All Pets Veterinary Clinic
EMERGENCIES IN VETERINARY MEDICINE
Avoiding Them If You Can--Dealing With Them If You Must
Having a pet can be a fun and rewarding experience. However, pet ownership often
comes with its ups and downs. Most people that own a pet will at one time or another
experience some emergency situations. This article will discuss the diagnosis, treatment,
and prevention of some of the most common veterinary emergencies.
Cuts and scrapes are probably one of the most common veterinary emergencies.
While small, superficial abrasions will likely heal on their own, larger and deeper
lacerations will likely need medical attention. Lacerations in the mouth, on the face,
on the feet, and on the tail will often bleed more profusely than lacerations in other
areas. Lacerations that do not stop bleeding on their own or with simple direct pressure
need medical attention. In addition, the skin is the first line of defense against
infection. Therefore, any laceration has the potential to become infected.
While some lacerations are unavoidable, there are some simple steps you can take to
help minimize the risk. Scout areas of play before allowing pets to run. Remove
sharp objects such as glass and metal from areas in which pets have access. Keep
branches on trees and shrubs trimmed. Remove dead/fallen limbs and branches from the
ground. Check metal fences (pens or yard fences) for loosened fasteners or links--
especially at the bottom.
For superficial lacerations, the area can be cleaned of debris and hair and observed
carefully for signs of infection. For deeper lacerations, direct pressure should be
applied to stop any bleeding, the area should be cleaned of hair and debris, and
suturing should be considered. Prompt treatment by a veterinarian will allow for more
rapid healing with fewer complications.
Wounds from fights between animals can result in injuries ranging from mild to severe.
Superficial lacerations, as discussed previously, may be the only external sign of
injury, however, more severe internal injuries can be lurking under the surface.
Pressure from bites over the neck, chest, and abdomen can cause internal bleeding and
organ damage. If left unattended, these injuries can be fatal.
Keep dogs leashed, especially when they are around animals that are unfamiliar to them.
Neuter male animals. Neutered animals are less likely to fight. Keep cats indoors--
especially at night. Slowly acclimate new animals to one another.
Because of the potential for infection and internal injury, veterinary examination of
animals that are in fights is strongly recommended. Depending on the nature and
severity of the injury, treatment may include wound debridement, suturing, antibiotic
and pain management, and/or exploratory surgery.
Limping can be the result of many problems including soft tissue injury (sprains
and strains), the presence of a foreign material in the foot, arthritis, fractures,
etc. Regardless of the cause, animals limp because they are uncomfortable or painful
and therefore, limping should not be ignored, especially if it persists.
Scout areas of play for objects that can become embedded in a pet's foot. Use caution
when allowing a pet to play on unstable or slippery surfaces such as gravel, wet grass,
and mud. Discourage animals from jumping on and off of unstable objects. Prevent
animals from roaming freely. Neuter male animals.
Pending an examination to determine the nature of the injury, x-rays may be taken.
Treatment will vary based on the diagnosis and may include exercise limitation, pain
management, and/or surgical repair.
Vomiting and diarrhea can be the result of many different problems including dietary
indiscretion, internal parasites, viral or bacterial infection, pancreatitis,
inflammatory disease, allergy, cancer, gastrointestinal obstruction, etc. Prolonged
vomiting or diarrhea can lead to dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, and weight loss
and should be treated promptly.
Keep your pets properly vaccinated and dewormed. Do not allow your pets to eat human
foods/table scraps. When changing to a different type of food, switch gradually over
a week. Keep small toys or other non-edible objects out of the reach of pets. Monitor
your pet's bowel movements for blood and mucus since these abnormalities may be an early
sign of gastrointestinal problems.
Due to the multitude of causes of vomiting and diarrhea diagnostic tests such as
bloodwork, fecal floats, and abdominal x-rays may be performed to determine the cause
and institute effective treatment. Treatment, again depending on cause and severity,
may include IV fluids for rehydration, antibiotics, drugs to decrease frequency of
vomiting and diarrhea, therapeutic foods, etc.
Seizure activity can vary from violent grand mal seizures to smaller less severe
tremors, "fly snapping," and periods of disorientation. Seizures can be due to a
wide variety of causes including toxic ingestion, head trauma, infection, liver
problems, electrolyte imbalance, low blood sugar, brain tumors, etc.
