Pet Emergencies: What Can Wait?

Your pet has a medical condition. It’s 4 AM. Is it serious enough to take him to the veterinary emergency hospital now, or can it wait until your pet’s doctor is open in a few hours?

Today we’ll be talking about some conditions for which your pet needs to be seen immediately.

For some conditions, such as crying out in pain, blood in the stool or urine and open wounds, the answer might seem obvious. But, according to the phone calls we get at our practice, sometimes help is needed even deciding about those conditions, too.

For tips on being prepared for pet emergencies click here.

So, let’s start right in with medical needs that require immediate, even middle-of-the-night emergency room attention:

  • Open wounds, especially if there is active bleeding. Have someone hold steady pressure on the wound(s) while someone else dials the phone and a third helper drives the car.
  • Incessant vomiting. Vomiting is miserable enough, but if your pet is experiencing multiple episodes of vomiting in an hour, has vomited three or more times in a day, or vomits even a small amount of blood, it can’t wait and your pet needs to be seen within two hours.
  • Watery or bloody diarrhea. Any case of diarrhea from more than one bowel movement means your pet needs to be seen within six hours. Less-loose diarrhea with no blood could wait until the next day, but no more than 24 hours.
  • Seizures. Few things terrify a pet owner more. While a single episode of a mild seizure could wait a few hours, more than one seizure is sufficient reason for emergency care. Status epilepticus, or non-stop seizuring, can cause brain damage in a short amount of time.
  • Airway obstruction. If your pet has a pink color to his gums and tongue, he’s inhaling enough oxygen. However, an obstruction in the trachea (windpipe) could restrict air movement enough to be fatal. If the tongue or gums are blue, this condition needs immediate attention.
  • Uncontrollable itchiness. Here, we’re not talking about a rash or itchiness that has been going on for a week, we’re talking about allergic reactions that are driving your pet up the wall, often accompanied by hives. Such a level of itchiness needs to be seen within two hours.
  • Eye damage. Prolapse of the globe is a condition in which the eyeball (globe) is no longer in the socket. Prolapse is most commonly caused by trauma, but in short-faced breeds of dogs just pulling the skin of the face tight may cause one or both eyes to pop out. Don’t push it back in! Call the doctor! Foreign objects penetrating the eye carry the same level of urgency.
  • Broken bones are extremely painful, and need to be seen within an hour. Compound fractures, those which cause an open wound to the outside of the body, need special care to prevent contamination and infection, which can lead to serious, lifelong consequences including amputation or death.
  • Straining to urinate. This one can be really tricky for pet owners to discern. Don’t take chances. If the urinary bladder is inflamed and the pet is able to empty it, he can wait a few hours or even overnight. But, if your pet is straining and the bladder is full because of an obstruction to outflow, bladder rupture could be imminent and time is crucial. Unless you can tell the difference by palpating the abdomen accurately, make the phone call and get him in right away.
  • Straining to defecate. While this sign is sometimes associated with constipation or other forms of obstruction, more commonly it is caused by inflammation of the colon. Get your pet to the doctor soon, and certainly no longer than 12 hours from when it is first observed.

Here’s an important consideration about these last two items. Sometimes it’s difficult to determine whether a pet is straining to pass stool or urine. If you are unsure and it is possible that the urinary bladder is full your pet needs to see his doctor immediately.This is not intended to be a comprehensive list of emergencies, but a listing of some of the most urgent conditions you might see. Ask your pet’s doctor if he has additional emergency tips for you.

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