This information is intended to help you deal with emergency situations that arise with your pet. It is not intended to replace professional veterinary care. The information presented will help you handle your pet's condition well enough to get them to a veterinary clinic for an exam and further treatment. The best way to manage an emergency is to be prepared - know where to take your pet and what numbers to call when you have questions. Remain calm at all times and be safe!
Approach the animal slowly while talking in a calm, soothing voice. ALWAYS muzzle an animal in pain or have someone restrain the head before examining the injured area. Try to assess the nature of the emergency as quickly as possible. Use the information in this book to help stabilize and transport the animal. Call a veterinarian as soon as possible and seek professional care for your pet immediately.
SHOULD I KEEP A FIRST AID KIT IN THE HOUSE OR CAR FOR MY PETS?
Carrying a few basic items can ease the stress of simple emergencies when away from home. Start with a small collection of the following:
tweezers, sterile saline (contact lens solution), roll gauze and gauze sponges, adhesive tape, antibiotic ointment, nylon leash, beach towel and latex gloves. It's a good idea to always keep some blankets or towels in your car too!
DO NOT give your pet any medications (Advil, Tylenol, aspirin, etc.) without checking with a veterinarian first. Many human drugs are toxic to animals and could preclude use of important medications to help your pet.
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS OF ABDOMINAL PAIN AND WHAT ACTIONS SHOULD I TAKE?
Signs of abdominal pain include whining, listless/restless, lethargic, arching back, unable to get comfortable, vomiting/diarrhea, bloated or distended abdomen. If your pet is experiencing abdominal pain, DO NOT give your pet food or water — this may induce vomiting and make the condition worse. Abdominal pain can be very serious and is often life threatening if not addressed. Limit the activity of your pet, carry them if possible. You can put small pets in a box or carrier. Call a veterinarian and seek professional help as soon as possible.
HOW DO I KNOW IF MY PET IS HAVING AN ALLERGIC REACTION?
Signs of an allergic reaction include fever, vomiting/diarrhea, hives, scratching, chewing at feet, swollen face or puffiness around eyes, and trouble breathing. If your pet is having an allergic reaction, call a veterinarian IMMEDIATELY. Allergic reactions should be treated as soon as possible to prevent shock. An exam by a veterinarian should still be performed on your pet, even if the reaction gets better. Allergic reactions can result from a variety of causes including insect bites or stings, vaccinations, food reactions and environmental issues.
MY PET HAS BEEN BITTEN. WHAT STEPS SHOULD I TAKE?
As always, approach the animal slowly. Injured animals communicate their pain through aggressive or defensive actions. MUZZLE the animal or have someone restrain the head. Examine the entire animal for bleeding, lacerations or pain. Multiple bite wounds can be hard to find under thick coats and even bite wounds that appear superficial can cause extensive internal injuries (snake and spiderbites are particularly dangerous). Wounds that penetrate the abdomen or thorax require immediate veterinary care as they may cause serious internal injuries; such as organ laceration and bleeding. Bite wounds often need to be flushed extensively or sutured to help prevent infection. Wounds that are managed within 6 hours require less intensive care. If you cannot quickly reach help, flush each wound with saline (clean water will do). Wrap large wounds, small wounds can be left uncovered. DO NOT use tourniquets to stop bleeding — use firm pressure if needed.
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF MY ANIMAL HAS BEEN BURNED?
For chemical, electrical or thermal (heat) burns, immediately flush the area with cool water for 5 minutes. After flushing, apply a cool compress to the area for 10 to 15 minutes. NEVER apply an ice pack directly to the skin. Wrap the pack in a thin towel or available material. Call a veterinarian and seek professional help and examination. Burns need to be addressed immediately and can be life threatening when severe.
HOW DO I KNOW IF MY PET IS EXPERIENCING A CARDIAC EMERGENCY?
