Emergency Preparedness for Pets

Medical emergencies can be terrifying, especially when the emergency involves your pet. Being prepared for an emergency ahead of time can not only make the situation less scary but can even improve your pet’s chances for making a full recovery. In some cases, being prepared can save precious time and mean the difference between life and death for your pet.

Every pet is different and you, as the owner, are in the best position to notice when something abnormal is going on with your pet. Signs that something is serious and your pet should be evaluated ASAP can range from vague signs (lethargy, inappetence, panting excessively) to more obvious signs (vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, collapse, trouble breathing, lameness, inability to stand, etc). If your pet is obviously sick, it should be evaluated by a veterinarian as soon as possible. There are some things that you can do to help make the process more efficient and to help your veterinarian provide the best care for your pet as quickly as possible.

When is an emergency really an emergency? When in doubt, call your primary care veterinarian or an emergency clinic if it is after hours. Veterinary clinics receive calls frequently from clients asking about whether the current clinical signs are enough to warrant an emergency trip to the veterinarian. The staff are usually very good at asking the right questions to determine whether your pet should be seen right away.

What can I do to be prepared?

Phone numbers! Keep the number and address for your pet’s primary care veterinarian and the emergency veterinary clinic in your area in an easily accessible place. If you do not know which emergency clinic to take your pet to, ask your veterinarian for a recommendation or go to the Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society website (www.veccs.org) and click on the directory link for emergency clinics. If you think your pet is sick, don’t wait to call! Waiting can lead to bigger problems, a more challenging disease or problem to treat and more expensive treatment. You should also keep the number for poison control with your list of emergency numbers. If your pet has ingested a potential toxin, call poison control before or when you arrive at your veterinarian’s office. It is usually less expensive for you to call poison control than if your veterinarian calls. When you call poison control, you will receive a case number. Give this number to the veterinarian seeing your pet. Your veterinarian will then be able to call poison control and discuss the case with a toxicologist without being charged another fee.

Medical record and current medications: Keep a copy of your pet’s medical record (including all bloodwork, test results, CDs with xrays, etc) on hand to bring with you. If your pet is seeing a veterinarian other than your regular veterinarian, it will be very helpful for the veterinarian evaluating your pet and preparing a treatment plan to have access to your pet’s previous medical records. You should also keep a list of all current medications, doses and frequency. This is very important information for your veterinarian to know so that they can make appropriate treatment decisions (some medications can cause serious side effects if used together!).

For further information on being prepared for pet emergencies, visit the following websites:
• American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA)/Healthy Pet: https://www.aaha.org/pet_owner/pet_health_library/general_health_care/default.aspx
• The University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine: http://vetmed.illinois.edu/petcolumns/petcols_article_page.php?OLDPETCOLID=530
• American Red Cross: http://www.redcross.org/prepare/disaster/pet-safety
• VeterinaryPartner.com: http://www.veterinarypartner.com/Content.plx?P=SRC&S=1&SourceID=20
• AVMA First Aid Tips for Pet Owners: https://www.avma.org/public/EmergencyCare/Pages/First-Aid-Tips-for-Pet-Owners.aspx

Renee Hartshorn, DVM