5 Things to Know When We Evaluate and Treat a Pet Emergency
By Dr. Johnathan Pierce
In the world today, there are very few things that bring us joy like our pets. Unfortunately, like with humans, emergencies happen with our pets, as well. When pets display irregular symptoms like continued vomiting and diarrhea after eating something they shouldn’t have (like a toy or piece of clothing) or if a sudden episode of weakness and collapse occurs, pet owners have good reason to be concerned.
When you make that call to either Braden River Animal Hospital or North River Animal Hospital with any emergency concerns, we want to prepare you for the steps we need to take to properly diagnose and treat your pet’s emergency conditions.
The following five steps can help explain our approach when addressing emergency conditions:
1) The Emergency Visit – It is important to give the most concise and accurate information about your pet’s acute and long-term history that may have led up to this event. Our veterinary team will ask several questions during the exam. For example, providing any history of your pet eating a toy, clothing, or abnormal foods is extremely helpful in the initial diagnostic phase.
- How many times has your pet vomited and what did the substance look like?
- Was there any blood in your pet’s vomit?
- Have there been any episodes of weakness in the past?
- Has there been a change in your pet’s behavior?
- Is your pet on any medications and/or have they started any new medications?
We will help guide you through these questions and may sometimes be repetitive in order to make sure we have all the pertinent information. The patient history is critical to aiding in the diagnosis of your pet’s emergency condition as unfortunately we have not yet figured out how to speak directly to them.
2) The Physical Exam – A thorough physical examination will then be performed looking at everything including your pets gingival or mucosal pallor and color (the mouth and gums) which may help in determining whether your pet is losing blood or is in shock. We will also palpate your pet’s belly as we physically feel for signs that may indicate an obstructed bowel, a possible mass, or explore areas of tenderness that seem painful. These findings paired with a detailed history will allow us to determine what tests will be necessary to confirm a diagnosis.
3) How Diagnostics Help Lead the Way
- Radiographs: With emergencies where surgical intervention is necessary such as a foreign body ingestion, splenic mass with hemorrhage or a stomach torsion, radiographs are typically a necessity. Taking x-rays will help to identify or confirm if foreign material or a mass is present along with determining location. Radiographs can also help us rule out such possibilities with the findings helping us to determine that surgery may not be necessary.
- Ultrasound: After radiographs, if results are inconclusive, then ultrasonography may be needed to confirm a diagnosis. Utilizing our in-house ultrasound equipment enables us to obtain a more focused look at the individual organs. For example, if there is excess fluid in the abdomen and the radiographs appear “washed out”, an ultrasound can look directly through the fluid to unveil a mass or organ torsion. Ultrasound can also be helpful in determining the location of a foreign body in a loop of intestine.
- Laboratory Diagnostics: Obtaining blood, urine or other biological samples is also another typical necessity when presented with an emergency situation. By either using our expedient, yet very comprehensive in-house or “stat” reference lab services, test results can help us determine what organs may be affected during a pet emergency. With results quickly in hand, chemistry values help to determine very serious conditions. An elevated white blood cell count may help us determine whether a perforation to the gut has caused a “leaky bowel”. Test results can also help asses any blood loss that has occurred and the amount. We can also determine other issues causing your pet discomfort such as inflammation in the pancreas. If the pet emergency requires us to perform surgery, laboratory results also help us evaluate if any issues may complicate a procedure that requires anesthesia.
4) Surgical Intervention – In some of the emergency cases mentioned, such as a foreign body obstruction, surgery is performed on the same day or as soon as possible in order for us to appropriately respond to the critical situation. When such recommendations are presented, our urgency is due to the possibility of your pet having an intestinal perforation, a septic abdomen, and/or continued blood loss. The most common procedures that we perform due to foreign body obstructions include:
- Gastrostomy- surgically opening the stomach to remove foreign material
- Enterotomy- a procedure that requires surgical exploration of the intestines along with any subsequent resections (removal) that may be necessary to address apparent necrotic/dead tissue
- Anastomoses– the removal of severely damaged intestinal tissue where the healthy free ends of the intestine are then reattached together.
5) Post-Surgical Aftercare – After an invasive emergency surgery, most of the time we will follow-up with the continuity of your pet’s care with a transfer to an overnight veterinary emergency care facility. Doing so is very important in order to monitor for any potential post-operative complications. As you can imagine, some of the procedures detailed are very involved and require a large incision into the abdominal cavity making meticulous after care and follow-up appointments a must. Strict restriction in activity, careful monitoring of the incision, and giving medications as directed are imperative to your pet’s full recovery. Most of all, keeping an open line of communication with your veterinarian with any questions or concerns will keep our veterinary team up-to-date on your pet’s condition in case additional intervention is necessary.
At Braden River and North River Animal Hospitals, the safety and well-being of your pet’s health is our top concern. If an emergency does arise with your pet, we want you to know that we are well prepared to help you during unexpected situations with your pet. We also want to thank you for entrusting us with your pet’s overall healthcare needs. Please call our office at 941-745-1513 (BRAH) or 941-845-4448 (NRAH) if you have concerns about your pet’s health.
If you need emergency assistance for your pet after-hours at either one of our locations, please call the Animal ER at (941) 355-2884 located at 8237 Cooper Creek Blvd, Bradenton, FL 34201.