Signs of a cardiac emergency include collapse, weakness, bluish or gray gum color, rapid/slow heart rate, increased respiratory rate or respiratory distress. If your pet is going into cardiac arrest, call and seek veterinary care IMMEDIATELY. Such emergencies should not be taken lightly as they are often life threatening. Limit your pet's activity, carry them if possible.
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF MY PET HAS DIARRHEA?
Diarrhea can be due to stress or change in the animal's diet, and often it can often be a symptom of a more serious illness or disease. Dehydration can happen quickly and can be life threatening. If the diarrhea persists for more than 24 hours, seek veterinary care. If your pet is showing other signs of illness (vomiting/lethargy/weakness) do not wait, seek veterinary care immediately.
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF MY PET HAS AN EAR EMERGENCY?
Signs of an ear emergency include scratching at ears, shaking head, whining, head tilting, swollen/puffy ear flap, strange odor or discharge from ear(s). If your pet is exhibiting signs of an ear emergency, MUZZLE your pet or have someone hold the mouth closed while you examine the ears. Look for signs of redness, swelling of the ear flap, discharge or unusual odor. Look for any obvious foreign body (plant material, etc.) and pull it out if possible. If the problem persists, call a veterinarian and have your pet seen as soon as possible to obtain the appropriate solution. If your pet is experiencing frequent ear infections, please discuss this with your veterinarian as there are usually underlying causes, such as allergies. Try to prevent your pet from scratching at the ears or shaking the head excessively as this can make the problem worse. Always avoid getting water in your dog's ears. Ask your family veterinarian for an ear 'drying' agent if your pet loves playing in water.
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF MY PET HAS AN EYE EMERGENCY?
Signs of an eye emergency include squinting, discharge/tearing, redness, swelling, bleeding, and different pupil size. If there is an obvious laceration or foreign object in or around the eye, seek veterinary care immediately. DO NOT try to bandage the laceration or remove the object. If the source of the irritation is known to be chemical or fine debris/dirt, flush the eye(s) with sterile saline (or clean water) immediately for 5 to 10 minutes and then seek veterinary care. Eye injuries and infections can get worse very quickly. IMMEDIATE diagnosis and treatment is critical in the preservation of your pet's eyesight.
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS OF A FRACTURE?
Signs of a fracture include pain, not using a limb, and/or the limb looks bent or swollen. If your pet is exhibiting signs of a fracture, MUZZLE the animal or have someone restrain the head. Check the limb for open wounds or bleeding. If excessive bleeding, apply pressure with a towel or other available material while trying not to move the limb. DO NOT pull on the limb in an attempt to align the fracture, such action can result in further injury and increased bleeding. Stabilize the limb as best as possible (carry your pet if possible) and seek professional help. DO NOT give any pain medications to your pet (some are toxic to animals) unless instructed to do so by a veterinarian. Avoid wrapping the leg, as it is easy to impede blood circulation.
HOW DO I KNOW IF MY PET IS EXPERIENCING A HEAT EMERGENCY AND/OR DEHYDRATION?
Signs of a heat emergency and dehydration include excessive panting or salivation, lethargic, unable to stand, lack of coordination, vomiting, diarrhea. If your pet is experiencing mild discomfort, move your pet to a cool area as soon as possible. Keep them calm, DO NOT try to get them to stop panting, this is how your pet expels heat. If water is near by, encourage your pet to stand or lay down in cool water. Put small amounts of water on the tongue, or offer them ice cubes. If not vomiting, your pet should respond rapidly (10 to 15 minutes).
If your pet does not respond to the cooling therapy, is depressed or anxious, great difficulty breathing, loss of consciousness or significant discomfort, seek veterinary care IMMEDIATELY. Dehydration of any cause can lead to shock or organ damage. Temperatures in your pet above 105.5˚ can be life threatening. Also, light colored animals can get sunburned just like people. Encourage them to stay in the shade and ask your veterinarian for a recommendation on sunblock for your pet.
