A serious, unexpected and often dangerous situation requiring immediate attention defines what an emergency is. When a pet becomes ill, it is often something that pet owners rarely prepare for but certainly something that we need to think about before there is a time of need. The days when the family veterinarian would answer phone calls in the middle of the night or the morning of a holiday are long gone. Today, many veterinarians do not even rotate on-call services with other area veterinarians. Instead, many refer all after-hours or urgent patients to area emergency or specialty practices.
When emergencies occur, we only have a handful of minutes to engage an emergency plan. Below is a list of some questions you should think about:
• Does my family veterinarian provide after-hours/weekend services?
• If the family veterinarian does not provide emergency services, who does he/she recommend?
• What is the travel time to your veterinarian’s office or their designated emergency service?
• Do you have a pet first-aid kit available and stocked?
• Does your veterinarian have the ability to process laboratory samples urgently?
• Is your veterinarian comfortable with surgery?
Emergencies can happen at any time, and of course the types of emergency vary between dogs and cats and even more so based on a patient’s age and lifestyle. For dogs, the most common emergencies that arise are toxin exposures, hit by cars (or other automotive vehicle), altercation with a porcupine, heat stroke, lacerations, internal bleeding, and the worst emergency of them all, gastric dilatation and volvulus, better known as GDV. For cats, the most common emergencies are hit by car, attacked/injured by dog, cat fights that result in abscesses, kidney failure, heart failure and pancreatitis.
If your pet is ever sick or injured, it is always better to seek veterinary care as soon as possible. Delaying care can be detrimental to a patient’s outcome as well as become costlier for overall care. Depending on the condition, the most someone should wait to have a patient seen by a veterinarian is 24 hours. Of course, there are conditions that may resolve or start to improve after 48 hours, but there is absolutely no way to predict a response. It is advised to always walk on the side of caution and have a patient evaluated sooner rather than later. Peace of mind is often priceless.
Emergencies always seem to occur during the night, holidays and weekends. Services during these times cost more money, in addition to a veterinarian needing to have access to more advanced equipment for emergencies. To provide thorough and appropriate emergency care, additional equipment items are required such as IV fluid pumps, on-sight laboratory equipment, ultrasound machines, X-ray machines, oxygen therapy and cardiac monitoring equipment. Not every veterinary hospital has these items, and they come with additional expense to acquire and maintain.
We do not know when an emergency will occur, but it is very important to plan for when, and if one occurs. We hope that we never must follow that plan, but knowing ahead is very important. Again, not all veterinarians see after-hours emergencies, so the first step is to check with your family veterinarian as to what he/she recommends.