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How to Recognize a Pet Emergency

Most pet owners are also pet enthusiasts. We love all the little quirks, sass, and personality traits that come along with our beloved companions, and we’re willing to care for our pets for better or for worse.

So when your mysterious little furball becomes suddenly ill, it’s often cause for alarm. It would be so much easier if our pets could tell us what is wrong, but more often than not, we’re left to wander through the darkness of Google search and WebMD.

As the American Veterinary Hospital Association reiterates, YOU know your pet best:

“If you notice your pet behaving in a way that’s unusual for her, or if something just doesn’t seem right, you may have picked up on a subtle sign of a real problem. To find out, you can call your veterinary hospital, or an emergency animal hospital near you. By asking a few questions over the phone, an emergency veterinarian should be able to tell you whether you should bring your pet in right away or if she can wait for an examination during your hospital’s normal office hours. Even if you find out nothing’s wrong, you’ll be glad to have your mind at ease.”

Recognizing a True Emergency

There are some scenarios that should always be deemed an emergency. The following symptoms warrant immediate medical attention:

  • Being hit by a vehicle

  • Falling from a great height

  • Ingesting a known toxin

  • Fracturing a bone or exhibiting severe lameness

  • Injury to the eye(s)

  • Female birthing that has been delayed by more than a few hours

  • Deep wounds or wounds with bleeding that do not subside in a normal amount of time

  • Bleeding from nose, mouth, or rectum

  • Coughing up blood or blood in urine

  • Being attacked or bitten by another animal (wild or domestic)

  • Choking, difficulty breathing, or non stop coughing and gagging

  • Seizure

  • Signs of heat stroke

  • Loss of consciousness

What You Can Do to Help in a Medical Emergency

You’ve determined that your pet is in need of emergency medical attention. Now what?

Having an emergency preparedness plan in place ahead of time will help you to stay calm, cool, and collected in the face of a pet emergency.

The first step is to know the name, location, and phone number of your closest 24-hour veterinarian hospital. Call your local emergency animal hospital immediately, as most emergency hospitals can help you make a determination on the phone about whether you need to come in immediately based on observation of your pet’s symptoms (day, night, weekends, or holidays).

We also recommend having your pet’s carrier in a convenient location to save time should your pet need transport to emergency care. In the case of an injury, stabilizing your pet is important to avoid additional trauma, and your pet carrier is often the safest way to do this.

Also, consider purchasing a pet first aid kit, taking a pet CPR class, or downloading the Pet First Aid app. These are good things to have on hand in case of an emergency.

When a (Non-Emergency) Vet Visit is in Order

Knowing what constitutes an emergency is an enormous boon to your ability to responsibly care for your pet. Also, knowing what’s “normal” for your pet is key—things such as eating, digestive habits, sleep patterns, activity levels, and personality all play a part in best understanding your pet’s medical needs.

In some cases, a “wait and see” approach is necessary to determine the cause or severity of symptoms.

If you notice a change, even if it’s subtle, take note. This will help you better communicate your pets needs with your vet when calling or checking in. You should call your vet anytime your pet displays the following symptoms:

  • Change in Behavior (e.g., suddenly clingy or hiding, seemingly anxious, changes to temperament, etc.)

  • Noticeable, but not severe, pain

  • Signs of tooth and gum decay

  • Signs of eye infection

  • Minor wounds that do not heal after a few days

  • Restlessness

  • Favoring one side of the body

  • Intermittent, but not severe, vomiting or diarrhea

  • Lethargy or lack of interest in usual activities

  • Inability to gain weight, or excessive weight gain

  • Straining to urinate/defecate

What You Can Do to Help in a Non-emergency Medical Situation

Because your pet cannot communicate his or her pain directly, it is best to notify your vet if your pet is unwell. Your vet can determine if your pet needs to be seen at the office, or if they need more immediate care. At the very least, you’ll have peace of mind knowing you responded responsibly and quickly.

You should keep your vets address and contact information in an easily accessible location—in your phone contacts, on your refrigerator, or both. That way it will be handy should you need it.

And again, having your pet’s carrier in an easily accessible location makes for easy transport to and from the vet’s office.

Being a Good Owner Means Being a Responsible Pet Owner

No one wants to think of their beloved pet in distress, but being knowledgeable and prepared can ensure the best outcome for your fur friend. And hopefully, with some knowledge under your belt, you’re better able to recognize a pet emergency and you’ll be prepared should you ever need it.

By knowing how to recognize a pet emergency, owners can make the best decisions for their animals and increase the likelihood of positive, healthy, happy outcomes.

For more information on keeping your pet safe, healthy, and happy, check out our previous blog on the subject to help you along on your pet parenting journey.

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