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Preparing for a Pet Care Emergency

Faye DesPres
June 8, 2017

What to do during an emergency with your pet.

Many pet guardians wonder if they should have supplies on hand in case their beloved animal friend becomes sick or injured. Dr. Kiko Bracker, DVM, DACVECC of the Emergency and Critical Care Services Team at Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston shared some information with Care.com about pets and medical emergencies.

Care.com: Many pet owners would like to be prepared in case their dog, cat or other pet has a health emergency. What are some symptoms, besides accidents or obvious injury of course, that should be considered an emergency?

Dr. Bracker: Unfortunately, it is often difficult to connect signs and symptoms to the severity of disease in dogs and cats. In general, it is always better to have a heightened sense of concern with dogs and cats precisely because they cannot tell us what is wrong. Signs and/or symptoms that should prompt suspicion include lethargy, vomiting multiple times, blood in vomit or stool, swollen abdomen, straining to urinate with no urine production, tremoring, pain on movement, difficulty walking, bleeding, toxin ingestion, difficulty breathing, coughing, animal bites. The owner or pet sitter needs to use his or her own best judgment or speak to a veterinary hospital to determine if the problem merits going to an emergency facility.

Care.com: Will veterinarians fit in appointments if there is an emergency? How can a pet lover find a 24-hour emergency veterinarian?

Dr. Bracker: This depends entirely on your own veterinarian and how the hospital he or she uses is set up. It used to be necessary for general practitioners to see their own emergencies, because emergency hospitals were simply not available. However, in the last 15 years, animal emergency hospitals have become relatively common, and most general practitioners will have a relationship with a local animal ER to direct their emergencies to if they cannot see them. Additionally, if you have an emergency when your veterinarian is closed, their phone message will almost always have a message directing you to the animal ER that they have an association with. Alternatively, you can find a local emergency facility in the yellow pages or on the Web.

Care.com: Are there some basic supplies a pet guardian can keep around the house in case of injury or emergency?

Dr. Bracker: Pet owners face many of the same difficulties that parents of infants face when trying to diagnose and treat health problems. The patient, their pet, cannot express what they are feeling or where on the body the problem is, and the historical cause of the problem is often not known. More often than not, when owners have tried to apply first aid techniques to their pets, the pet would have been better off if the owner had done nothing and brought the animal to the emergency room or spoken to their vet instead. I would not routinely recommend that owners have a first aid kit for their pet, unless they are dealing with a problem that I have previously diagnosed and they are then managing it at home. The best thing to do is to speak to their veterinarian to determine if the pet needs to be seen, and at that time the hospital can make recommendations if first aid care is appropriate.

Dr. Bracker does not recommend treating a pet for a medical emergency without the advice or oversight of a veterinarian, but there are some types of emergencies that pet guardians can prepare for in advance:

Faye Rapoport DesPres is a freelance writer specializing in pet care, family and outdoor activities. She lives with her husband and five cats, and has a website at OurPlaceToPaws.com.

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