Four tips for handing a pet emergency

Accidents happen. Pets get run over, bitten, poisoned. If you notice your pet is bleeding, seizing, vomiting blood, or showing some other sign of being very unwell, you don’t want to waste time researching whether it warrants a trip to the ER, or where the nearest emergency veterinary hospital is, or how to make a makeshift stretcher.

Learn these four emergency tips now, before disaster strikes.

1. Where is the nearest emergency veterinarian?
Whether you’re at home, traveling, or just going to the dog park, you should know where the nearest 24-hour emergency veterinarian is located. Keep the number to your local hospital saved in your phone, or save the hospital’s website to your phone browser’s homepage.

Anyone in charge of caring for your pet should have the address and contact information, too, as well as information for your pet’s regular vet.

2. What symptoms warrant an ER visit?
Some emergencies are obvious – your cat gets bitten by a dog, or you trip over your dog and fall on his leg. But not all emergencies are easy to recognize, such as choking, heatstroke, an insect bite, or poisoning. Take your pet to an emergency room if he is experiencing:

  • Pale gums
  • Rapid breathing
  • Weak or rapid pulse
  • Change in body temperature (for dogs and cats, normal temperature is between 100˚ and 102˚ F)
  • Difficulty standing
  • Apparent paralysis
  • Reluctance to put weight on a particular paw

Some symptoms exist in a gray area – should you take your pet in, or is it a 24-hour bug? Your pet should also see a doctor if he has:

  • Bleeding that won’t stop
  • A seizure
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Excessive vomiting
  • Blood in the stool

3. How do you approach an injured, aggressive pet?
Approach your pet slowly and talk to him in a soothing voice. If he is injured or seriously sick, he might become aggressive or act differently than usual. If your pet is acting aggressively, wrap him in a large blanket to stabilize him while moving. The blanket also helps protect you from being bitten or scratched while you move him.

As long as your pet isn’t overheated or having trouble breathing, it is OK to apply a muzzle during the ride to the hospital. If you don’t have a muzzle, a bandana, extra-large rubberband, or thick rope (nothing thin enough to cut into the skin) will work until you get to the hospital. Remove it as soon as you are done moving your pet.

You can purchase a pet stretcher to always keep on hand, but if you don’t have one, use a blanket or sheet. Be prepared to put in a little elbow grease, especially if your dog is a large breed. If you cannot move the dog on your own, don’t. Defer to your emergency veterinarian’s instructions and call someone for help.

4. Should you administer any first aid?
Hopefully, your pet isn’t so hurt that he can’t make it to the hospital, but in some instances, you may need to step in. For a bleeding wound, for instance, you should elevate the injury and apply pressure to it.

If your pet is choking and not breathing, do a finger sweep to try to dislodge the item: use a hooked finger to sweep the throat for the foreign object and pull it out. However, if your pet is still breathing (even with difficulty), try to get him to the hospital without sticking your finger down his throat – you could lodge the item further down and block the remaining airway.

Ask your veterinarian to show you how to perform the Heimlich maneuver and CPR on your pet – it doesn’t hurt to be prepared.

Bottom line: try to make it here or to the nearest 24/7 emergency hospital if your pet is injured or compromised in any way, even if you aren’t sure it’s a major emergency. At the end of the day, it’s better to bring your pet in and find out you didn’t need to, than not bring them in and find out you should have.