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What do I do in an Emergency?

Yes, this is a puppy who swallowed a knife. The list of injested foreign bodies is as long as the list of items in your home. Trauma, infection or illness, trouble delivering puppies - these are just a few of the emergency situations you may be faced with as a pet owner. We will try and walk you through a few scenarios where you may need to be proactive before getting us on the phone, but remember - call us so we can help you and your pet as you get on your way to the hospital and so we can prepare for your arrival.

HEAT STROKE - Pets with temperatures at or above 105 can be serious, and temperatures at or above 107 are commonly fatal. Animals who don't sweat well (dogs and cats) cool off by panting. If the air they are taking in is as hot as they are (such as a sweltering >90 degree day or the air in an enclosed car), they will not cool off and will succumb to heat stroke. Do not force play or jog with your dog in the middle of the day in the summer, and provide him with plenty of breaks and water if he has to work. And never leave an animal unattended in a car, where temperatures can exceed 110 degrees within minutes. If you have a heat stroked dog or cat, immediately wet the animal in a tub or with a hose thoroughly, then call us as you proceed to our hospital.

Animals who can sweat, such as horses, can heat stroke as well. Horses have a large body mass compared to their skin surface, so the act of cooling by sweating falls behind their ability to produce heat from muscle activity. It has been found that if the temperature and humidity add up to 180 or greater, a horse is at risk for heat exhaustion/stroke if exercised more than 15 minutes. In Louisiana, a 90 degree day with 90% humidity is not a rare thing, so be extra careful riding in hot, humid weather. And remember, some horses suffer from the inability to sweat enough (or not at all) in the summer (called anhydrosis), which makes them more likely to have problems with heat. If a horse shows signs of heat stroke - disorientation, weakness, breathing heavily and being covered in foamy sweat - immediately start hosing that animal off, paying particular attention to the neck and legs, as they have more surface blood vessels. It is an "old wives tale" that you cannot hose a hot horse. If you do not cool him down as fast as possible he can suffer from serious muscle and kidney damage, not to mention brain damage and death. At the first sign of overheating, start hosing your horse and get us on the phone so we can arrange to provide IV fluids as well.

POISONING - Depending on the poisoning there will be different instructions, so please call our office for instructions. One thing to have on hand is Hydrogen Peroxide. We may have you use it to induce vomiting, especially if your pet just swallowed a non-corrosive poison such as rat bait, antifreeze, or prescription medications. Do not hesitate to call if your pet has ingested your medication, as a 10lb dog will often have side effects from an adult human dose, and cats do not tolerate any type of human over-the-counter pain medications. Your pet may still need to be seen for treatment of the absorbed portion of the poison, especially in the case of antifreeze and rat bait and many others, so be sure to be seen by the doctor.

TRAUMA - bleeding and fractures are two common problems that you need to know how to handle. Another important problem is trouble breathing, but there may be little to do as oxygen is not normally available. Do be sure to clear the nostrils and mouth of debris ( being careful not to get bitten) to allow an animal to breath as well as possible during transport. For bleeding, always apply pressure. Using what you have, like a sock, that you can wrap around a leg and tie it in place to slow bleeding until transport can be completed. Tourniquets can be damaging to tissues if applied too tight, but as long as they are not left on more than a few minutes they can be used in severe cases.

Fractures need to be kept as still and in-line as possible during transport. A board or towel can be used as a stretcher to move an animal without undue additional trauma. Fractures that are moved back and forth can tear additional vessels and nerves, as well as become more displaced. Horses can be trailered with care on three legs, as any severe injury will likely entail needing to go to a referral hospital.

DIFFICULT BIRTH - There are many books and videos detailing birth in horses and smaller pets, and these can go into much greater detail than we can here. The key point is to get a resource and go over it in prepartion for the impending birth.

In horses, birth normally takes place very quickly once any part of a foal is visable. Any birth where the mare is down and pushing hard for over 20 minutes, indicates the need for veterinary assistance. Mares will push so hard that they will tear their colons or prolapse their uterus if not sedated and the foal extracted.

For dogs and cats, early labor can last several hours, but once your pet is in hard labor (straining hard), produces a "water bag", or you see any part of a puppy or kitten, you would expect the young to be delivered within 15 minutes. A resting period of up to 2 hours between young is normal, as long as the mother is calm and comfortable.

DIFFICULTY BREATHING - Trouble breathing can result in rapid deterioration and death. Never underestimate the severity of a pet's breathing difficulty. The causes of respiratory problems can be many, so presenting your pet for an exam is the first step towards diagnosing and treating the problem. Heart problems is older pets, fluid or cancers in the chest, trauma to the chest, foreign objects in the throat or trachea, and infectious causes of pneumonia are all posibilites. Most often chest X-rays will be needed to diagnose the problem, and oxygen may need to be administered, making these hospitalization cases. When you call our office, please tell the receptionist that your pet is having trouble breathing and we will have you seen right away.

