You just tried a new recipe for a dark chocolate raspberry cake, and so far, just out of the oven, it looks amazing. You leave it on the counter to cool and step outside to water your geraniums. Not five minutes later you walk back in the kitchen and notice a plate full of cake crumbs and a very guilty looking greyhound. You know chocolate is toxic to dogs, so you pick up your cell phone to call your vet. The only problem is it’s Sunday at 6pm, outside of normal vet clinic hours. There’s a magnet on your fridge for an after-hours vet. Should you call them? In this case, definitely. And it’s never a bad idea to call to ask if your pup needs to be seen. Calling an emergency vet is always a hard decision. You want to know your beloved pet will be ok, but at the same time, you wonder if your pet is really having an emergency. Below, we go through some situations that are emergencies and need to be seen by a veterinarian in Fairfax.
Unexplained bleeding or bleeding that doesn’t stop
Any kind of bleeding can quickly turn into an emergency. If you notice blood coming from your pet’s nose or mouth (especially bright red blood), call a vet immediately. Sometimes mouth bleeding can come from a displaced tooth or cuts on the gums or tongue. These should be checked out by a veterinarian. Pink or red spots on the gums (called petechiae) can be a sign of a serious problem, as well as pale or blue gums. A call to an emergency vet can help determine how quickly your animal needs to be seen. Blood in the stool or urine is also cause for concern. Blood in the stool can be frank (bright red) blood or have a dark, tarry appearance. Blood in the urine or dark urine also warrants a call to a veterinarian. If your animal is bleeding from a cut, apply a clean towel or washcloth and gently but firmly hold pressure on the area until you can get your pet to the vet. If your pet is bleeding from the nose, a towel or basin can be placed under the chin to help contain the drips. One note, animals can bleed excessively from their ears from even tiny nicks. These can be minor cuts, but often it is hard to determine where so much blood is coming from. Don’t be embarrassed if what looks like a catastrophic injury turns out to be a minor injury. It is better you have your animal checked out before things get worse or blood loss becomes excessive (especially in very young or old animals, or any animals with an immune condition or disease).
Any bite to your pet (or you) from any animal, whether domestic or wild, needs to be seen as soon as possible. If your pet is bitten by a sibling, housemate, or other animal you know the medical history of, you should report the vaccination status of the animal to your vet. If your pet gets bitten on a walk or at a park, first tend to your animal then ask the owner of the animal that bit to either give you their pet’s vaccine history or to call the vet you will be going to with its history. Bites from unvaccinated animals must be reported to veterinarians and all animals monitored for disease (including rabies). If your pet is bitten by a stray animal or wild animal, they may need to stay in quarantine for 10-14 days to observe for signs of rabies (length depends on state law). This can be done at home or, if your pet bites someone else while they are being treated, it may be done at a veterinary clinic. Usually while being treated for bite wounds, your pet will receive a rabies vaccine as a preventative (even if they are up to date). Wild animal attacks should be reported to your local police, animal control, and veterinarian. If your pet has killed or injured the animal, do not touch it yourself. If you can safely contain the animal, do so and let professionals handle it. The animal may need to be tested for rabies or other diseases. For bites, if your pet will let you do so safely, irrigate the bite with sterile saline (eye wash) or clean water and call your vet immediately. Bite wounds (especially those from cats) can quickly become infected and cause widespread tissue damage or a systemic blood infection (sepsis). Apply a clean towel or cloth to contain bleeding, but bleeding (unless excessive or spurting) can actually help clean the cut as well so should not be fully suppressed if possible.
Eye injuries can look very scary and dramatic. They can be from bites or scratches, trauma from an injury, or from material penetrating the eyeball itself (porcupine quills or plant material are most common). In rare cases, the eyeball can protrude or “pop out” of the socket. This is probably one of the most dramatic cases in pets, but fortunately it can (usually) be an easy fix by a veterinarian. For eyeballs that have popped out, try to keep the eye moist (if you safely can) with sterile eye wash (it’s a great idea to keep this in an emergency medical kit at home and make sure it’s not expired). If you can for any eye injury, gently cover the eye with a cup or bowl (be very careful not to touch the eye itself) and hold in place (or even tape it). Contacting or visiting a vet as quickly as you can with eye injuries is best, as it gives your animal the best change of saving their sight or the eye itself. If your animal does need an eye removed, pets do very well after recovery and often act like nothing happened. And they will look just as adorable with one less eye as they did before!
