Pets: Medical emergencies with your pet: When to treat on your own, when to seek professional help
flickr photo courtesy of iluvrhinestones
Minor injuries invariably occur, and for many of those, you can safely take care of them at home. The key, of course, is to know what you can do yourself — that's the majority of cases — and when to seek professional help. It can be difficult to know when something is serious enough to get treatment because some medical emergencies are not obvious.
Reading the signs
So aside from a dog getting hit by a car or your cat getting into a serious fight with another animal, how do you know when you need to get to a vet quickly?
The latter is of real concern these days, with so many new human prescription medications in homes with pets. That raises the chance of animals ingesting the medications.
A short list of human medications that poison pets are: NSAIDS (like ibuprofen and naproxen), acetaminophen (especially harmful to cats), methylphenidate (used to treat ADHD), the anti-cancer drug fluorouracil, benzodiazepines and sleep aids, isoniazid (a drug used to treat tuberculosis), birth control pills, blood diabetic medications, Vitamin D derivatives, the muscle relaxer Baclofen, anti-depressants and one very common drug used this time of year — pseudoephedrine, used to relieve sinus pressure in humans.
These and all drugs need to be kept locked up and away from pets' reach — preferably in a medicine cabinet, and not on a nightstand or a counter. Counter-surfing pets are crafty and, if something looks, smells or sounds interesting enough, they'll want it. Read more by clicking here on what to do in the event of a poisoning emergency.
Cats, in particular are very sensitive to some medications and/or chemicals because they metabolize them differently than dogs, so bear in mind that because something is indicated for use in another animal, does not mean that it is safe for cats.
Exposure to extreme heat can be cause for professional intervention, as can extreme cold.
For some, it can be difficult to tell if a pet is in pain, and if that's the case with your pet, take heart — it's more common than you think. Our two dogs could not be more different in how they manifest their discomfort: Gretchen is very stoic, while Bruiser wears his heart on his sleeve. Common tell-tale signs that a pet is in pain are:
- hiding or crying out
- loss of appetite
- lethargy or restlessness
- labored breathing or panting
If your pet is in pain, do use care. A pet who is experiencing that level of discomfort can behave unpredictably, and even lash out and bite. For instances like these, it's a good idea to have a soft fabric muzzle on hand for dogs, and a restraint bag for cats to protect yourself so that they you can transport them safely to the vet. Be aware: If your dog is vomiting, do not muzzle him or her!
So, how can you best prepare for an emergency involving your pet? Here are some essential tips:
- Stay calm. It sounds elementary, but you'll better serve your pet, especially if you need to talk with a poison hot line or veterinary staff to convey what's going on. Remember: You are your pets' voice.
- Keep your veterinarian's phone number handy and displayed prominently. Even better, program the numbers of your family vet and an emergency vet into your cell phone (under "Vet E") and know how to get to the emergency vet's office.
- Consider learning pet CPR and first aid. The Red Cross offers courses.
Have a first-aid kit on hand designed around pets' needs. A good basic kit should include:
* Absorbent gauze pads.
* Activated charcoal.
* Adhesive tape (do not use Band-Aids).
* Self-adherent wrap.
* Antiseptic wipes or spray.
* Cotton balls or swabs.
* Gauze rolls.
* Hydrogen peroxide (to induce vomiting when directed by a veterinarian or poison control).
* Ice pack.
* Non-latex disposable gloves.
* Petroleum jelly (to lubricate thermometer).
* Digital fever thermometer. Your pet's temperature should not rise above 103 degrees Fahrenheit or fall below 100 degrees.
* Scissors with blunt ends.
* Sterile nonstick gauze pads for bandages.
* Sterile saline solution (sold at pharmacies).
* A pillowcase to confine your cat for treatment.
* A pet carrier.
* Karo syrup (for blood sugar-related problems).
* Nail clippers.
* Over-the-counter antibiotic ointment.
* Penlight or flashlight.
* Plastic eyedropper or syringe.
* A muzzle.
The best advice that I can give is, if you are in doubt, err on the side of caution and call your vet, or an emergency vet's office. Better safe than sorry.
For more on pet emergencies, click here.