EYES - Eyes are always treated as emergencies due to the fact that loosing one is a handicap to any pet, especially a horse. Depth perception is affected, and horses especially tend to be spooky on the sightless side, which can render them unable to be ridden. Call our office right away if your horse or pet has 1) red, runny and especially squinty eyes 2) cloudiness of the cornea (the clear outer portion of the globe) or 3) any known trauma to the eye. Horses, in particular, have the tendancy to respond to eye problems with excessive inflammation. If left untreated for even 2 days, scarring and cataract formation can occur and can be permanent, resulting in loss of vision. In dogs and cats, corneal scratches or ulcers can progress to deeper layers causing rupture of the globe. If there is an eye problem, call.

VOMITING AND DIARRHEA - As the puppy in the picture shows, the size of the object really doesn't matter - where there is a will there is a way! When a foreign object or blockage is involved, the vomiting tends to be profuse and regular or non-stop. Vomiting, whether coupled with diarrhea or not, can cause severe dehydration in puppies or small pets within a day, so seek help if your pet shows these signs. Vomiting from "dietary indescresion" - i. e. table food or garbage - may respond to a stomach protectant such as Pepto Bismol and withholding food and water for 12-24 hrs in an otherwise alert pet, but some of these cases require fluids and hospitalization in pets who become depressed. Viruses, especially Parvovirus in puppies (which causes vomiting and a usually bloody diarrhea), requires aggressive medical care due to the multiple organ systems it affects. Hookworms is another emergency diarrhea in pups, as it too is often bloody and the puppy is often very anemic and in need of a blood transfusion.

Any pet that is vomiting and shows signs of depression should be seen as an emergency.

URINARY TRACT PROBLEMS: Dogs and cats can both experience problems urinating that can be associated with inflammation, infection, or actual blockage. Horses who seem like they are straining to urinate are most often showing a symptom of "colic" or abdominal pain that is actually not urinary in origin.

Cats and dogs with urinary tract infections will tend to urinate frequently and in small amounts. The urine is often tinged with blood, and the pet may seem to strain. Fortunately, bladder infections do not often cause a pet to actually be sick.

Cats and dogs with urinary blockage will be different in that they will likely seem to be straining, and do so frequently, but very little or no urine will be produced, and these animals become sick - you will notice depression, vomiting, lack of appetite, and weakness. If not treated promptly, an obstructed bladder can rupture, requiring surgical repair. More often, the pet gets sick from the waste products not being able to be eliminated from its body and because their potassium levels rise abnormally, the heart begins to slow down and eventually stop.

If your pet shows signs of a urinary tract problem, call and schedule to be seen if during office hours, or speak to the doctor on call if it is after office hours. The doctor will be able to give you suggestions on whether the problem is an emergency and how you should proceed. Failure to treat a urinary obstruction will be fatal.

COLIC or "My horse is rolling, doc!" - Colic is actually a term that is not a single diagnosis. There are probably 30 or more causes of "colic", which is a term that just means "abdominal pain" or a belly ache. Colic occur in horses freqently, because they have a very long GI tract (over 50 ft.), and we tend to feed them foods that are convenient for us, not the free choice grass they eat in the wild. Wild horses also have fewer problems with parasites, as they don't eat where they deficate, unlike our domestic horses in stalls and paddocks.

Colics come in two types. These include medical colics, which can normally be treated with pain medications, mineral oil, and possibly fluids. These would include gas, changes in feed, sour or moldy feed, changing from a lesser pasture to a rich clover or rye pasture, parasites and improper cooling after exercise. The other type is a surgical colic, which requires emergency surgery to correct problems such as twists, displacements, foreign objects, masses, and hernias; all of which cause obstructions and loss of blood supply to the affected area. Once the GI tract dies, segments of it may have to be removed - increasing the rate of complications. Once the GI tract has started leaking into the abdomen, peritonitis sets in and is usually fatal. Therefore, it is extremely important that a colic be examined as soon as possible so your horse can get to a surgical facility if that is what is called for. Horses who need surgery often have bills that run in the thousands, so medical insurance can be helpful to have on an expensive performance or breeding animal.

So all in all, treating a colic is usually best done by your veterinarian. Begin by getting your horse up and walking, which will hopefully prevent a twist from occuring if it is rolling. Sometimes walking or trailering is enough to treat a simple gas colic, but if your horse doesn't respond promptly, get with your veterinarian. Before giving any medications you may have, take a heart rate, respiration rate, and temperature. The medications you have may change these as well as mask pain, which may prevent your veterinarian from determining whether your horse needs surgery or not.


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Ridgefield Animal Hospital


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