What a Vet Wants You to Know About Pet Emergencies
One minute, your dog is happy, healthy and annoying the neighborhood squirrels. The next, she's lethargic and sick to her stomach. What do you do? Our choices as pet parents can make a life or death difference to our dogs, cats and other furry friends. At the same time, rushing to the vet for every little thing gets expensive.
We spoke with Dr. David Bessler, the founder of Veterinary Emergency Group and a vet with over two decades of experience, to answer the burning questions every pet owner is dying to ask. He even taught kids about veterinary science on "Sesame Street," so we trust the following tips from Dr. B with our lives. Or, rather, our pets' lives. Pets are family, so same thing!
1. The most common pet emergencies are preventable.
Some pet emergencies, like appendicitis or urinary tract issues, appear out of nowhere. Many other emergencies, however, can be avoided, saving you from stress and expensive vet bills and saving your pet from having an unpleasant weekend in the ER.
"Dogs tend to eat all sorts of things they shouldn’t, from people's food that causes an upset stomach to items that are poisonous for pets (like grapes and chocolate) as well as things that are poisonous to all living things (like street drugs and antifreeze)," says Dr. Bessler. "Vomiting is probably the No. 1 thing Veterinary Emergency Group (VEG) treats — either vomiting the poison causes or vomiting that we induce to get back whatever the pet ate.
"Besides vomiting, diarrhea and other gastrointestinal problems, we treat lots of trauma, like fights between big dogs and little dogs or dogs who got hit by a car. We also see lots of complications from chronic diseases. Dogs and cats commonly get diabetes, kidney failure, and congestive heart failure. While their family vets usually manage those conditions long-term, they can get emergency complications from them that VEG diagnoses and treats."
RELATED: Most Dangerous Things for Dogs to Eat
2. Family vets can help pet owners avoid future pet emergencies.
Everyone knows their pet will benefit from annual checkups, but your family vet is also an amazing resource to help you prepare for a furry new family member.
"You should always choose a vet before you pick up your pet," Dr. Bessler emphasizes."Keep all plants, medications, cleaning products and toxic foods high up and out of reach for dogs and locked away for cats. People will give you lilies as a gift, but they are super toxic for cats. Ribbons on balloons are also very attractive to cats and can cause choking or strangulation.
"Dogs love used underwear and dirty socks (eww), and we also see many dogs eating used tampons out of the garbage. Your dog will do anything to break into cabinets, boxes and bags to get at things that smell good to them."
RELATED: 10 White Dog Breeds That Thrive in Cold Weather
3. Crate training can be a life saver.
If you haven't looked into crate training yet, do it. It's not just for puppies. Crate training is helpful for potty training, but it's also an effective way to keep your pet out of trouble when you're not around to keep an eye on them. Additionally, providing them with a safe space of their own can keep separation anxiety at bay.
"Pet parents should speak with their vet about crate training their dog," advises Dr. Bessler. "Besides being a great way to potty-train your pup, it keeps them out of trouble while you’re away."
4. Keeping pet First Aid essentials around the house can save pet owners money.
In some cases, a trip to the emergency vet can be avoided simply by keeping some basic First Aid supplies around the house. Just avoid giving your pet any medication unless directed to by your vet.
"The life-saving measures that pet owners can learn typically fall under 'First Aid' instead of CPR," says Dr. Bessler. "There are some essential things to have around the house for everyday emergencies. Styptic powder, available at pet stores or the pet aisle of grocery stores, is used to stop bleeding from nails trimmed too short. VEG sees lots of bleeding toenails that owners could manage at home.
"An Elizabethan collar or e-collar, properly sized for your dog, is a great thing to keep around the house to stop them from licking and biting at rashes and minor wounds. Do not give your pet any medications made for people, such as aspirin, Advil or Tylenol. Call your family vet or VEG (open 24/7) if they’re closed for help with anything that makes you want to treat your pet at home."
5. Treat your pet like you would a child.
No, you don't have to buy your dog a stroller or a new outfit for the first day of obedience school. It is wise, however, to provide them with the same standards of care. You wouldn't leave your baby out in the cold or in a hot car, so why would you try the same with your dog? Some dog breeds may be more resilient to harsh conditions than others, but erring on the side of caution will keep your pet comfortable and minimize the risk of developing frostbite or heatstroke.
