The Why’s, When’s and How’s of the Emergency Vet

Hearing the phrase, “We need to go to the Emergency Vet” normally strikes fear into the hearts of pet owners, for some fairly solid reasons. The thought of making that trip to the Emergency Veterinary Hospital conjures up images of high cost, long waits, impersonal and cold interactions, and critical care for severely ill patients. Once you’ve made a trip to one of these facilities, you will always carry the sights, smells, and the heaviness in the air with you.

How does the Emergency Veterinary Hospital differ from my Normal Vet?

Emergency Clinics or Hospitals are open odd hours and are often the only option when your primary care vet is closed. They are normally skilled in treating a wide variety of injuries and illnesses, such as medical trauma, neurological issues, broken bones and bites. They are often staffed with board certified veterinarians in critical and emergency care, so they might have capabilities or knowledge your 9 to 5 vet lacks. Their clinic’s are likely to have the latest, state-of-the-art, cutting edge technology and specialty equipment not available in most vet offices. So the positives of these treatment centers are clear, in many cases they save lives of pets that would not survive waiting for their normal vet to see them.

Much like a human going to a hospital ER, the Emergency Vet works on a “Triage to Treatment” basis. New arrivals will be evaluated quickly and, if not a major life threatening illness, could be listed behind others who have arrived with more serious needs and pushed to the waiting room area. It’s not that your pet is less important, it’s that your needs are not as critical as others who are waiting or have called ahead and in route. Quick decisions often lead to a less personal approach and a more impersonal treatment. Tension is high, the stakes higher and it’s not always easy to calm down upset, frightened and worried owners… this is part of the reason these facilities often seem cold and uncaring. Also, dealing in major trauma and death on a daily basis can force the kindest of hearts to protect themselves by not engaging at a personal level. It becomes business, a cold and impersonal numbers game.

Cost is another negative with most Emergency Vet visits. The odd hours, higher skilled staff, better training, top of the line equipment and ability to offer all of these things “on demand”, means that you will pay a premium price for these premium services. You pay for the extras, and often you need to make the decision for treatment in a matter of minutes. When faced with paying a high cost for saving your pets life, or not treating and watching them potentially die… the decision is often made before the questions are asked. The rule of supply and demand often rules in these facilities.

When do I need to take my pet to the Emergency Vet?

As you would imagine that is not always easy to figure out. Your fur kids don’t have the ability to verbally tell you what is wrong.  As responsible and loving pet parents, we often rush to judgment out of fear and caring, rushing our decision and making the trip to the Emergency Hospital without knowing all the facts. This is normal and not wrong, it’s scary for pets and their people when something is off.

  • Call Before you Go. Talk through the symptoms and issues. To do this, you’ll need to take a step back and think through the situation. Make notes, the person on the phone with you will ask for details and you need to have them to help with a proper decision.

  • Know your pets symptoms. Talk specifics and not generalizations. Speak to mood, signs of pain, points of concern, where are they bleeding, are they alert, are they lethargic, how is their breathing? All of these and more are critical details that will help with the phone triage.

  • Know time frames. How long as this been going on? Has it gotten worse and in what time frame? When and what did they eat and/or drink last? When was the last time you saw them pee or poop? When is the last time you saw them active? Is this the first time this has happened and, if not, details on when.

  • Know their medical history. What medications are they taking? Do they have any allergies that you’re aware of? When, where, and why was their last vet visit? Keep a file with this information handy so you are not in a panic and scrambling for facts.

  • Be willing to listen. The advice might not be what you want to hear, but could be stress/time/money saving to you. If the symptoms are triaged and the opinion is to wait, not rush, then consider it. You can worry at home with less strain on the animal. If they deem the situation dire or critical, they will not only advise you to come in, but they will also be prepared and waiting for you.

Top 10 Most Common Pet Emergencies that Result in an ER Visit

Keep in mind what the Emergency Vet is there for, and what are the most common and critical cases they see on a daily basis. Again, we as pet parents jump to the worse case scenario and just want the situation to be better. Knowing what is “critical” and what is “manageable” can help you make the choice to wait or to go.

  • #10 Obvious Pain – Pain comes in many varieties and can be displayed in many ways. Is your pet protecting, favoring or paying unusual attention to one part of their body? Are they more aggressive and protective than normal. Are they pacing, panting oddly, do they have a rapid heartbeat? All of these are potential signs of pain in your pet.

  • #9 Labored Breathing – If your buddy is struggling to catch a breath, then is a serious issue that needs immediate attention. They could have something lodged in their airway, eaten something poisonous, had an unseen trauma event, or the breathing issue is connected to some other and bigger problem. Allergic reactions, CHF, or cancer are a few other possible reasons.

