What is A Real Pet Emergency?

Blood Loss • Difficulty Breathing • Loss of Conciousness
Traumatic Incident • Possible Poisoning • Other

By Dr. Doug Pernikoff, DVM

After more than three decades as a veterinary practitioner, several of those years working at the Animal Emergency Clinics, and handling after hours calls for my own clinic, I have come to realize how difficult it is for pet owners to determine whether they have a true pet emergency, or not??? I can safely say that my own experience suggests that most pet owners do over-react. That being said, as a parent and a pet owner, I too, have often allowed my own emotions and fear drive me to rush either my kids, or my own pets, to the hospital. In fact, I used to explain to my wife that as I figure it is my child’s doctor’s responsibility to tell me I am crazy, so is it my responsibility to tell pet owners when they are over-reacting.

My intent is not to contradict myself, but in fact, there are many instances when it should be the veterinarian’s role to determine the risk at hand. I encourage pet owners to work with a veterinary clinic that is willing to take their own calls, after hours. Pet owners always feel better visiting with a doctor familiar to them and to their pet(s). So, ask your vet if they can be available by phone to make an initial assessment for you. If, in fact, the scenario sounds concerning, then your best course may be a trip to one of several emergency facilities, if only to assure you that your pet is safe and free from obvious concern.

The following conditions are often associated with situations that demand a pet owner’s immediate attention. These signs may reflect any number of conditions, some that can be life threatening. If your pet is experiencing obvious blood loss; difficulty breathing; some degree of, or complete loss of consciousness; survived a traumatic incident; may have ingested some questionable, chemical or material item; generalized weakness or inability to move normally; or, has persistent vomiting, straining to urinate or defecate, or has a sudden onset of swelling somewhere, then you may need a veterinary review.

Your veterinarian may direct you to assess other things like body temperature with an inexpensive digital thermometer; or check your pet’s gum color. Dark purple gums versus pale pink or white gums, dictate different actions to be addressed. Unfortunately, these simple tasks may prove difficult for some pet owners, as cat gums are hard to assess and dogs with pigmented gums can prove challenging as well.

Of course, if your veterinarian is available, he may choose to help you after hours. I encourage our clients to keep a special card of information to include pertinent information like age, gender, spayed or neutered, any historical medical conditions, drugs or other preventative healthcare items used like heartworm or flea products, and other ID information. Some clinics have a marketing program like Vet Street, that provides a card with basic information updates to include vaccine records. Further, it is helpful to construct a history for the veterinarian, to explain the onset of signs that have concerned you, and other known issues like ingestion of a toy, or having had excessive sun exposure. You may be surprised to find that very subtle changes in behaviors can help point your vet in one direction or another.

In summary, I believe the key to understanding risk of any given scenario, involves learning how to interpret and clearly represent what you as the pet owner, are noting; and, then, having a veterinarian to contact for discussion. Certainly, whenever there are persisting questions, or symptoms that logically suggest concern, then always error on the side of pro-active responses, and find a pet emergency hospital immediately.

Good luck and keep you and your pets healthy and safe.
Fondly, Dr. Doug Pernikoff