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF MY PET HAS A TICK OR HAS BEEN BITTEN BY AN INSECT?
Like people, animals vary in their reactions to insect venom. The response can range from mild irritation to allergic shock. Check the area for any remaining stinger or insect, remove them and cleanse the area with soap and water. Cool wet towels or gauze can be used (for 20 to 30 minutes) to soothe the area. Watch your pet for signs of allergic reaction (see allergy section and follow the instructions if needed). Be particularly mindful of difficulties breathing. When returning from a park or a hike, check thoroughly for ticks by running your fingers through your pet's entire coat, and inspecting the paws, pads, between toes and inside floppy ears. If you find a tick, place a small amount of tick spray (alcohol, mineral oil or petroleum jelly can also be used) on a cottonball and hold it over the tick. Typically the tick will back out in 30-60 seconds allowing you to grab it with a tweezers and dispose of it. Apply alcohol or an antibiotic ointment to the site of the bite.
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF MY PET HAS A LACERATION?
As always, approach the animal slowly. Injured animals are often aggressive or defensive. MUZZLE the animal or have someone restrain the head. Examine the entire animal for bleeding, lacerations or pain. Multiple lacerations can be hard to find under thick fur. Flush each laceration with saline (clean water will do). Wrap large lacerations, small wounds can be left uncovered. DO NOT use tourniquets to stop bleeding, use firm pressure if needed. Seek veterinary care IMMEDIATELY. Lacerations can involve extensive internal damage and often need to be flushed extensively or sutured to help prevent infection.
HOW DO I KNOW IF MY PET IS HAVING A NEUROLOGIC EMERGENCY?
Signs of a neurologic emergency include Inability to use limb(s), unable to stand, circling, seizures, head tilt, and abnormal behavior. If your pet is exhibiting these signs, seek veterinary care as soon as possible. Neurologic disease is difficult to treat and is often very serious. If your pet is unable to walk, carry them to the car. If they are too big to carry, use a towel (under the abdomen, in front of rear legs) to support the hindend or use a heavy blanket as a stretcher to carry them to the car. Professional diagnosis and treatment is recommended as soon as possible.
HOW DO I KNOW IF MY PET HAS COME IN CONTACT WITH A POISONOUS SUBSTANCE?
Signs of poisoning include disorientation, vomiting, seizures, weakness, retching, salivating (excessive), tremors, and decreased mentation. Call a veterinarian IMMEDIATELY. If the source of the poisoning is known, have the container with you when you call. You will need information on the packaging to determine the appropriate treatment. If the source is unknown, seek emergency assistance IMMEDIATELY. Anti-toxin treatment should be started as soon as possible to minimize absorption of the poison. If professional medical help is unavailable, veterinary Poison Control offers assistance at (888) 426-4435 for a fee. Please make a note of the case number provided by poison control, your veterinarian will need it for reference. If possible, bring the toxic agent with you to the doctor.
HOW DO I KNOW IF MY PET IS EXPERIENCING A RESPIRATORY EMERGENCY?
Signs of a respiratory emergency include collapse, weakness, bluish or gray gum color, labored, rapid or shallow breathing. Call and seek veterinary care IMMEDIATELY. Difficulty breathing can result from heart failure, lung disease, and blockage of the airways. Such emergencies should not be taken lightly as they are often life threatening. Look in your pet's mouth, look for any foreign object that may be obstructing the airway. ONLY try to remove the object (with tweezers or pliers) if it is COMPLETELY stopping your pet from breathing. If they can still pass some air (wheezing) get them to a veterinary hospital as soon as possible. Limit your pet's activity, carry them if possible.
HOW DO I KNOW IF MY PET IS HAVING A SEIZURE?
Signs of a seizure include shaking (uncontrollably), tremors, strange facial movements, unable to stand, paddling (swimming action) with paws, loss of bowel or urinary control, and loss of consciousness. DO NOT try to restrain your pet during an episode. Move objects away that may cause injury during the seizure. Call a veterinarian immediately. Try to get your pet to the veterinary hospital as soon as possible.
