One of the biggest confusions about a pet’s health for owners is when to see an emergency veterinarian. It can be difficult to tell if your pet’s condition warrants an emergency, or if it is serious but can wait for an appointment at your regular clinic. Especially when pets typically hide or downplay their pain. Owners are quite often insecure about if their pet’s condition is worthy of the title “emergency.” If it turns out to not be an emergency, it can feel as if you have overreacted and wasted the veterinarian’s time. Or even wasted your money, as the human ER is known to be pricey. But there are a number of reasons to take your dog or cat, or pig, to the emergency vet in Lake City. And it is better to be safe than to be sorry.
First off, it is important to have a first aid kit for pets in your home. If you go on outdoor adventures with your pet, have a medical kit for both of you that can be accessed easily. This could mean in the trunk of your car, or a backpack if you go hiking together. Really, pet owners should have two emergency kits: one for the home, and one for on the go. Having these two kits in essential locations will minimize the risk of losing a pet to injuries, or at least reducing the possibility of infection if a serious injury were to occur. This allows immediate attention to a wound in the time between the incident and access to the emergency veterinarian. With the first aid kit, a list of current medications and any relevant medical history should be included.
Within the category of emergencies, there are those which need immediate care, and those which can wait until the next morning. Of course, this can be a dangerous call to make if it seems to be a non-immediate emergency, but your animal truly does need to be taken to critical care. You should take your pet to the emergency veterinarian if they (are):
- Wounded, bleeding, or seizing
- Experiencing symptoms of poison or a toxic substance
- Have a fever or are unusually cold
- Lethargic, if they collapse, or their back legs drag
- Not eating or drinking much
- Having a difficult time breathing, or pant a concerning amount, as a normal breathing rate should be less than 60 breaths per minute
- Experiencing a heartbeat of over 160bpm
- Anxious or unusually restless for an extended period of time
- Coughing all night, especially if they are coughing up pink or red frothy liquid
- Exuding an abnormal discharge or odor
- Having trouble urinating or defecating, or waste is bloody
- Experiencing a bloated abdomen
- Dry-heaving or vomiting
- Crying out in pain
- And if their gums are turning pale, yellow, or blue, or their eyes are bulging
If you are worried that your pet has been poisoned, or ingested a toxic substance, there is a hotline to call through ASPCA, the Animal Poison Control Center. The number is (888)-426-4435. There is a fee for calling, but they will know how to help you, and whether or not to seek emergency care.
When a pet does need emergency care, be sure to call the hospital first to give adequate preparation time. Just like when we call 911, the operator will talk you through the situation and instruct any immediate care, such as induced vomiting or staunching an open wound.
When there is a true emergency, such as a broken femur, often a regular clinic will not be equipped with the proper tools. A pet hospital might have a piece of machinery to lift your large dog out of your car without causing any more pain, while a day clinic would not. Again, calling ahead will give the staff time to prepare this to be ready as soon as you arrive. A hospital might also have better equipment for treating the wound, or any neurological issue. Most clinics are set up only for regular appointments and mild health concerns.
What’s more, non-emergency veterinarian offices have limited hours. Some provide after-hours care, or team up with an emergency center, but most are only open for regular business hours. On occasion there will be an on-call veterinarian available for off-hours work. An emergency care provider will also be able to give overnight care to a pet if that is needed during recovery. A few vet hospitals even have pet ambulances to send in emergencies. So if it is after-hours, a weekend or a holiday, or the problem seems too serious for the clinic, an emergency vet is the best option.
Once in the emergency veterinary office, the sickest pets are seen first. It is not much different from human emergency care. The most immediate needs are taken care of first. Some vets will see the animal alone, if for instance surgery or a life-saving procedure is necessary. While you are waiting for your pet’s recovery, you will most likely have to address the cost of the visit. Though it depends on the emergency, just like human hospitals often going to the ER costs more than the regular doctor. This is due to the specialized care they offer. Sometimes the office will ask that the owner give a deposit before starting treatment, simply because they need to ensure payment for each pet they treat. On occasion, owners will abandon their pet when they see the bill. A deposit keeps the owner committed through treatment, as well as ensures compensation for time and resources of the hospital.
The bottom line is, if you are worried about your pet and do not feel like they can wait for an appointment with your regular clinic, they should be taken to the emergency room. Even if there is not a clear wound, most owners are familiar enough with their pet’s behavior to notice what is abnormal and worrisome. Since we are unable to ask our pets how they feel, we must be vigilant in our observations of their behavior. Because they cannot verbalize their pain, we should assume it is worse than they let on and recognize signs of distress.
If there is anything broken, or there is a clear neurological problem like multiple seizures in a day, you should take your pet to the hospital. When in doubt, do not hesitate to call the closest emergency veterinarian.
Remember: if you or another human were experiencing any of these symptoms, you would most likely deem them worthy of a trip to the emergency room. Our pets are no different.