Locally-Owned in Oakdale and St. Paul, Minnesota

5 Most Common Reasons for Pets to Require Emergency Surgery

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Here at Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota, our Surgery Service performs three to seven pre-scheduled surgeries per day, and that number doesn’t include pets in need of emergency surgery. We know any pet emergency can be a scary experience, and an unplanned surgery can be even more nerve-wrecking. To help educate pet parents on these potential emergencies before they happen, we’re sharing five of the most common reasons for pets to require emergency surgery. 

In November of 2023, Dr. Meyers, DACVS-SA, one of our board-certified veterinary surgeons, joined us on Facebook Live to discuss these five reasons. You can watch the video replay or read a summary below.

1. Septic Peritonitis 

Septic peritonitis takes place when bacteria within the abdomen causes significant inflammation – making pets very sick. The most common cause of this disease process is when gastrointestinal contents spill into the abdomen. This can occur following GI surgery, when a sharp foreign body pokes through the GI tract, or if an abdominal mass ruptures – among other causes. 

The goal with surgery is to find and address the focus of the infection and flush the abdomen with sterile saline. If the gastrointestinal tract is the source of the leakage, then removal of the affected bowel loop is often necessary. Unfortunately, the prognosis is 50-50, but the sooner the veterinary team can address the issue, the better pets can do. 

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2. Pyometra 

Pyometra is an infection involving the uterus, so it only occurs in female pets that have not had the ovaries and uterus removed (also known as an ovariohysterectomy, or spay surgery.) The infection in the uterus generates purulent discharge or pus, which may drain out of the vulva. If the cervix is closed, however, the pus cannot drain, and it becomes trapped within the uterus.  If left untreated, the uterus can rupture, allowing bacteria to enter the abdomen and cause septic peritonitis (as mentioned above).   

To address the condition, the veterinary team will perform abdominal exploratory surgery and spay the pet.  

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3. Ruptured Gallbladder (Bile Peritonitis) 

The gallbladder is an organ that stores bile. Bile and mucous can form an organized structure known as a mucocele within the gallbladder; this can lead to obstruction and secondary leakage of bile within the abdomen. Bile is very irritating to the abdomen and can sometimes be infected. For these reasons, when the gallbladder ruptures, it is a surgical emergency.  

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4. Dystocia 

The term “dystocia” is used when a pet has difficulty giving birth and a prolonged period of labor results. Dystocia can be caused by electrolyte abnormalities, fetuses that are very large relative to the birth canal or that are abnormally positioned. When labor is prolonged, the mother’s life can be compromised, and the fetuses can suffer stress. An emergency c-section becomes necessary to try to save both babies and mom.  

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Right lateral abdominal radiograph showing Gastric Dilation & Volvulus (GDV).

5. Gastric Dilation & Volvulus (GDV) 

Gastric dilation and volvulus (GDV,) also known as “bloat,” is most often seen in large breed, deep-chested dogs. Signs include pacing, non-productive retching, lethargy, and abdominal distension. In this emergency, the stomach becomes enlarged and twists on itself, preventing blood supply from getting back to the heart and sometimes leading to necrosis of the stomach.  

Surgery involves de-rotating the stomach and attaching it to the body wall to prevent future twisting, a procedure known as gastropexy.  

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We hope we won’t have to meet any of your pets through an emergency surgery, but knowing these emergency situations ahead of an ER visit can help pet parents prevent an emergency, be aware of warning signs and understand the need for immediate emergency care. If your pet experiences an emergency and your family veterinarian is unavailable, Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota’s Oakdale and St. Paul emergency facilities are open 24/7, every day of the year.  

Learn more about our Surgery Service here! 

More Reading:

Katherine Meyers, VMD, DACVS-SA

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