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF MY PET HAS BEEN BITTEN BY A SNAKE?
In San Diego County we have four species of medically significant venomous snakes. These are all rattlesnakes and bites from these should be treated as medical emergencies. Identification is important, but not essential. The most common rattlesnake, the South Pacific Rattlesnake, is also the one responsible for the majority of venomous snakebites in our area.
If your pet has been bitten by a snake, look for bleeding from the bite area, localized swelling and edema, edema of the muzzle and face, restlessness, agitation, painful to the touch, difficulty breathing. Be sure to keep your pet calm, wipe any excess venom away from the site of the bite. DO NOT cut, bandage or place hot/cold packs on the bite area. Avoid the snake that has caused the wound and do not attempt to catch or kill it. The majority of human rattlesnake bites result from people trying to catch or kill snakes.
WHAT ARE SOME COMMON HOUSEHOLD TOXINS I SHOULD BE AWARE OF?
There are several items commonly found in many households that are toxic to pets. Make certain that these items are removed from ALL areas to which your pet has access.
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS OF A URINARY EMERGENCY?
Signs of a urinary emergency include frequent urination or straining, blood in urine, difficulty urinating, and vomiting. Animals can develop urinary blockage and infections just like people. Once you have detected the signs of a problem, call your veterinarian and take your pet in as soon as possible. The problem most likely has been going on longer than you realized. DO NOT wait and observe the pet to see how they do.
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF MY PET IS VOMITING?
Look for signs of foreign material or strange food in the vomit. When you call the veterinarian, let them know if your pet has eaten any foreign objects or new foods. Rest the stomach for 4-6 hours by offering no food or water. Then try small amounts of water and bland food every two hours. If there is no further vomiting you can return your pet to a normal diet. IF THE VOMITING PERSISTS, or your pet has unproductive vomiting (retching) or abdominal distension, is lethargic, depressed or has severe diarrhea, see your veterinarian immediately.
MY PET IS IN LABOR. WHAT ARE THE SIGNS OF A WHELPING OR QUEENING EMERGENCY?
Dogs: If your dog experiences the following while in labor, call your veterinarian immediately;
4 hours of labor without puppies, 30 minutes of straining or 2 hours between puppies.
Cats: If your cat experiences the following while in labor, call your veterinarian immediately;
4 hours of labor without kittens or 30 minutes of straining.
TIPS ON CHECKING VITAL SIGNS:
Taking a Heart Rate or Pulse: The heartbeat of a dog or cat can be felt at about the point where the left elbow touches the chest (about the fifth rib). Place your hand or stethoscope over this area and count the heartbeats for one minute. Pulses can also be felt with a light touch on the inner thigh approximately half way between the front and back of the leg, just below the wrist on the front legs or just below the ankle of the rear legs.
Normal Heart and Pulse Rates at Rest:
Small Breed Dogs ( 30 lbs.): 100-160 beats per minute.
Medium to Large Breed Dogs (30+ lbs.): 60-100 beats per minute.
Puppy (until 1 year old): 140-200 beats per minute.
Cats: 160-220 beats per minute.
Normal Breathing Rates:
Dogs: 10-30 breaths per minute and up to 200 pants per minute.
Cats: 20-30 breaths per minute. (Note: Panting in a cat can be a sign of serious illness and requires immediate veterinary attention.)
TIPS ON TRAVELING WITH YOUR PET:
Leaving your pet at home:
If someone is taking care of your pet while you are away, be certain to leave a phone number where you can be reached as well as the phone number of your veterinarian. Make certain the pet-sitter is aware of any health issues. Finally it is always a good idea to leave a PERMISSION TO TREAT form which note financial limitations (available at Pet Urgent Care) should be signed and made available to the pet-sitter in case you are not available when an emergency occurs.
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