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Emergency Care Tips for Pet Owners

Dr. Laura Savarese, Dr. Kelleen Madill | Tampa Animal Hospitals

Do you know how to handle a pet-related emergency? Below are the Emergency Care tips from the AVMA’s website on what constitutes an emergency, what to do in case of an emergency and first aid tips for pet owners.

Who’s in charge of your animal’s care while you’re away?

The reservations are made, the bags are packed, and you’re ready for your trip. If you’re not taking your animal(s) with you, who’s in charge of healthcare decisions while you’re away? Cell phones and computers have made it much easier to stay in touch and be contacted, but what if you can’t be reached in case of an emergency?

Regardless of whether you’re leaving your animal in the care of family or friends, a veterinary hospital, boarding kennel or stable, you should authorize someone you trust to act on your behalf in case of an emergency if you can’t be reached. Make sure that person is aware of your wishes regarding emergency treatment; this includes the potentially uncomfortable topic of financial limits, if there are any. Provide that person with all possible methods of contacting you in case of an emergency, including contact information for your traveling companions as appropriate, as well as an assurance of your trust that they can make decisions if you cannot be reached.

Questions to consider:

  • Does your animal have any health conditions that could result in emergency situations (e.g., heart disease, diabetes, severe arthritis, chronic colic, etc.)? If so, consider the possible emergencies that could occur and whether or not you should set limits for the extent of care or the cost of care of these problems.
  • Are there certain tests, procedures or treatments that you would not authorize? If so, make sure that your authorized agent is aware of your preferences.
  • Are there financial limitations? Be realistic and keep in mind that you will be financially responsible for the care and treatment provided.
  • How will you arrange payment for emergency treatment? Do you expect your authorized agent to pay, and plan to reimburse them? Or will you provide a form of payment to be used in case of emergency?
  • If your pet dies or has to be euthanized, what do you wish to be done with your animal’s remains?

Actions to provide for your pet’s care while you’re away

  • Communicate your preferences clearly to all persons authorized to make decisions regarding your animal’s health.
  • Complete an Animal Care Emergency Authorization Form (or develop your own, based on your needs) and provide signed copies to all those authorized to make decisions. If your regular veterinarian will be providing emergency care, provide them with a signed copy of the form before you leave and inform them of your preferences as well as the names and contact information of your authorized agent.
  • If your animal is microchipped, consider adding your authorized agent as an alternate contact in the microchip manufacturer’s database in the event your animal is lost and its microchip is scanned by a shelter or veterinary hospital.
  • Make sure there’s an ample supply of your animal’s food, medications and supplements to cover the time you’re away – plus a few extra days, just in case.
  • If your animal is on any medications, make sure that your authorized agent knows where they are located, how much to give, when to give them, how often to give them, and how to give them. Don’t assume they know, and demonstrate the process if needed.
  • Provide your authorized agent with your animal’s relevant health information, including your animal’s vaccination status (especially rabies), medications and relevant health conditions.
  • If you appoint more than one authorized agent, make it clear who has the authority to make the final decision so there are no delays that could harm your animal.

13 animal emergencies that should receive immediate veterinary consultation and/or care

  1. Severe bleeding or bleeding that doesn’t stop within 5 minutes
  2. Choking, difficulty breathing or nonstop coughing and gagging
  3. Bleeding from nose, mouth, rectum, coughing up blood, or blood in urine
  4. Inability to urinate or pass feces (stool), or obvious pain associated with urinating or passing stool
  5. Injuries to your pet’s eye(s)
  6. You suspect or know your pet has eaten something poisonous (such as antifreeze, xylitol, chocolate, rodent poison, etc.)
  7. Seizures and/or staggering
  8. Fractured bones, severe lameness or inability to move leg(s)
  9. Obvious signs of pain or extreme anxiety
  10. Heat stress or heatstroke
  11. Severe vomiting or diarrhea – more than 2 episodes in a 24-hour period, or either of these combined with obvious illness or any of the other problems listed here
  12. Refusal to drink for 24 hours or more
  13. Unconsciousness

The bottom line is that ANY concern about your pet’s health warrants, at minimum, a call to your veterinarian.

7 things you should know in case of an emergency with your pet

If you have an animal emergency, contact us or emergency veterinary clinic immediately.

If you suspect or know that your pet has eaten or been exposed to a toxic substance or product, contact your veterinarian, emergency veterinary clinic, or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center [888-426-4435*] immediately.

* a fee may apply

  1. Your vet’s emergency phone number;
  2. The local emergency clinic number;
  3. How to get to the emergency clinic;
  4. Poison Control number (888-426-4435)
  5. How to perform basic CPR on your pet;
  6. How to stop bleeding/apply a basic pressure wrap;
  7. How to muzzle your pet (to keep an injured pet from biting you)

​In addition to these seven things, you should also be prepared with methods of payment  for your pet’s emergency care. Emergency care is often more expensive than routine care due to the intensity of diagnostics, monitoring and treatment required, and it is your responsibility as a pet owner to pay for that care. Many clinics are unable to bill you for the services, or may require a deposit or payment in full at the time of service. Delaying emergency care to avoid emergency fees could put your pet’s life at risk. Planning ahead for financial coverage of emergencies – perhaps by having a separate account or credit card for emergency use only, or pet insurance – can save you a lot of stress when they do happen.

First Aid Tips for Pet Owners

Read and be familiar with the First Aid Tips for Pets on the AVMA website.

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