Veterinary Emergencies

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Thankfully, the majority of cases that we see at the surgery are not immediately life threatening. However, accidents happen and, from time to time, we need to see pets urgently. Here is a guide to some of the most common emergencies that we see and how to recognize them.

TRAUMA

Road Traffic Accidents (RTAs)

However carefully we watch our pets, car accidents do happen. If you witness an animal being hit on the road or suspect that this may have happened, try to bring them to the surgery ASAP; the sooner we see them, the more we can do.

After an RTA, animals often go into shock. We can stabilise this using intravenous fluids, oxygen therapy and medications including pain killers. Another immediate risk is swelling of the brain due to head trauma – this is easier to treat if caught early.

Even if the dog/cat appears to be fine and there are no outward signs of injury, internal bleeding, ruptured organs, bruised/punctured lungs and broken bones can cause problems that aren’t always obvious first-off. We are lucky enough to have an orthopaedic certificate holder here at the surgery who can usually fix broken bones without the need to refer them to another hospital.

Cats are very good at hiding signs of pain or injury from their owners. Here are some signs that may indicate an accident has happened:

  • Withdrawn/hiding/off food.
  • Unexplained aggression or sudden unwillingness to be touched/picked up.
  • Unable to use back legs properly.
  • Unable to pass urine or motions easily.
  • Scuffed claws.
  • Patches of oil or dirt on coat.

Wounds

Dogs often get excited and don’t look where they’re going and cats seem to get into endless scraps and turf-wars. These tendencies and the plethora of sharp objects left lying around by the general public are not a good combination!

Small cuts are seldom an emergency unless they are in areas such as the eye. If your pet appears to have a small wound, try to clean it gently with some cotton wool and luke-warm, boiled water and apply firm pressure to it for 10 minutes or so to stem any bleeding. These things often look worse than they are – even small cuts on the feet and face often bleed profusely for a few minutes before the blood clots. If the wound is obviously large, deep or containing any foreign objects/material, or if the bleeding will not stop after applying pressure, then it would be best for us to see your pet without delay.

POISONING

If you think your pet has eaten a poisonous substance, we should see them straight away. Often we can make them vomit up the poison or administer medicine to mop it up before it enters the bloodstream – but these things are only effective soon after ingestion.

If you bring a pet to us with a suspected or confirmed poisoning, please try to bring all available information about the substance with you e.g. empty bottles (medication, bleach etc.), plant cuttings, packaging (rat bait, slug pellets). The more information we have, the more likely we are to be able to solve the problem.

Here are some common toxic substances:

Cats:

  • Paracetamol (toxic even in small doses).
  • Lilies (cause acute kidney failure. Does not include ‘Peace Lilies’).

Dogs:

  • Chocolate (especially dark chocolate – the more cocoa the worse the problem).
  • Onions (cause changes to the blood cells).
  • Grapes/raisins/sultanas (including fruit cake!!)

All animals:

  • Rat poison (causes internal bleeding).
  • Slug pellets (cause severe seizures).
  • Bleach etc.
  • Weed killers and insecticides (especially those containing ‘organophosphates’).

If you think that your pet may have ingested any of these items or they are showing non-specific signs of poisoning (such as salivating or sudden-onset vomiting), please call us straight away.

FOREIGN BODIES / ”My dog’s eaten my tights!”

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Dogs and, on occasion, cats like to eat unusual household items. As much as the nurses love to play ‘guess the mystery object when the vets are performing surgery to remove these items from the stomach/intestines, we’d all prefer it if the situation could be avoided! Do your best to keep socks, toys, balls small enough to be swallowed, balls of string etc. away from your pets and choose chewing/fetching items carefully. Never feed dogs cooked bones as these can splinter and perforate the guts if swallowed. Here’s a list of some of the things we’ve surgically removed from our patients:

Bones, Squash balls, golf balls, socks, tights, sticks, Gucci Shoes, a needle & thread, fishing line & hook, g-strings, pizza-crust dip pots, string, tin foil, sofa stuffing, Lego bricks and men, cocktail sticks, coins, corn cobs, peach stones, ‘feminine products’, ‘contraceptive items’, rubber gloves and….. a whole string of Christmas Tree lights!

If you know or suspect that your pet has eaten something like this or they have a propensity to scavenge and they are showing signs such as vomiting/retching, passing small amounts of diarrhoea accompanied by straining, abdominal pain when touched, please call us without delay.

