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Pets Large & Small

Not An Emergency

Dr. Kim Brokaw DVM


Dr. Kim Brokaw and her horse Bart

(April, 2011) One of the more difficult things of being a pet owner is deciding when your pet needs to see a vet and when you can wait it out. Sometimes the situation obviously warrants veterinary care, i.e. the dog chewed his leg off. Yes, an owner really did page me and say the dog chewed his leg off, (and the dog has four legs and is fine now). Other situations can be less definitive. As a veterinarian, I would prefer that if there is any doubt that the client call and ask what they should do. Truthfully I would rather have the over reactive client as opposed to the ones who ignore their petís clinical signs for weeks, or worse, try to medicate the pet with old drugs they have remaining around the house. Clients donít always understand that certain medications have the ability to interact in a negative manner.

I have a list of certain things that I would consider an emergency and should be treated in a timely manner. Almost any injury relating to an eye or a joint, colic, uncontrolled bleeding, having trouble breathing, or any other potentially serious problem warrants a call. Eye emergencies include a painful eye, an eye that the animal will not open fully, or an eye that tears constantly. Colic/belly pain, is usually an emergency. If a horse seems to be in pain, wonít eat his dinner, or is constantly looking at his sides, I want the client to call me. Any bleeding that turns into puddles on the floor, rather than a spattering of drops, is a potential emergency. Difficult, rapid or noisy breathing can be an emergency, particularly if it persists after the animal is calm. Repeated vomiting can be an emergency. Anything that causes an animal to be disinterested in his surroundings is a potential emergency.

I find that some of my clients have a tendency to panic unnecessarily. Worms in the stool does not constitute an emergency so please donít call me at midnight. Yes, your dog needs to be treated, but it can wait until the next morning. In one particular situation, the puppy had been dewormed that day and received a check-up. Clients are routinely told that after deworming, worms can be seen in the stool. The gross out factor with worms was too great for this client to handle and I received a panicky call. She wanted to know if the puppy needed to come back to the vet, if she or her kids needed to rush to the emergency room, and if the puppy was going to die. The puppy later received additional deworming medications and he was fine. Although I wasnít happy to be awakened, I was happy that the owner called rather than worrying all night.

One particular client is the worst about panicking unnecessarily. She is a good owner and cares about her pets but doesnít seem to know much about what constitutes an emergency. Whenever she calls me and sounds panicked, I know that if she is able to call me, as opposed to having to lock herself in the bathroom and vomit, the animal is fine. Beth (and I can use her real name because she is my engineering grad student little sister) canít handle the site of blood. For those who follow my articles, remember her response during "the cheese incident" between the duck and the dog? In the "cheese incident," the duck tried to take a piece of cheese from the dog, and had his beak bitten. There was a tiny hole, which healed unremarkably. As an aside the duck is still doing very well and happily spending his days in the swimming pool or horse water trough. He stills gets brought into the house every evening and naps on the sofa with the dogs. As he has gotten older, his personality has gotten more colorful. It was jokingly suggested that his name be changed from "Cher Ami" to "Petite Monstre" as he has a habit of chasing dogs and people and biting at their toes. My father loves the duck. My mother feels the duck would make a lovely roast. Iím sure that eventually I will get an emergency call because my mother is plucking the duck and putting him in the oven.

One afternoon, Beth called. Initially she sounded calm on the phone telling me that my veterinary skills were needed. As she proceeded to talk, she started getting more panicky as she described a puppy "fight" and the resulting injuries. She claimed that there was blood everywhere and that the dogís leg looks badly injured.

The duck was not involved this time and was still sitting on the hassock shredding newspaper and pushing them onto the family room rug. Again, knowing this is my sister, and how she tends to over react, I asked her to describe what she meant when she said there was blood everywhere. I asked if there were large puddles on the floor and splatter on the walls? She replied that no there wasnít that much blood.

I asked again for her to quantify it in terms of how many cups of blood. She told me that there probably wasnít even a cupís worth of blood and the dog was walking without a limp. I continued asking her questions until we got down to the final answer that there were a few drops of blood and the dog seemed fine. She sent me a text message with a photo of the dogís leg. No stitches were needed, nor were any antibiotics. A little bit later that day one couldnít even find the (and I use this term loosely) "wound" on the dog. Sometimes a good cell phone photo can save everyone from an emergency visit and the consequent expense and loss of sleep for all.

Emergency calls are important. Even though I value my sleep, I am happy to talk with a client and help determine the proper cause of action when there is a potential emergency. I know that even my sister is grateful that she can reach a vet when she is worried, no matter what time of day. At the end of my sisterís last pseudo emergency call she thanked me for my help and said that if her professional services can ever be of use to just let her know. I laughed and told her that I canít think of a single situation when someone has yelled "Help! I need a biomedical engineer ASAP."

Read other articles by Dr. Kim Brokaw