to the office. If you are unsure, never hesitate to make a call.

A true emergency. Don't wait for a vet to tell you to bring in your pet. Put him in the car and call on the way to the vet's office. True emergencies include: suspected poisoning of any kind (plants, human food, antifreeze, Xylitol, alcohol, chocolate, nicotine, rodent bait), snake bites, a seizure that's not stopping, bleeding that won't stop, an allergic reaction, hit by a car or any type of blunt force trauma, heat stroke, moderate or severe hypothermia, straining or difficulty in urinating, unconsciousness, broken bones, burns, bloated abdomen, animal bites, difficulty in walking or standing, difficulty in breathing or any injury to the eye.

Emergencies where you should call the vet first include: a seizure that has stopped, neurological problems like trembling, circling, abnormal head tilt or confusion, lameness where the pet won't put weight on a limb, a laceration that has stopped bleeding, bloody urine, vomiting that continues or contains blood, skin conditions that are painful or itchy, if you think your pet ate something foreign or has something in their throat, suspected low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), a discharge from the eye that isn't clear or comes on suddenly and appears to be causing pain or vision loss.

Neither of the above is by any means a complete list of injuries or conditions that would be considered an emergency. The best policy is to call your vet if you are unsure of what to do.

Be prepared for an emergency by taking a pet first aid course or CPR course. Both are offered by the Red Cross, veterinary hospitals and some pet related businesses. Check your area to see if there are classes offered if you're interested. Every pet owner should have a pet first aid kit in the home. Your vet may give you instructions on how to handle a situation or how to stabilize a pet before bringing him/her in. Stay calm and pay attention if you're in a position where you have to rush your pet to the vet.

Read more articles by Linda Cole


  1. That is some terrific information and very good info too. It is so good to know what is an emergency and what could wait until you can get an appointment. I am very lucky in that the vet that I go to is an emergency vet too.

  2. super important post and I thank you for writing this.

    We experienced two "emergency" scenarios over the past month (one with our Sheltie's eye which turned out to be fine) and one with our cat having a back-up of POOP! (I am NOT kidding!)

    I am very lucky to have a vet who has given me his cell phone (because he knows I would never bother him with general issues but only in an emergency). He prefers that we call him FIRST before we waste the money on the enormous fees that the 24 hour emergency clinics charge.

  3. Excellent advise!
    Our 6 yr old tabby had dissappeared for a few days, found her barely able to move underneath a small work trailer, to my horror I noticed she had a lump on her neck, called our vet & he told me to meet @ his office as soon as possible, husband got home around 7 & we drove Snuggles to vet immediately (25 miles) he gave her anesthesia, did surgery to remove that lump (plum size)it was full of pus, she recuperated quickly & was back to normal in a few days, we're thankful that we had a vet that did emergencies because she could have died without surgery.


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