Most pet "parents" have been in a situation like this: Buster slipped on the way down the stairs and now he’s walking with a limp. It’s 11:00 at night should you call your veterinarian, or are you just being a worrywart?
You’re never wrong to call
If you’re concerned about your pet, you should never feel embarrassed about calling a veterinarian. Veterinarians are used to emergencies and they prepare for them. Most veterinary hospitals have doctors on-call or provide referrals to emergency pet hospitals, so don’t worry about waking your veterinarian out of a sound sleep. In fact, all AAHA-accredited hospitals are required to provide 24-hour access to emergency care, either in their own facility or through referral to another hospital. (To find an AAHA-accredited animal hospital near you, visit the Hospital Locator.)
Remember, you know your pet better than anyone else. If you notice your pet behaving in a way that’s unusual for her, or if something just doesn’t seem right, you may have picked up on a subtle sign of a real problem. To find out, you can call your veterinary hospital, or an emergency animal hospital near you. By asking a few questions over the phone, an emergency veterinarian should be able to tell you whether you should bring your pet in right away, or whether she can wait for an examination during your hospital’s normal office hours. Even if you find out nothing’s wrong, you’ll be glad to have your mind at ease.
There are some times, however, when you won’t need to call first. If you notice any of the following problems, bring your pet in immediately for emergency care.
Your pet has been experienced some kind of trauma, such as being hit by a car or a blunt object or falling more than a few feet.
- Your pet isn’t breathing or you can’t feel a heartbeat. (See Pet CPR.)
- Your pet is unconscious and won’t wake up.
- Your pet has been vomiting or has had diarrhea for more than 24 hours, or she is vomiting blood.
- You suspect any broken bones.
- Your pet is having trouble breathing or has something stuck in her throat.
- Your pet has had or is having a seizure.
- Your pet is bleeding from the eyes, nose, or mouth, or there is blood in her urine or feces.
- You think your pet might have ingested something toxic, such as antifreeze, rat poison, any kind of medication that wasn’t prescribed to her, or household cleansers.
- Your pet, particularly your male cat, is straining to urinate, or is unable to.
- Your pet shows signs of extreme pain, such as whining, shaking, and refusing to socialize.
- Your pet collapses or suddenly can’t stand up.
- Your pet begins bumping into things or suddenly becomes disoriented.
- You can see irritation or injury to your pet’s eyes, or she suddenly seems to become blind.
- Your pet’s abdomen is swollen and hard to the touch, and/or she’s gagging and trying to vomit.
- You see symptoms of heatstroke.
- Your pregnant dog or cat has gone more than three to four hours between delivering puppies or kittens.
What to do if it’s an emergency
If you notice any of the symptoms above or you suspect a serious problem, try to get directly in touch with a veterinary professional. Don’t leave a voicemail or use the Internet or email.
Your first step is to call your veterinarian. All AAHA-accredited hospitals will either have someone answering the phone 24-hours a day or will have a recorded message referring you to another hospital in case of an emergency. If you’re in an unfamiliar city, look in the phone book under "Veterinarians" and call the nearest emergency hospital.
Once you decide to bring your pet in for emergency treatment, make sure you know where you’re going and how to get your pet there safely. If you have any questions about directions or how to move your ill or injured pet, call the hospital and ask
The best way to deal with pet emergencies is to prepare for them, just in case. The next time you bring your pet in for a checkup, ask your veterinarian what you should do in case of emergency. Find out whether your animal hospital is open 24 hours, or whether they refer emergency cases on evenings and weekends. If they refer, get the name, address, and phone number of the emergency facility they refer to.
Keep your veterinarian’s name and number on an emergency sheet near the phone, right next to the numbers for your doctor, fire department, and poison-control hotline. If your veterinarian refers evening and weekend emergencies to another hospital, write down that hospital’s name and number too, as well as what hours your doctor refers cases there. This way, if an emergency catches you off guard, you won’t have to file through drawers or folders looking for business cards. You may also want to have a list of pet first aid tips easily accessible, along with guidelines for human first aid.
If you’re taking your pet along on a trip, you can find AAHA-accredited hospitals in the area you’ll be visiting by using the Hospital Locator.
Most important, remember to trust your instincts. You know and love your pet, and you have the right to be worried if something seems wrong. Emergency veterinary professionals are there for you, never hesitate to call.