Some causes of seizures cannot be prevented while others can. Keep pets away from
toxic substances and prevent situations in which head trauma can occur.
Prolonged seizure activity is an emergency and needs to be
treated promptly. Very little can be done at home to stop a seizure that is in progress.
IV administration of certain drugs can stop a seizure that is in progress. A variety
of tests will likely be preformed to determine some of the more common causes of seizure
activity. Imaging such as CT scans or MRI may be required to diagnose some causes of
seizure activity. If an underlying cause can be determined, specific treatment will
be given. Medication for the prevention of future seizures may or may not be started,
depending on the nature and severity of the seizures.
Hit by car.
Injuries from animals that are hit by cars vary greatly and can include lacerations,
abrasions, fractures, internal hemorrhage, and organ damage. Initially signs may be
mild but can progress over several days. Therefore, veterinary attention for all
animals hit by motor vehicles is strongly recommended.
Do not allow animals to run loose. Keep dogs on a leash.
Neuter male dogs and cats-neutered animals tend to roam less. Check underneath parked
vehicles for animals.
Diagnostic tests to determine the extent of injury may include
x-rays and bloodwork. Treatment will depend on the nature and severity of injury and
may include IV fluids and medications for shock, blood loss, and pain, surgery for
lacerations and fractured bones, etc.
Pregnant dogs and cats should deliver the first puppy/kitten within 1-2 hours of the
start of labor. An additional puppy/kitten should be delivered every 1 to 1 ½ hours
until all puppies/kittens have been delivered. If labor is slow or contractions are
weak it could be a sign of problems. Prompt veterinary care is necessary to preserve
the life and health of the puppies/kittens and the mother.
Spaying of females not intended to breed is the best prevention. Avoid breeding young
animals, old animals, animals that are overweight, or animals that have a past history
of delivery problems.
Examination of the female can often determine if the female is having weak contractions
or if a fetus is stuck within the vaginal canal. Depending on the situation, medication
to stimulate contractions may be given. More than likely, a C-section will be performed.
Labored, shallow, raspy, or erratic respirations can be a sign of respiratory distress.
Respiratory distress can be due to several things including congestive heart failure,
infection, airway obstruction, allergic reaction, etc.
Keep you pets properly vaccinated. Have regular physical examinations performed so
that cardiac problems can be identified early. Monitor your animal carefully for changes
in respiratory patterns and seek veterinary care early in the course of disease.
Oxygen support will likely be provided to assist the animal. Once stable, diagnostic
tests including bloodwork and x-rays will be conducted to determine the cause so that
specific treatment can be started.
Gastric dilatation volvulus (GDV) or "bloat" is a condition in which the stomach
enlarges with gas and flips/rotates on itself. This results in an increasing amount
of gas that cannot be released from the stomach, respiratory compromise, shock, and
death. Any dog with rapidly increasing abdominal size, respiratory difficulty, and
vomiting or attempted vomiting, should be examined by a veterinarian immediately.
Large breed, deep chested dogs such as Great Danes, Labs, and Akitas are more prone to
bloat. The specific causes of bloat are unknown. However, periods of activity followed
by large meals of dry dog food or the consumption of large quantities of water have been
implicated. Limiting activity around feeding time and feeding smaller, more frequent
meals may help prevent bloat. In dogs prone to bloating, a surgical procedure can be
done to tack the stomach in place, thereby preventing rotation.
Rapid diagnosis and treatment is essential to a successful outcome.
IV fluids, medication for shock, and surgery to relieve the torsion and empty the gas
are necessary for dogs with GDV.
While this list is not an exhaustive list of veterinary emergencies it does cover some
of the most common emergencies. If you are not sure if your pet is experiencing a true
emergency, do not hesitate to contact a veterinarian. Prompt medical treatment is
necessary to preserve life and health in many instances. Delaying treatment can
lengthen the severity of the illness, make it harder to treat, or even be the difference
between life and death.
The information provided is for educational purposes only and is not
intended to take the place of your regular veterinarian. Please do not hesitate
to contact your regular veterinarian if you have questions regarding your pet.
Karen Blakeley, DVM, MPH
11 January 2003