When it comes to medical emergencies, every second counts. Being prepared ahead of time for when your pet requires emergency medical attention can expedite appropriate medical care, decrease your stress, and minimize your pet’s suffering.
It is important to remember that animals are not the same as humans. As humans, we all have a general idea of what to keep in our First Aid Kit and we all know to call “911” if it is more than a First Aid Kit can cover. For our four-legged family members, it is not just their anatomy that is different, but also which medications they can take safely, which first aid supplies they require, as well as what type of medical procedures they need are all much different. Many of the things we put into a human First Aid Kit could actually cause more harm than good if used in the wrong way, so rather than making a “Pet First Aid Kit” with over-the-counter medications and Band-Aids like we do, this author recommends making a “Veterinary Emergency Plan” instead. A “Veterinary Emergency Plan” is filled with knowledge of when and who to call, the supplies needed to safely get your pet to the hospital, and an emergency financial plan. The following is meant to be a starting point in emergency preparation for the average pet owner, BEFORE disaster strikes. It is not meant to be interpreted as medical advice, or seen as an all-inclusive list.
Items to include in your pet’s Veterinary Emergency Plan:
1.) Emergency contact information:
Ask your veterinarian who and at which number you should call in the event of a day-time and/or after-hours emergency. Keep this information programmed into your phone. Some primary care veterinarians will cover both general medicine and emergency care for their patients, while others only see routine appointments and send most emergencies to larger emergency hospitals.
*Tip: If you are going to be out of town, be sure to reach out to your family veterinarian or local emergency clinic ahead of time, so that they know who is allowed to make important medical decisions for your pet if you are not present or cannot be reached. Provide your veterinarian’s contact information to your pet’s caretaker and familiarize them with your Veterinary Emergency Plan.
2.) When to Call the Veterinarian:
This could be a whole article all on its own, but in general, contact your veterinarian immediately if your pet is showing any of these signs:
a. Severe bleeding, especially from nose, mouth, rectum, or when urinating.
b. Difficulty or inability to urinate or defecate.
c. Difficulty breathing, choking, severe coughing or gagging.
d. Open wounds or bites.
e. Known or suspected ingestion of toxins, including (but not limited to) raisins/grapes, onions, garlic, chocolate, chewing gum, artificial sweeteners, marijuana or other street drugs, antifreeze, lilies (cats), human medications, household cleaners, or pest bait.
f. Decrease or complete lack of appetite.
g. Sudden change in mentation or ability to walk.
h. Collapse, periods of unconsciousness, or seizures.
i. Diarrhea or vomiting (especially if it contains blood or is very dark brown/black in color).
If you are unsure if something is a pet emergency, contact your veterinarian immediately to discuss what you are seeing. Based on your pet’s current symptoms and previous medical history, they should be able to tell you if your pet needs to be assessed on an emergency basis, or if it can wait until normal business hours.
3.) Pet and Human Safety:
Keep your hands and face away from your pet’s mouth and paws. It is important to understand that even the most docile and friendly pet can unintentionally bite as a response to fear or pain during an emergency. Contact your veterinarian right away if you have a concern for you or your patient’s safety in transporting it to the veterinarian. They can make recommendations for safe handling, lifting, and transporting based on the individual patient and situation they are experiencing. If your pet has ever bitten a human in the past, it is important that you relay that information to the veterinarian and veterinary staff.
4.) Items to Safely Transport the pet to the Veterinary Clinic:
Regardless of the situation, you will always need a safe and secure way to transport your pet into the clinic.
a. Smaller patients (cats and dogs): a sturdy, secure pet carrier.
b. Larger dog breeds: a strong collar or harness with secure leash (if they are able to walk), or a large towel may be needed if your pet is unable to walk on their own. Let your veterinary stall know if you need help transporting your pet from your vehicle into the hospital.
5.) Previous Medical Records:
It is always best to keep a copy of your pet’s medical record with you, especially when traveling with your pet. Having this information available will help an emergency veterinarian fully understand your pet’s medical history. It is much easier for the veterinarian to make medical decisions if they are familiar with your pet’s needs.
6.) Emergency Financial Plan:
Last, but certainly not least, it is important to talk with your family veterinary or local emergency hospital now about what an average emergency visit might cost in your area. Discuss your payment options ahead of time, so you are mentally and financially prepared if an emergency visit does occur. Some hospitals and clinics accept Care Credit (a medical credit card), while most require payment at the time of service. At the very least, this author recommends having a separate savings account with enough financial cushion to cover the average emergency visit as well as basic quality of life measures.
When your pet is experiencing a life-threatening medical emergency, the last thing you want to worry about is who to call, how you are going to get to the veterinarian, and how you are going to pay for your furry family member’s needs. A pet emergency is stressful enough – give yourself peace of mind by contacting your veterinarian today to make a Veterinary Emergency Plan. Your pet will thank you for it!
Additional resources on preparing for an animal emergency are available at:
American Veterinary Medical Association, Emergency Care – https://www.avma.org/resources-tools/pet-owners/emergency-care
Molly Doyle is a Lowell High School graduate and lives in the Lowell community. She received a bachelor’s of science at Kansas State University in Feed Science and Management, and then earned her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) from Kansas State’s College of Veterinary Medicine. She worked in Kansas City as an equine veterinarian, at an equine surgical referral center. While working as an equine veterinarian, she completed training and certification in both animal chiropractic and veterinary acupuncture, to be able to offer these medical services in combination with traditional medical care. She enjoys many aspects of veterinary medicine, but specifically preventative care, sports medicine, rehabilitation, and pain management – anything where improving the comfort and quality of life of her veterinary patients!
After moving back to the area she opened Resilience Integrative Veterinary Medicine, which is a unique veterinary practice that provides veterinary chiropractic and acupuncture to animals in the greater Grand Rapids area, as well as general medicine relief (locum) services to veterinary practices across Michigan and in other states in the Midwest.
More information about Molly and her business can be found at www.resiliencevetmed.com or on Facebook and Instagram at @Resiliencevetmed.