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What ER Veterinarians Want Pet Owners to Know Part I

Bringing your pet to the emergency clinic can be very scary, stressful, inconvenient, and expensive. While an emergency visit is unavoidable, there are many ways to prevent an emergency in the future, as well as ways to prepare for an emergency visit to make the visit go as smoothly as possible. Here is what I, and every other emergency veterinarian, wants pet owners to know:

Prevention: There are many ways to prevent a pet emergency.  

  • Vaccinating your pet will greatly reduce the risk of your pet having a potentially life-threatening infection like Parvovirus, Distemper, and Rabies. Not only do vaccinations protect your pet, but they will also protect other animals and even people.
  • Regular exams with routine blood work are important. Your family veterinarian is more likely to diagnose and manage a disease if your pet visits at least once a year. I cannot count how many pets end up at the ER in critical condition for diseases such as chronic kidney disease, diabetes, and inflammatory bowel disease that could have been easily managed had the pet visited a family veterinarian regularly. Catching these conditions/diseases early on can lead to a greater quality of life for multiple years.
  • Spay and neuter your pets. This will not only reduce the number of stray animals, but it can also prevent some cancers as well as a common surgical emergency in intact female dogs when their uterus becomes infected (pyometra).
  • Microchip your pet and then REGISTER it. When strays are brought into the ER by a Good Samaritan, these pets usually do not have a microchip or their microchip is not registered. When the chip isn’t registered, we are not able to contact you when it matters most.
  • Calling sooner than later is always the safest. There are many times when a difference of minutes to hours can be the difference between life and death. It may be cliché, but no question is a dumb question when it comes to your pet’s health.
  • Having pet insurance or saving up an emergency fund can be a huge help when our pets require intensive care. When pets are very sick, the cost of staying at the emergency hospital can easily go into the thousands. I commonly see ER bills for prolonged hospitalization and surgery from $3500 to $5500. Saving up or paying $30/month for 12 years may be easier than an unexpected ER bill of $4200.

Common Emergencies/What to Avoid: There are a few common emergencies that can be completely avoidable. 

  • Human NSAIDs (e.g. ibuprofen (Motrin), naproxen (Aleve), acetaminophen (Tylenol)) can be extremely toxic at low doses. Keep these medications and all human medications out of reach (e.g. a medicine cabinet) at ALL times.
  • There are many plants and foods that are toxic to animals. For example, lilies can cause kidney failure in cats and grapes/raisins can cause kidney failure in dogs. A general rule of thumb is to NOT have any plants in your house unless okayed by your vet and only feed your pet food recommended by your vet. Any additional foodstuffs you give your pet should also be approved by your vet.
  • If you think your pet ingested a poison (e.g. cleaners, antifreeze, rat poison/bait, oil, etc.) or any potentially harmful substance, call an ER clinic immediately. You may be instructed to call a poison control helpline such as ASPCA. The sooner you take action can mean the difference between needing simple outpatient care versus prolonged hospitalization or life versus death
  • Keep your dog on a leash or fenced in at all times when outside. A lot of the tragic cases we see are from dogs getting hit by a car because they were off leash and suddenly ran into the street after something or from something.

We hope these tips help prevent a pet emergency. Read Part II to learn about communication with an ER veterinarian and what happens in the animal ER!

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