Ann Eliopulos | Pets
It’s the weekend. The weather is great, you have time off and you’re getting ready to go out for the night. You hear an odd, repetitive thumping sound and turn to see your dog on the floor with his jaws clenched, foamy saliva, body convulsing, paddling paws and urinating uncontrollably. He is having a seizure and has never had one before. The ordeal only lasted for maybe two minutes, and he now seems completely normal, other than acting slightly confused. It’s 7 p.m., and your vet is closed. You’re scared to death. Is it an emergency? Or can it wait?
This scenario is often how emergencies, or perceived emergencies, go: They happen suddenly, without warning and at a time when you are not prepared. Having spent most of my career as an emergency veterinarian, I have answered many phone calls in the middle of the night, weekends and holidays trying to help someone determine if a situation is actually an emergency. This is what I believe: If you think it’s an emergency and you’re worried enough to ask, your pet should probably be seen. But is it a real emergency?
The answer is not a simple one and in the above example depends on the cause of the seizure and the age of the pet. If that is the only seizure that occurs, the answer is no, it probably is not an emergency and can wait until your personal veterinarian can evaluate. If the animal is a youngster, less than 6 months old, they should be evaluated right away and have blood work. Certainly, this pet should not be left alone in case more seizures develop. Either way, your plans for the night are officially over.
That being said, here is a list of situations that are definite emergencies and require you to get in the car and go, no matter the hour:
- Seizures: a sustained seizure longer than five minutes, seizures back to back or more than two in a 24-hour period. Dogs do not swallow their tongue, so do not put your hand in their mouth. You will only get injured. Clear the area to protect your pet from hurting themselves and move back.
- Breathing difficulty: Pets that are having trouble breathing are prone to panic. Keep your hands away from their mouth and get them to a veterinarian immediately, especially if they are “open mouth” breathing or gasping. Do not put your hands in the mouth of a choking animal.
- Automobile injury: Even if your pet seems okay, internal injury may be present. If there appear to be fractures, or the pet is unable or unwilling to move, use a blanket or board as a makeshift stretcher and support their body as much as possible. Muzzle the pet when moving them.
- Allergic reaction or anaphylactic shock: A swollen face, hives, vomiting or diarrhea and restlessness are often the first signs of an allergic reaction. These can progress to collapse, pale gums, difficulty breathing, shock and death.
- Eye injury: Even if it seems mild, eye trauma can go bad in a hurry.
- Rattlesnake bites: The worst effects do not show up immediately. Aggressive and immediate care is needed, even if the pet has had the rattlesnake vaccine.
- Diarrhea or vomiting: One or two episodes of vomiting or diarrhea are usually not cause for concern. If there is blood in the stool, more than two to three episodes in an hour, or the vomiting or diarrhea persists past 6-12 hours, the pet should be evaluated. Young or small animals can become dehydrated and weak quite quickly, especially in warm weather. If the abdomen is distended, hard and the dog has made repeated, unproductive efforts to vomit with no results, get immediate attention. This could be a bloat, and time is of the essence.
- Heat stroke: Symptoms include rapid panting, distress, lethargy and seizures. Place wet towels on your pet and get them to an emergency room immediately. Organ damage and bleeding disorders develop quickly and become life threatening without treatment.
- Collapse or fainting: These can indicate heart disease, internal bleeding or undetected illness of the adrenal glands, brain or other organs.
- Bleeding: Small amounts of bleeding are not necessarily an emergency. Blood that soaks through a bandage in minutes, pools on the floor, or pumps out in spurts is. Cover the wound with a clean cloth, apply direct pressure and have someone drive you to the vet office if possible.
- Bite wounds: Small ones that aren’t bleeding much may not be an emergency, but any wound involving the head, chest, abdomen or groin, has persistent bleeding or is larger than an inch should be treated.
- Poison ingestion: If you know your pet ate something potentially toxic, go. Some poisons do not show their effects for one to three days, and then treatment can be futile. Do not induce vomiting unless instructed to do so by your veterinarian.
This list is by no means exhaustive, but is a very good guideline to use to determine if your pet needs help right away. If there is any doubt, always err on the side of caution. It is better to be wrong and spend some extra money for peace of mind, than to spend months wishing you had not hesitated.
—Ann Eliopulos is a DVM at Bodhi Animal Hospital in North Park.