  • #8 Difficulty Urinating – Cats get crystals, dogs and cats get stones, everyone could get a UTI. If your pet can’t pee, this is a major issue, one that can be deadly. Look for blood when they attempt to pee. Is their water intake still constant? Kidney issues can be fatal, so act fast.

  • #7 Choking – Visible signs of choking or odd and constant coughing could be a clear indicator of a bigger issue that needs addressing. There could be an airway blockage, fluid in the lungs, or the presence of a virus in their system. This is another quick action item that will likely need immediate attention.

  • #6 Eating or Absorbing Toxic Substances – If something looks or smells good, chances are your pet will eat it… or try to. But its not only oral, poison can enter the system through breathing or through the skin. Household cleaners, automotive liquids (gas, antifreeze, brake fluid), plants, medications, human foods… these all carry dangers to your best bud. Much like a childproofing your home for a toddler, take the time to “proof” your home from a pets-eye view.

  • #5 Allergic Reactions – Bug bites, foods, plants, smells and changes in the environment can cause a reaction that can be serious. Watch for swelling and itching that are out of character for your pet. These symptoms are likely to be associated with vomit, diarrhea, lethargic or strange behavior.

  • #4 Vomiting and Diarrhea – So much grossness coming out of your pet is a clear sign that something is wrong. It could be that they got into the garbage and ate something that caused stomach issues. It could be the symptoms of a bigger issue like a blockage, cancer or virus. Both can also trigger quick and sudden dehydration, which can lead to kidney failure. There is difference between occasional loose stool or throwing up and this sort of vomit and diarrhea that will require testing and treatment.

  • #3 Seizures – If your dog seizes, something is wrong. It can be something like low blood sugar or imbalance in some other areas. However, a seizure could be a sign of brain tumors, brain swelling, or epilepsy in the animal. Seizures can come in waves, or be years apart. They can suddenly appear as the pets health condition changes. If you suspect a seizure, seek medical attention immediately.

  • #2 Trauma – From being hit by a car, to running into the patio door, and everything else imaginable, one of the most common Emergency Vet visits is for blunt force trauma. Falling off the couch or being clipped by the bumper of a slow moving car can cause internal damage that may take hours to become visible. Trauma symptoms can be deceiving and suddenly appear, with limited time to act and treat. If you suspect your pet might have any damage from an accident, act immediately… do not wait.

  • #1 Pet on Pet Injuries – More cases of bites and broken parts are caused by pets being pets than from any other source. Dogs and cats fight their own kind, and often each other. Eye injuries, deep cuts, infected scratches and other injuries can happen in a flash. A bite can rip through layers of skin, muscle, and fat in an instant. Mouths are germ farms, so the puncture wounds have a great chance of becoming infected quickly.  The location of bites and scratches are key, as well. Eyes, stomachs, chests, mouths and limbs are all danger zones and can lead to long term issues, or even death. Triage the damage yourself, then call or visit your vet.

The key is to know your pet, watch and act on inconsistencies in behavior or clear physical signs of distress. Be the gatekeeper of their health by being aware and ready to act. Use the steps listed above to assure you’re ready to talk facts and not panic knee-jerk reactions. Be prepared, in the moment, in control and calm can make the difference in treatment and potential life saving care.

Do YOU Freddie?

As a side note, Freddie’s Place is Different by Design. We operate as an Urgent Care Hospital AND an everyday wellness care clinic. We do offer a state-of-the-are facility, are open all the time, and treat all comers on a triage to treatment basis. However, we are independent, not driven by corporate mandates or policies. Freddie’s Place focuses on the patient and not profits, our cost of service is normally well below other primary care vets, and is lower than the standard Emergency Hospital pricing. Our staff is selected for their bedside manner, skills and education, compassion and empathy, and they are pet parents. The atmosphere is less heavy, the air lighter and the interactions more positive. It’s all done to make your experience personal and memorable.

If you’re in San Diego County and you find yourself in need of help, reach out to the Best Care Anywhere crew at Freddie’s Place by calling 760-Freddie. You can also just bring your pet to our facility. We are open when you need help the most, because we realize pet emergencies don’t keep to a 9-5 schedule.

That is our blog for today. As always, we hope you find information you didn’t know, a tip you can use, and come away with a better understand of our topic. Your love for your pet is shown everyday, in a million different ways. Make sure that ongoing health and maintenance care is top of that list. Make a plan, gather needed information, be prepared, and be willing to listen with the intent to hear.

We will drop our next Dog Blog in a week, so until then… #FreddieSez hug your pet, today and everyday!