Head, spine injuries, or seizures
Head or spine trauma, from being hit by a car, a household accident, a fight, or from any other cause needs emergency treatment ASAP. Head injuries can be very obvious (from bleeding) or somewhat mild. Pupils that are unequal sizes or do not react to light or movement can be a sign of a head injury, as can blood coming from the ear or nose. In small animals, head injuries can occur from things you may think mild (like if your kitten is zooming around the living room and fails to stop before the sliding glass door). If your pet seems quiet, does not respond to you or responds slowly, or is crying out they need to see a vet quickly. Try to keep them quiet and head to a clinic quickly. Spine injuries can also be from trauma. If your animal has been a known accident, call our vet and describe what you are seeing. They may want to check out your pet’s spine with an exam and x-rays. Some animals with long backs (like dachshunds) can have slipped vertebral discs that can cause pain or trouble using the back legs. This can occur over time or happen acutely and also needs a veterinary exam. Any knuckling over of the front or back paws, dragging paws or legs, or inability to walk are signs of an emergency as well. Seizures can be large (grand mal seizures, the type we see on TV with thrashing) or small (petit mal, which are usually focal seizures and will look like a tick or small repetitive movement). Seizures can come from a variety of causes, from tumors to toxin ingestion. If your pet has never had seizures before, they need to see a vet ASAP. A period of unresponsiveness after a seizure can be normal but can be alarming. It is best to get your pet to a vet as soon as possible with any neurological problems for the best outcome.
Straining when urinating/defecating or bloat
Any time your animal cannot urinate or defecate and is straining or crying is cause for alarm. Stones or crystals can block the urinary tract in dogs and cats (this is especially problematic and somewhat common in male cats) and can quickly cause sickness or infection. If untreated, this can cause death. Obstruction of the intestines is also a serious matter and can occur if your animal ate something they shouldn’t have (dogs eat socks more than you would think!) or from other causes. If untreated, the intestinal tissue can die, and the animal will be very sick. This is usually an emergency that requires surgery. Sometimes animals will need to have a section or intestine removed (they do fine without it) for the best chance of survival. Bloat, or gastric torsion, occurs in larger breed dogs, like labs and greyhounds. It happens when the animal gulps air when eating or drinking and the stomach swells (this is bloat). Bloat can lead to the stomach twisting and cutting off the blood supply to itself. Bloat does not always require surgery (if the stomach has not twisted), but this is an extreme medical emergency. Your vet will do an x-ray or other imaging to see if the stomach has twisted. Often, if surgery is required, the vet will “tack” the stomach to prevent torsion from happening again (you can also request this be done at the time of spay for female dogs as a preventative. For spays, the vet is already in the abdomen and it is not much more time for them to tack the stomach).
Heatstroke or frostbite
If it is too hot or cold outside for you to be comfortable without extreme measures, it is too hot or cold for your animal too. Outdoor cats are usually good at self-regulating in heat and should be offered appropriate shelter for cold (or bring them inside). Outdoor cats (or indoor kitties or dogs that sneak outside) can be at risk of frostbite on their ears or toes. (Kitties seeking heat in the winter also crawl up into vehicle engine blocks and get injured when the vehicle is started from the fan propeller or burns). Dogs are at risk of heatstroke or burns to their pads from hot pavement. It is best to exercise with your dog very early or later in the evening on hot days to prevent problems. Also be sure to offer water to any animals outside on hot days (yes, even chickens and horses can get sick from lack of water in hot weather). Suspected heatstroke is an emergency and needs to be checked out quickly. If you suspect heatstroke, burned paws, frostbite, or other weather-related problems, call a vet quickly and ask them if your pet needs to be seen.
Toxin ingestion is a medical emergency. Antifreeze, chocolate, rat poison, or xylitol (a sweetener found in gum and toothpaste) are common toxins that animals eat. These are treated by making the animal vomit, with IV fluids, with medications, or other measures to help neutralize the toxin and remove it from the animal’s body. This may take a few hours or even days. Again, as with most emergencies, it is best to get your animal to a vet as quickly as possible. If you have a wrapper with ingredients of what your animal ate, take it with you or look it up on your phone for your vet. If they know exactly what they ate, the treatment will be more effective and offer the best chance of survival.
Any broken bone is an emergency. If you can, try to stabilize the broken bone then head to your veterinarian.
Extreme pain or anxiety
This may seem like something that can wait, but if your pet is crying excessively, pacing, panting, or seems otherwise upset and does not calm down, they need to go to a veterinarian. Pets are actually very stoic and will not often show pain until symptoms are severe. If your animal seems unable to get comfortable, it can be something mild causing it, but it can also be a sign of something much more serious. It is always the best idea to have your pet checked out. Never feel badly for calling or going to an emergency clinic for something that turns out to be mild. Having your animal checked out and getting peace of mind is not something to ever feel sorry for, and you may have prevented something from becoming a large emergency by doing so.