URINARY BLOCKAGE in Cats

Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD, Cystitis) can, if severe, cause complete blockage of the bladder. This usually (but not always) happens in male cats; especially those who are overweight or prone to stress. If left untreated, this can quickly become life threatening as the bladder fills to bursting point. Severe pain, bladder rupture, and electrolyte disturbances leading to heart failure can all occur within a few hours. Tell-tale signs include straining to urinate, crying, licking of the nether-regions, abdominal pain and going backwards and forwards to the litter tray. If your cat is showing these signs, call us immediately.

Please see our feline urinary disease article for more information on FLUTD/cystits/blocked bladders.

FITS/SEIZURES

There are many causes of seizures in dogs and cats; some related to the brain, some not. An isolated episode of fitting that lasts a few seconds to a few minutes is unlikely to be an emergency but should be checked out by a vet nonetheless. However, a number of fits in succession or fitting that goes on for a more than a few minutes or doesn’t stop at all should be treated urgently. If your animal does start what you believe to be a seizure or a fit, you must try and stay calm. Turn the lights off and darken the room as much as possible. Stay quiet and don’t stimulate the animal. They must be kept quiet until the seizure stops. Do not attempt to move an animal during a fit/seizure. Ring for further advice from the Veterinary surgeon.

”BLOAT”/GASTRIC TORSION/GDV

GDV (Gastric dilation and volvulus) is a condition where the stomach fills with gas and twists around in the belly blocking off the inflow, the outflow and all the blood vessels. This is not only painful, but the lack of blood supply to the stomach can cause the tissue to die off this can lead to toxic shock and death. The largely increased size of the stomach can also interfere with circulation of blood around the body as the blood pressure becomes low and the flow of blood back to the heart is reduced. The changed anatomy can also put pressure on the major blood vessels to the liver affecting its function also.

This condition is life threatening and must always be treated as an emergency. GDV is almost always seen in large/deep-chested dogs and usually fairly soon after a meal. Signs to watch for are:

  • Unproductive retching
  • Bloated/distended abdomen
  • Rapid decline into lethargy/comatose state.

Treatment for GDV involves intravenous fluid therapy, deflation of the stomach and surgery to empty it, untwist is and anchor it down in a place where it belongs. Once again, favourable outcome is dependent on quick response!

BREATHING PROBLEMS

Labored breathing in any animal is not a symptom that should be left unchecked. If your pet appears to be struggling to breath or breathing a lot more quickly than usual (this does not include panting), then we should see them straight away. Increased breathing rate or effort can be a sign of pain or of various problems with the heart or lungs.

A useful thing to check is the colour of your pet’s gums (or the inside of the eyelids in animals with pigmented gums). These ‘mucous membranes’ should be moist and a good salmon-pink colour. They should turn white when pressed with a finger and, once released, should go pink again within 2 seconds (this is called the capillary refill time/CRT). If the membranes are white, blue or grey, call us straight away.

HEAT STROKE

In the warm weather our pets need to be able to find cool places to sit so that they don’t overheat. Because they are wearing a fur coat and are unable to sweat, changing location and panting are their only ways of regulating their body temperature. If they are cooped up in a hot, unventilated room or car or are unable to find shade from the heat of the sun they will absorb heat more quickly than they are able to give it off and overheat. As they get stressed they will panic and pant more and this will begin to generate even more heat, creating a vicious circle. Panting will also cause them to lose water and become dehydrated.

Heat stroke can be deadly, if you think your pet may be suffering, please get them to us as soon as you can. In the meantime, sponging them down with cold water and giving them plenty of cold water to drink (if they are fully conscious and aware) can help to stabilize them.

Things to remember to help prevent heat stroke:

  • Try never to leave your pet in your car. If you have to, park in the shade, leave at least 2 windows open enough to provide ventilation and make the time in the car as short as possible.
  • Make sure your pet has access to copious, fresh, cool water.
  • Make sure that there is ventilation if they are being left at home and somewhere cool for them to rest.
  • If out in the sun, make sure there is access to shade.
  • Avoid exercising in the sun – early morning and later evening are cooler times to walk your dog.

RABBITS

When rabbits become ill, they can deteriorate very quickly. If they are stressed, in pain or feeling unwell, their intestines often cease to function properly. As bunnies are very dependent on their guts, if they stop working, they can go downhill fast; they can die within 24 hours. The same applies to rabbits that stop eating. Because of this, even overgrown teeth can become an emergency.

‘Flystrike’ is also a danger for rabbits. If they are not cleaned out regularly or become mucky around the rear end, bluebottle flies will lay eggs in the fur around the bottom. These will hatch into maggots after a few hours and these will literally eat your rabbit alive. Every summer we see several bunnies die from this horrible condition.

Make sure that your rabbit’s enclosure is kept clean and isn’t smelly, and check underneath their tail daily. If they develop diarrhoea, call us immediately as this is very attractive to flies. For more information see Flystrike article.