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When Does Your Pet Need to be Seen for Emergency Care?

This is a question we are often asked when clients call us.  When do you need to bring your pet in?   Is this really an emergency?  Your pet isn't acting quite right, but you're not sure what's wrong. Should you call your veterinarian or wait a few days?  We use a few questions to help gage when a pet has an immediate, possible life-threatening emergency.  

If you answer "yes" to any of these first eight questions, please call our office immediately at 239-945-2279.  Walk in emergencies are always welcome but we advise you to call first because if we advise that your pet needs to be seen right away knowing that you are on your way in will allow us to prepare in advance.  Also it is possible that your pet does not need an exam so we might be able to save you an un-needed trip to our emergency room.

  1. Could your pet have been hit by a car?
  2. Is your pet breathing abnormally and/or are the gums bright red, pale, or purple?
  3. (For dogs Only) Is your dog trying to vomit and can't, is pacing, restless (bloat)?
  4. Is your pet trying to urinate and can't?  Especially common in male pets, even more so male cats.
  5. Could your pet have ingested antifreeze?
  6. Has your pet sustained an eye injury or has a serious eye problem?
  7. Pregnant and in labor females that are in trouble; (straining, no babies after extended labor etc.)
  8. Eating a poison, toxin, human prescription medicine, cleaning products, plant, etc.

Symptoms that could indicate an urgent care need, but are not necessarily life-threatening at the moment could be:

  1. Sustained vomiting and diarrhea.
  2. Bleeding from any source.
  3. Fight wounds.
  4. Blood in the urine or stool.
  5. Lameness or injury; (falls, burns, chewing electrical cords, injuries while running)
  6. Seizures.
  7. Eating a poison, toxin, human prescription medicine, cleaning products, plant,etc. (Never induce vomiting without calling us first as some chemicals will do more harm on their way back out)
  8. Loss of appetite for more than a day.
  9. Pain of any type.
  10. Sick bird, reptile, small mammal.

If your pet experiences any of these, call our office right away or bring your pet in to be seen by the veterinarian! The medical staff may advise some home treatment prior to bringing your pet in if you call first, or if there are problems with transportation, severity of the problem or financial concerns, we may be able to advise the best course of action to take next.

While on the phone, the technician may ask you about symptoms in order to "triage" the urgency of your pet's condition and advise you accordingly. They may ask the questions below with qualifiers about how long the symptom has been present.

1. Is your pet lethargic?

This is perhaps the most important signal to phone your veterinarian. If your dog, cat or other pet is not responsive to calls for play or favorite treats and seems weak or unable to stand, you should not delay.

2. Is your pet in pain?

Pain, indicated by crying, panting, shaking, and restless pacing, should not be ignored. Pain can also be indicated by a reluctance to move around.  Cats, in particular, don't exhibit clear outward signs of pain.  Often they just curl up, tuck their feet underneath and refuse to move.  This could be a sign of pain.

Signs for Dogs in Pain:

Signs for Cats in Pain:

3. Is your pet lame? 

Limping that persists more than a few hours warrants a call to the veterinarian. Paralysis, usually indicated by your pet's inability to stand or your pet dragging a leg with or without pain, needs emergency care.

4. Is your pet losing blood?

Bleeding from the mouth, nose or rectum demands immediate attention, as does a painful eye held closed or swollen, or with bloody or pirulent discharge. Blood in the stool or vomitus are signs to call in for advice.

5. Is your pet unable to go to the bathroom?

Male cats seen straining in the litter box may have a dangerous urinary tract blockage. Dogs seen straining or having urinary or bowel movement more often or straining should be reported.

6. Is your pet having trouble breathing?

Steady, labored breathing is a sign of serious trouble. Call your veterinarian immediately. Constant coughing or gagging, especially at night also needs to be checked.

7. Is your pet having seizures?

Seizures are a serious neurologic condition that must be monitored. Call us immediately. Signs of a seizure include shaking, lying on the floor and paddling the legs, loss of awareness of surroundings, possible loss of bladder and bowel control, excessive salivation, and a clamped jaw, followed by a period of disorientation, inability to maintain balance, and head bobbing.  The actual seizure usually passes fairly quickly (30-90 seconds), but deserves a phone call to the veterinarian especially if pet has many in a row, doesn't become normal shortly after the seizure, or has a continuous long seizure that does not stop.  Seizure patients are not always aware of their environment.  Don't put your hands near a seizuring pet's mouth or the pet may inadvertently bite you!. 

8. Is you pet suffering from excessive vomiting or diarrhea? 

These symptoms could indicate anything from a simple stomach upset to serious disease. Call your veterinarian immediately. Even if your pet is not seriously ill, ignoring these symptoms could lead to dehydration.

9. Is your pet unconscious or difficult to awaken?

Dazed behavior can occur with fever, metabolic disease, ingestion of medications meant for people, changes in blood sugar levels, seizures, or diseases of the brain. It's important to have your pet examined that day.  Pets' that faint, collapse, and/or are unable to be aroused need immediate emergency care.

10. Is your pet refusing to eat or drink?

Your pet should not go more than a day without drinking. If your dog or cat won't eat their usual meal but will hungrily eat treats or table food, this may mean a problem exists. Call your veterinarian if food is vomited more than once in a day, the normal appetite does not return in two to three days, or if your pet acts well but refuses to eat for more than 24 hours.

Sometimes your pet may not act ill but problems persist for more than a day or two. Coughing frequently, vomiting or diarrhea more than twice or limping and walking gingerly all merit a call to the veterinarian.

The bottom line is this:

If you are worried about your animal's health, call your veterinarian to have them seen, or on hours that we are closed, call or bring your pet in to be seen by an emergency veterinarian. We are here to help you with your pet's care and can identify potential problems specific to your dog, cat, or other pet. It is better to report a minor problem and not let it escalate to a life-threatening emergency. Remember, neither technicians or veterinarians can diagnose a problem nor provide care over the phone; if you have any concerns related to the list above, it is recommended that you have your pet seen by a doctor.  It's best to be safe rather than sorry.  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of care!

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