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Introduction to Emergencies

By

Rebecca Kirby

, DVM, DACVIM, DACVECC, Animal Emergency Center;


Kirk N. Gelatt

, VMD, DACVO, Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Florida;


Pamela Anne Wilkins

, DVM, MS, PhD, DACVIM-LA, DACVECC, Department of Veterinary Clinical Medicine, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Illinois

Last full review/revision Jul 2011
Topic Resources

Emergencies include serious injuries from accidents, burns, stings, bites, and possible poisoning. Sudden illness, or an ongoing illness that suddenly becomes worse, can also be an emergency. These conditions all require immediate veterinary attention.

You can reduce the likelihood of many of these situations, for example, by keeping harmful substances away from your pet. However, it is impossible to ensure that your pet will never have a medical emergency. By their very nature, emergencies are typically sudden and unexpected. Regardless, you can be prepared to respond if an emergency occurs.

Emergency Procedures to Discuss with your Veterinarian

Before you have to deal with an emergency, you should discuss the possibility with your veterinarian so that you can be prepared to take action quickly. You should know the answers to the following questions:

  • What number should I call if my pet gets sick or injured after regular business hours?

  • Where is the closest 24-hour emergency facility? (Visit their website, review any emergency tips, and download directions.)

  • Are pet first aid classes available in my area?

  • Do I have a complete pet first aid kit and do I know where it is located?

  • What are some techniques for restraining my pet? Do I have a muzzle?

  • What transport techniques are recommended?

  • What should I do if my pet has an obstruction of the airway due to a foreign object?

Keep information about your pet’s medical history and your veterinarian’s phone number easily accessible. Make sure you know where the closest 24-hour veterinary emergency hospital is located. It is also a good idea to keep a first aid kit on hand to treat minor emergencies.

Emergency patients present special challenges because underlying problems may not be evident for 24 to 48 hours. Many variables contribute to the overall success of emergency treatment, including the severity of the illness or injury, the amount of blood or fluid lost, age of the animal, previous health problems, and time delay in beginning therapy.

Stocking a Pet First Aid Kit

You should keep a stocked first aid kit available and know how to use it. Check the expiration dates of all medications at least once a year, and replace them when necessary. Include the following items:

  • Muzzle

  • Bandaging materials (including gauze, sterile pads, stretch bandage, bandaging tape)

  • Duct or packaging tape

  • Small scissors

  • Hydrogen peroxide

  • Cotton balls or swabs

  • Chlorhexidine wash (0.5%)

  • Saline solution

  • Antibiotic ointment

  • Splinting materials

  • Tweezers or forceps

  • Bulb syringe

  • Thermometer (for rectal use)

  • Lubricating jelly

  • Disposable gloves

  • Kaolin-pectin (for mild diarrhea)*

  • Activated charcoal (to deactivate poisons)*

*Always check with your veterinarian before using any over-the-counter medication.

Know Your Pet

Knowing your pet’s habits will help you recognize when something is wrong. Sudden changes in your pet’s normal physical condition, gait, activity level, eating habits, elimination habits, or grooming habits can indicate a medical problem. Being able to recognize an emergency and get your pet to a veterinarian quickly is one of the most important things you can do to ensure successful treatment.

First Aid Kit

You can purchase a ready-made pet first aid kit or make one yourself. A pet first aid kit generally includes basic items similar to those of a human first aid kit. The first aid kit should have a secure lid and be kept where you can find it quickly.

Be sure you know how to properly use the first aid kit. You may be able to enroll in animal first aid and CPR classes through your veterinarian’s office, local community college, or groups such as the Red Cross.

Of course, a first aid kit is not a substitute for veterinary care. Take your pet to your veterinarian as soon as possible to determine the extent of the injury or illness and for followup care.

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