Is this a veterinary EMERGENCY???

There are two questions that most veterinarians get very frequently. They are both closely related, and one is much more acceptable than the other. The first question is

Should I take my pet to the vet?

The answer to that question is almost always YES. If you have to ask the question, there’s a good chance that you have identified something wrong (or at least “not right”) with your pet. Because animals can’t talk and tell us how wrong they feel, it is always best to take your pet in to the trained professional who has spent years decoding animal signs and symptoms so that they can tell you how severe the problem really is.

The second question is much more acceptable, and will be the focus of this blog post:

Should I take my pet to the vet RIGHT NOW?

NOTE/DISCLAIMER: There is no way for me to tell you if your pet needs immediate veterinary attention unless I am in the room with you and examining your pet. It is ALWAYS better safe than sorry. If you feel that you need to go to the emergency vet, PLEASE go right away! However, I wanted to provide you with a few guidelines to help your decision making process.

There are some situations that are true emergencies and warrant immediate veterinary care. There are other times that your pet should be seen promptly, but not immediately. There are also times where your pet should be seen in a few days, or if the problem does not resolve on its own.

Here are a few examples of problems that are TRUE emergencies… and problems that are not emergencies, or are on only emergencies if they meet a specific criteria.

True Emergencies

  • Pregnant animals who has been in labor for more than 30 minutes between puppies/kittens, or who have had a fetus in the birth canal for more than 30 minutes
  • Animals who have been struck by cars (even if they appear to be fine), been in car accidents, or had any other type of blunt-force trauma
  • Animals who have been attacked by other animals, even if the wounds/punctures appear to be very small (small punctures can be very severe on the inside compared to the outside)
  • Dogs (especially large breed dogs) that are nonproductive retching or have a bloated abdomen
  • Cats or dogs (especially males) that are straining to urinate without producing any urine
  • Toxin ingestion (drugs, chocolate, poisons, pesticides, raisins, or other chemicals)- the sooner the better!
  • Animals that suddenly lose the ability to walk and/or appear to have no feeling in their rear legs

Maybe Emergencies

  • Diarrhea- IF is severe, has been going on for more than 24-48 hours, and/or is accompanied by vomiting, lethargy, decreased appetite, or blood in the stool. If your dog is normal overall but has soft stool, see your vet during regular hours.
  • Vomiting- IF it occurs more than once and/or is accompanied by decreased appetite, lethargy, diarrhea, or blood. If your pet has been vomiting on and off but is acting normally and is able to eat food and keep it down most of the time, see your veterinarian during regular business hours.
  • Limping- IF the pet is painful, the limping came on very suddenly, and/or the pet is not using the limb at all. If your pet is limping but isn’t painful, and can still use all of his limbs, see your vet within the next day during regular business hours.

Most Likely Not Emergencies

  • A broken toenail. You should see your vet if it continues bleeding, is painful, or if there is a nerve/soft tissue exposed. But this is not life-threatening and does not require immediate veterinary care
  • Skin rashes or fleas. The exception to this rule is if the pet is excessively painful, has facial swelling, or if there are hives that come on quickly. See your vet if your pet persistently itches or has red, thick skin or ears.
  • New tumors on the skin or old skin tumors that have grown excessively over time and are now ruptured (unless the bleeding from a tumor is more than a nose bleed)

Remember, this isn’t meant to be a set-in-stone guide to keep you from seeking veterinary attention when you need it. Rather, I hope that you can use these examples to decide when you should see an emergency veterinarian right away or if you should wait for your regular, day-time veterinarian. Your emergency veterinarian should be more than happy to see your dog or cat for even minor problems, but sometimes it may be more convenient to wait until the next day, or you may not have a ER vet hospital nearby.


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