Hello Pet Parents! Let’s play a game. The name of the game is called “Is It an Emergency?” and the rules are pretty easy—you’ll evaluate several different scenarios and then determine if it’s a true veterinary emergency; one that requires the entire veterinary team to immediately stop what they’re doing and come to the rescue. Or, one that forces your veterinarian away from their homes and personal lives (yes, some of us do actually have personal lives) to handle the issue.
Sounds fun, right?! Let’s get started…
Scenario #1: Friday, 4:15 PM
Jane calls the clinic in a panic because she’s on an early flight the next morning and is planning on bringing her poodle, Curly Joe, with her as her emotional support dog. While doing online check-in she read the fine-print and realized that Curly Joe needs a current rabies vaccination and a signed health certificate. Jane missed her vaccination appointment last month and forgot to reschedule. The clinic doesn’t have any available appointments before they close at 5:30 and Jane is frustrated because the receptionist won’t “squeeze her in”. Is it an emergency?
NOPE. Not even a little bit, at least not for the veterinary team. Understandably this is an urgent matter for Jane, so if she really needs to bring Curly Joe on the plane with her, she may have to accept that it will likely cost her 2-3 times the normal rate, because even though it’s not a true medical emergency, it will need to be done “after hours” and there are much higher fees associated with that.
Scenario #2: Tuesday, 8:45 PM
Andrew was trimming the nails on his rat terrier, Leroy, and got a little too close. The nail is bleeding, EVERYWHERE because Leroy won’t let Andrew get a hold of him, as he’s pretty sure that Andrew is trying to kill him and he’s NOT going to let that happen—now Andrew is bleeding too.
Andrew (with multiple band-aids on his hands) calls his vet’s emergency number because he’s heard somewhere that a dog can bleed to death from a toe nail. Is it an emergency?
NOT FOR LEROY. However, Andrew might want to seek medical attention for his bite wounds.
A dog will not bleed to death from a torn, ripped or clipped toe nail. It’s no different than having your finger nail ripped or bent back too far. It hurts like hell (and makes a huge mess) but certainly not life-threatening. If you have it, dip the toenail in styptic powder (flour and cornstarch can also work in a pinch) and/or try to cover the foot with bandage material or an old sock. Get the Pet Parent First Aid Survival Guide to learn more tips about at home emergency care!
Scenario #3: Wednesday 11:15 AM
Pam set her groceries on the kitchen table and went back to the van to get her phone. Ike, their 3 year old chocolate lab devoured an entire 1 pound bag of yogurt-covered raisins in the 3 1⁄2 minutes she was outside. Is it an emergency?
YES! Grapes, particularly the skins, are very toxic to dogs, causing severe (possibly life-threatening) kidney damage. Just a half-cup of raisins can be dangerous for a big dog (even worse for a small dog). Pam needs to call her veterinarian right away and they can instruct her about evacuating Ike’s stomach and other precautionary measures. Did you know hydrogen peroxide can induce vomiting?
Scenario #4: Monday 2:30 PM
Cameron came home from the gym and his cat, Figaro, is depressed and not moving much. It looks like he vomited several times while Cameron was gone. The last couple days Figaro had been in and out of his litter box and acting more irritable than normal. Last night Cameron had tried to pick him up and Figaro had cried out and ran under the bed. Is it an emergency?
YES! It was actually an emergency last night. Figaro likely has a urethral obstruction and is at a very high risk of rupturing his bladder!
Cats can develop sandy “crystals” in their urine causing painful urinary tract inflammation. In male cats, because their urethra (the tiny tube where urine is voided) is so narrow, those crystals can cause a plug to form, blocking urine from coming out of the bladder. This leads to extreme pain, life-threatening electrolyte imbalances and possible bladder rupture. A blocked urethra is always life-threatening. Any male cat showing signs of urinary discomfort should be evaluated ASAP!
Scenario #5: Sunday 5:25 PM
Paul took his Weimaraner, Trigger, on a bird-hunting trip and Trigger came up from the brush limping on a hind leg. He will “toe-touch” on the foot, but prefers to just hold it up and hop along on three legs. He’s otherwise normal and happy. There’s no open wounds and no visible swelling. He willingly eats treats and his food and is drinking normally. Is it an emergency?
No. Most limping cases are not emergencies (unless there are open wounds or unstable fractures). Trigger has likely injured his knee. A torn or sprained cruciate ligament (same as an ACL injury in people) is the most common cause of acute onset hind limb limping in dogs. It typically happens very suddenly and is usually associated with exercise or movement. And always seems to happen on the weekend. Since Trigger is eating and drinking, acting himself and has no open wounds, there’s not much reason to have him seen on an emergency basis. Luckily Paul is an A+ pet parent and keeps a supply of anti-inflammatory tablets (prescribed by his veterinarian) on hand and was able to give Trigger something for the pain while they waited for his appointment Monday morning.
So, how’d you do? I’m sure you got a perfect score. Good job, you! If not, then you probably learned a ton of valuable info!
I’m betting there are a few people out there who are aghast with the tone of this narrative. Aren’t veterinarians supposed to care about their patients at all times and be available to ease their clients fears 24 hours a day? Well, yes, sort-of.
We DO care and we WILL be there for you during an actual emergency. Our profession calls us to serve, no doubt, but that doesn’t ease the disappointment of my kids when mommy has to leave family movie night—again.
We love your pets, but we tend to love our family just a teeny tiny bit more. My kids get it when I have to go take care of someone’s pet who was just hit by a car; they’re rooting me on as if it was their own. It’s a little harder to explain an emergency toe-nail trim.
Lissa Lynn, DVM