Pet Emergencies: When to Call Your Vet

call your vet

We love our pets and can’t stand to think about them being sick or injured. Unfortunately, accidents or illnesses can afflict even the most beloved and well-cared for pet. The most loving thing you can do for your pet is to be prepared just in case something does happen. Knowing when it’s appropriate to call your vet can help reduce your own stress when a crisis hits.

An important thing to remember is that you know your pet. You live with her, care for her, and spend lots of time loving her. That kind of intimate familiarity means that you’ll probably be the first to know if there’s something wrong. Your pet can’t tell you directly that she’s not feeling well or that she’s in pain. She depends upon you to interpret the often subtle signs of her discomfort. Whether you need to call your vet is up to you to decide. If she’s not acting normally, or something about her seems a little ‘off’, trust your instincts!

Getting help for your pet

Call your vet right away if you think something is wrong. It’s always better to have her checked out than wait and possibly suffer a tragic loss. As Dr. Eric Barchas notes: “If your dog has a mild tummy ache and you take him to the vet, no harm will come to him. But if he’s suffering from bloat and you ignore it, he may be dead by the morning.” If you call your vet during office hours, the staff can help triage your pet over the phone and decide whether she needs to come in right away. According to Dr. Lori Hehn, “Triage is essentially determining which patient is the most critical and caring for them first.” If your pet’s condition is really serious, she’ll receive treatment right away.

Go ahead and call your vet even if it’s after office hours. Your call won’t be the first to wake a vet. That’s why most veterinarians take turns being on call to answer those inevitable late night or holiday weekend emergencies. The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) even requires all of their accredited clinics to provide 24-hour care, either in their own clinic or by referring patients to an emergency pet hospital nearby. A skilled veterinarian can often triage your pet over the phone and decide whether she needs care right away or if she can wait to be seen until the next day.

Below are situations that the AAHA considers ‘can’t wait’ emergencies that require immediate attention. These are situations where you definitely should call your vet. They recommend that you “…try to get directly in touch with a veterinary professional. Don’t leave a voicemail or use the Internet or email.”

Definite emergencies: (from the AAHA website)

  • 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.
  • She isn’t breathing or you can’t feel a heartbeat.
  • Your pet is unconscious and won’t wake up.
  • She 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.
  • He 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.
  • She shows signs of extreme pain, such as whining, shaking, and refusing to socialize.
  • Your pet collapses or suddenly can’t stand up.
  • He 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.

Keep these phone numbers handy

Prepare for situations like those above by keeping your veterinarian’s phone number with your other emergency contact numbers (doctor, fire department, police, etc.) You may want to add an emergency pet hospital’s name, phone number, address, and directions to that list, also. Ask your vet for a recommendation. In case of a pet emergency, you don’t want to struggle to remember your vet’s phone number or try to find your way to an unknown hospital. In fact, it wouldn’t hurt to make a couple of dry runs to the hospital just in case of a real emergency. You’ll save time if the route is already familiar.

Another important number to add to that list is that of the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC). The APCC even has a free mobile app that can help you identify potential hazards before your pet ‘samples’ them. If your pet has already done a little tasting, the app can help guide you through the crucial process of helping her. After aiding more than 2.5 million poisoned pets, they know just what you’ll need to do to help yours.

The APCC app features a searchable database of potential toxins. These include plants, foods, medicines, household products, and seasonal hazards. You can search by image, common name, scientific name, and other criteria and then sort by type of pet. You can even use the chocolate toxicity calculator to determine how much danger your dog is in from that chocolate bar she stole off the coffee table!

If you suspect your pet needs emergency medical help, follow these steps:

  1. Call your vet and express your concerns. Mention any symptoms you’ve noticed, along with changes in your pet’s activity level, appetite, or behavior.
  2. Carefully make note of any instructions your vet gives you and follow them the best you can – your safety and your pet’s life may depend upon them.
  3. If your vet refers you to an emergency pet hospital, ask your vet to call ahead to let them know how soon you’ll arrive. This lets the hospital get set-up with the equipment and medicines they may need ahead of time so they’re ready for your pet’s arrival.
  4. If you suspect your pet has eaten anything she shouldn’t have, take along samples and the packaging, if you can.
  5. Carefully follow your vet’s instructions for transporting your pet.

Ideally, the person calling is able to answer questions about the pet’s age, breed, weight, activity level, allergies, medications, and vaccinations. This information is particularly important if your regular vet referred you to an emergency pet hospital.

Be prepared for the unexpected

The ASPCA has information on pet first aid that can help prepare you for an emergency. You can also download the American Veterinary Medical Association (AMVA) pet first-aid brochure.

Learn how to perform the Heimlich Maneuver, artificial respiration, and CPR on your pet. In this video from Pet MD, Dr. Katy Nelson demonstrates how to perform the Heimlich Maneuver on both small and large dogs.

Make a pet first-aid kit and keep it handy. It can help with small mishaps that don’t require vet care, as well as helping to stop bleeding and stabilize your pet in case of an emergency.

Keep your pet’s records organized and in a safe place where they’re easy to find. If they’re in a portable file that’s easy to grab, you can take them with you to the vet in case of an emergency.

Download the American Red Cross pet first-aid mobile app for veterinarian advice and help finding a vet when you’re on the go

Know how to restrain and transport an injured or sick pet before you need to do it. Even the calmest, gentlest, most loving pet can lash out in pain and fear. She can hurt you or even injure herself worse unless she’s safely and gently restrained.

Arrange transportation to the pet hospital beforehand if you think you might need it. Having someone along who can drive while you keep your pet calm and quiet is helpful even if you’re going to the pet clinic.

Like all AAHA accredited-hospitals, we provide 24/7 emergency assistance for your pet. When you contact us about an emergency after hours, the veterinarian on duty will determine the best option for your pet and will either refer you to an emergency pet hospital or arrange an appointment for the next day. We understand how important your pet is to you, and we want to be there for you and your pet whenever you need us.

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Google Reviews
Abigail K
Abigail K
posted 3 weeks ago

We love bringing our rabbit, Millie here. The staff is kind and helpful. The hospital is always neat and clean. We love the fact that the Vets are trained in exotic pets.

Donna Hughes
Donna Hughes
posted 1 month ago

They are the best when it comes to taking care of our furry babies =)
Great customer service and they are wonderful with both our dogs and cat. Thank you all
For the hugs, belly rubbs, and loving our fur family. We moved 3 years ago yet we will continue the 45 minute drive for this kind of family friendly service.

Ashley Farrer
Ashley Farrer
posted 2 months ago

Honestly they were wonderful, they were very nice and caring and took very good care of my baby. They also made sure I understood what was going on. Even after everything they let me call and answered any questions or concerns that I had until I felt better as well.

Judy Bayes
Judy Bayes
posted 5 months ago

Highly recommend!!!
Annie, my Golden Retriever Mix, is not a patient there, but got both her Flu vaccines at Tipp City Vet.
The First one, was at their drive up clinic and the second one at their office.
Both were fantastic experiences! The staff (Dr Jim Mathias, the Vet Techs, and Front office) were all super friendly, professional, and great with Annie! And they were very accommodating too, as I had to change my appointment a few times, in order to fit my ever changing schedule.
If I didn’t already have a vet that I love, and am very loyal to; I would definitely make the 30 minute drive to their office!

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