Pet Emergency & Specialty Care
Local pet emergency clinics are a great and valuable community resource. But we need to keep in mind that many perceived pet "emergencies" can be handled by or at least consulted by your regular veterinarian if and when possible. There are many things that happen to pets that aren't serious or life threatening for example: Limping, random vomit, swelling at a suture site from a recent vet visit, loose bandage, most ear and eye related issues. Emergency and specialty veterinary hospitals are very expensive and you should think calmly and rationally before rushing your pet to the local ER. Now we are not suggesting that cost be the deciding factor, we are simply pointing out as a practical matter, that there is a significant cost difference between your regular vet and emergency facilities. To be clear pet ER fees are higher for a reason, their operating costs are significantly higher than your regular vet. What we are trying to point out is there are real emergencies and perceived emergencies. The cost associated with your local ER for "perceived" emergencies can be a drain on your family budget, so for non life threatening issues you are vastly better off waiting to see your regular vet. However if you believe your pet has an emergency at a time when your regular vet is closed, then you absolutely should go to your local pet ER facility.
If your pet has been to the ER for whatever reason, remember that all of the followup care should be done with your regular vet, unless your regular vet tells you otherwise. Most of the time your regular vet has the expertise to manage your pets ongoing medical needs regardless of the issue. It's rare for pets to have conditions that require ongoing, expensive emergency care.
The phone call: The public should be careful when calling around for emergency pet care. Most facilities are absolutely concerned about pet care but they are also businesses that have bills to pay. Many times they train their staff to treat every call as an emergency and to advise the caller to bring the pet in right away regardless of the issue. To be fair some ER's don't want their non-veterinarian staff helping to make a decision over the phone if the pet needs to come in or not, therefore in the name of "safety" they tell everyone to come in. What certain unscrupulous ER facilities are counting on, is that you are a worried pet owner that doesn't necessarily have the ability to know the difference between a real emergency and something that could wait until your regular vet opens the next day.
Our advice is to get educated. Just like with human children, your choice to have a pet requires that you know how to properly care for that pet. Part of that care is knowing, in general what constitutes an emergency. There are many free resources online (this website is one) there are many others that contain most of the information that you need to be a great pet owner. Your regular vet (and staff) is another great resource if you have detailed questions that you can't find reasonable answers to online.
Common sense, calm, & clear thinking are the keys to understanding the difference between perception & reality when it comes to emergency pet care. If you are worried about your pet and you're not sure if you should go to the ER or not, you could go & consult with the ER vet and make them explain, in detail what is wrong with your pet and why it needs to have "xyz" done to it right now for x dollars. I'd also ask if this is something that your regular vet could handle tomorrow and make them explain to you why or why not. If they say to you, "this is a life threatening situation and your pet will die tonight without immediate intervention" then you should listen to them and follow their advice but follow up with your regular vet as soon as possible. If its something that can wait, then you should absolutely get a second opinion with your regular vet before spending huge dollars at the ER.
Drawn out care: Many times specialty & emergency clinics take things to the extreme when it comes to chronic pet health issues. We advise our clients to make careful & thoughtful decisions when it comes to extended care. Just because veterinary medicine, in theory, can prolong your pets life, it doesn't always mean that it should. For certain life threatening disease processes extending the pets life just because we can isn't fair to the pet. In the end, if the treatment plan doesn't result in a cure, or a reasonable extension of life via medical management and all it's doing is "extending" life and spending huge ER or specialty dollars, it doesn't make sense on many levels. You should always consider quality of life for your pet. ALL veterinarians should be able and willing to counsel you on when it's medically time to let go & give you permission to do so.
We all have to make these decisions in life and it's up to the individual to decide what level of care they are willing to have for their beloved pets. We just want people to understand that if the end result is poor quality of life, or just a few months of life extension at a cost of what could be thousands of dollars, you need to be given permission to let go. Those monetary resources could be used to care for your other pets or to spend on other life necessities.
First-Aid Tricks for Pet Emergencies
You’re probably prepared in case a member of your family cuts himself or gets injured. But do you know what to do if your pet chokes on a bone or has a seizure?
Knowing some basic pet first-aid techniques could mean the difference between life and death.
Here are some common pet emergencies and what to do on the spot, before you head to the vet.
Hit by Car
An animal in pain is more likely to bite. So muzzle it first with a scarf, belt, or towel, unless it’s vomiting. Get the animal off the road by gently sliding it onto a towel or blanket (these should be in your car's first-aid kit). Don't lift the animal. Make sure it’s warm, as it may be in shock. If it seems to have any broken bones, roll up a magazine or newspaper to use as a splint.
Many household items can be dangerous to dogs and cats -- everything from antifreeze, insecticides, and aspirin to raisins and sugar-free gum. But don't panic. Many of these have antidotes. Call the Animal Poison Control hotline at 888-426-4435 or the Pet Poison Helpline at 800-213-6680 immediately. They can probably help you even before you get to the vet.
If your pet is unconscious, open its mouth and try to clear the object out with your fingers. Or hang a small animal from its back legs and try to shake the object out. If the animal is conscious, do a modified Heimlich maneuver. Place the pet on its side, applying pressure right behind the ribs and pressing your hands forward. This may help push the item out. Get someone else to drive to the vet so you can continue to do this on the way.
A seizure will generally pass on its own in less than 3 minutes. Your job is to make sure the animal is safe while it's happening. Get any movable furniture away from the pet. Don't put your hands or your face near the animal's mouth, and don't pull its tongue out of the mouth. Unlike humans, animals won't swallow their tongues during a seizure. When the seizure is over, contact your vet.
If another dog bites your pet, get to the clinic as soon as possible. Dog bites can pull a lot of hair and debris into the wound. If it’s not cleaned out soon, it can become infected.
Bee and Wasp Stings
Bee and wasp stings usually cause just minor swelling and itching. If you can see the stinger, use a credit card to scrape it out, or pull it out with tweezers. An antihistamine like Benadryl will relieve some of the symptoms, but call your vet to ask how much to give. If you notice any swelling on the face or neck, or hives all over the body, get the animal to the vet right away. This could be a severe anaphylactic reaction -- a definite emergency.
If your animal is panting heavily, drooling, having trouble breathing, or showing other symptoms of heatstroke, move it to a shady area immediately. Put a cool, wet cloth around its neck and head (not its face). You can also gently hose the animal down with cool water, especially the belly, before transporting it to the vet.
American Veterinary Medical Association: "Pet first aid - basic procedures," "Household Hazards."
ASPCA: "Emergency Care - What Are Some First Aid Treatments I Can Perform on My Dog?" "Heat Wave Alert: Prevent Heat Stroke in Pets," "Pet Care: Animal Poison Control."Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine: "Being prepared in an emergency.”Pet Poison Helpline.Sheldon Rubin, DVM, spokesman, American Veterinary Medical Association; author, Emergency First Aid for Dogs.