"While dogs generally have more natural protection from the elements than people, we have bred many of those breeds away," Dr. Bessler notes. "Some dogs have short or no fur or skinny legs that quickly freeze. Small dogs are more susceptible to cold. On the flip side, dogs with short muzzles don’t pant well and cannot cope with the heat — bulldogs and pugs are especially vulnerable to overheating.
"Never leave your dog in a locked car unless the air-conditioning is on. If you do, put a sign on your window saying the air-conditioning is on because people will likely smash your window to rescue your pet."
RELATED: Ask Doctor Dog: Are Dog Sweaters Worth Buying?
6. Not sure what counts as an emergency? Call and ask.
Often, when you call your vet to ask if you should bring in your pet or not, they encourage you to book an appointment. That's not because they're trying to trick you into spending money on unnecessary visits or tests. In fact, they could probably do without trying to fit in a last-minute appointment. So, why do they do it? Because it can be very hard to tell when a pet needs urgent attention, even for vets.
"There has never been an easy answer to the question of what constitutes an emergency, so we recommend calling VEG if you think your pet might need emergency attention," says Dr. Bessler. "You can speak with a doctor when you call, and if the vet says you aren’t having an emergency, they’ll tell you not to come in or to watch and wait. However, we have had dogs come in for acting tired and have discovered real, life-threatening problems. Dogs and cats can vomit two or three times and have severe electrolyte imbalances and dehydration requiring emergency treatment.
"While your dog’s 'choking' might be something benign and normal like 'reverse sneezing,' it also might be legit choking. You need some expertise to tell the difference. That’s why we’re here. We help people and their pets when they need it most. If you’re worried, call or come in — always better to be safe than sorry."
7. If money is an issue, many emergency vets will work with you.
No one wants to waste money on a "pet emergency" that turns out to be nothing more than bad gas. When a true emergency does come up, do contact your nearest pet hospital to discuss payment options and discount programs. Many take Care Credit to split payments up into more manageable pieces, and some areas offer cost-share options or vouchers for low-income pet parents.
It's tempting to avoid calling the vet for fear of judgment, but most vets are here to help, not make you feel bad for not having $3,000 saved for an emergency surgery. Be open with your financial constraints, and you may discover options you didn't know where available.
"We do our best to work within our customers' budgets to provide a treatment plan that pet owners can afford," says Dr. Bessler. "We accept Care Credit and Scratch pay and will help customers apply. Each of VEG’s hospitals also has a VEG Cares fund [that customers] can use in cases with a good prognosis."
8. Knowing your pet can save their life.
Your family vet should be your first line of defense regarding pet problems. Emergency pet care is the second if concerns pop up during off hours. That said, don't underestimate the power of your own intuition. The bond people share with their pets is an important one. Every pet is different, and what might be normal behavior for one dog is a red flag for another.
Vets don't know your pet's personality like you do. If your pet isn't acting like themselves or you have a hunch that something's wrong, speak up. You may not have a degree in veterinary medicine, but you do know your pet better than anyone else, and that connection just might save their life.
"At VEG, we treat pets like people and people like human beings. Unfortunately, biologically and medically speaking, pets are very different from people," Dr. Bessler emphasizes. "What’s nutritious for people might be noxious for pets. Pets do crazy things you’d never even imagine a person might do and get into all sorts of shenanigans. One dog I know ate a bunch of magnets, and all his intestines got stuck together, requiring emergency surgery.
"The super cliche comment that a vet’s job is hard because pets can’t talk is very true. When people have a heart attack, they complain of chest pain, or with appendicitis, they tell you their belly hurts. Pets can’t do that!.Parents know their pets best. If someone is worried about what’s going on with their furry friend, VEG takes that very seriously."
VEG has locations across the country. Their only focus is on emergency pet care, serving as a partner with family vets to keep pets healthy around the clock. The concept behind it is unique: a practice that prioritizes a warm, welcoming, holistic experience for pets and their owners when they need it the most. You can call and speak with a doctor over the phone, see a doctor in a hurry without worrying about paperwork and stay with your pet through all phases of treatment.
We love VEG, but if a location near you is unavailable, visit a few emergency vets in your area to find one you like the best.
RELATED: Yes, Dog Talking Buttons Actually Help Dogs Understand Human Language