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When Your Pet's In Danger.. Or You're In Doubt Call Your Veterinarian To Figure It Out!

By Theresa A. Fuess, Ph.D. Information Specialist University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine

If you think your pet may be having a medical emergency, call your veterinarian, advises Dr. Sheila M. McCullough, veterinarian at the University of Illinois Veterinary Medicine Teaching Hospital at Urbana

"Pet owners know if something is wrong with their pet, but they can't always know without specialized training whether a condition is critical or not," says Dr. McCullough. "Don't worry about whether or not to call. Just call. If it is not an emergency, your veterinarian can tell you how to care for the situation and what to expect. If it is an emergency, then time is critical and the sooner your veterinarian sees your pet the better its chances of recovery will be."

Common emergency conditions include ingestion of non-food items, accidental trauma, bloat, urinary obstruction, and seizures. The signs of these conditions are highly variable.

Non-food items that don't sit well in the digestive tract include medications, poisons, bones, toys, and just about any household item that will fit your pet's mouth. If your pet ingests a medication or rat poison, it may not show any immediate signs and by the time it acts sick, it may be too late to treat.

Bones cause dogs many problems. Chicken, pork chop, rib eye, and spare rib bones often end up wedged in a dog's mouth, esophagus, or stomach and require surgical removal. If your pet has consumed a non-food item, your veterinarian will know whether it will safely pass out the other end or whether it should be retrieved to prevent damage.

A pet injured in an accident, such as being hit by a car or falling from a window, must be handled cautiously for the benefit of both the handler and the pet. An animal in pain will aggressively protect injuries and will bite. You can make a muzzle by putting a piece of rope or a belt over the animal's nose, crossing it under the jaw, and tying it snugly behind the neck. To protect the animal from further injury, transport it on a stable, flat surface, such as a piece of plywood, or in a box that will support the animal's weight.

Bleeding can be stopped with mild pressure applied to the area. Loss of more blood than a puddle the size of your hand may require medical treatment.

Internal bleeding, which can be even more serious, may be difficult to detect.

Pale mucus membranes and weakness following trauma are indications of internal hemorrhage.

Bloat, which is distention and blockage of the stomach, occurs for unknown reasons in some dogs. Signs include a distended abdomen, dry heaves, increased salivation, and depression. The dog may repeatedly lie down and get up, pace, whine, or stretch. Bloat is a surgical emergency. It can't wait overnight.

Urinary obstruction is fairly common in cats. Signs include straining to urinate, howling in the litter box, and urinating in unusual places (such as the tub, sink, countertop, or in front of the owner). Straining to urinate should not be confused with constipation. A cat with urinary obstruction will rapidly get worse and needs to be seen by your veterinarian.

An animal in seizure needs to be protected from hurting itself. A seizure can be a slight loss of muscle control or can be severe, with the animal paddling on the ground completely out of control. An animal will lose bladder and bowel control, be mentally unaware of its surroundings, and appear dazed after a seizure. A severe seizure is an immediate emergency.

"Even for apparently minor conditions, take the two minutes to call. Tell your veterinarian the symptoms and their duration. Veterinarians would rather have too many calls regarding non-critical conditions than a few calls after precious time is lost. Even if you know you'll be taking the pet in for immediate care, call ahead so that your veterinarian will be prepared to treat your pet when you get there," says Dr. McCullough. Outside of regular office hours, pet owners can call their veterinarian's emergency service, the National Animal Poison Control Center (800/548-2423), or the University of Illinois Veterinary Hospital (217/333-5300).

For more information on emergency animal care, contact your local veterinarian.