Urgency emergency? When to call the vet

Ask the RV Vet

With Dr. Deanna Tolliver, M.S., DVM
 
It’s 11 p.m. on a Sunday night. You’re worried that Annie, your dog, hasn’t been acting herself all day. She vomited a couple of times in the morning and hasn’t eaten any food. You think she looks a little bloated. You wonder, “Can this wait until morning?” You’re on a much anticipated RV vacation and you don’t have a clue who to call.

First, if you’ve read this column before, you know how important it is to be prepared: when you get to a new area, look up the names and phone numbers of 2-3 veterinary hospitals in your area, write them on a sticky note, and put it on the refrigerator.

Back to Annie. You know your dog better than anyone else. If you called a veterinary hospital and told them her symptoms, you would very likely be told to bring her in immediately. If Annie is a German Shepherd or another large breed, a possible diagnosis is bloat, where the stomach becomes twisted on itself. It’s an urgency emergency.

Before listing other conditions that should prompt you to head for the animal hospital, remember that a health problem doesn’t have to be life-threatening to require immediate veterinary attention. For example, a dog that suddenly doesn’t put any weight on a leg may or may not have a broken bone. If there IS a fracture, it needs to stabilize as soon as possible. Other conditions that may not be urgency emergencies can still be painful and should be addressed as soon as possible. These include:

• Broken toenails (especially if the nail does not stop bleeding).

• Ear infections (especially if the dog/cat scratches at the ear and cries or whines).

• Hot spots (acute skin infections. These can be very painful).


When you think you have a pet emergency, you want a reference that is easy to access and concise. This little pocket guide fits that description. It’s spiral bound and small enough to fit in your First Aid Kit (you have one…right?). Features include color-coded and illustrated sections, with checklists and inventory lists for creating your own kit, toxic food lists and a section on other small pets and rodents. 


Dogs do not always exhibit signs of pain like humans. I’ve seen dogs enter the hospital furiously wagging their tails while limping on a compound fractured leg! Animals that live in packs are genetically wired to not show pain because doing so may put the pack at risk to predators. Our domesticated dogs have not lost that genetic connection. So just because your vomiting dog is still wagging his tail does not mean he may not be very ill.

These conditions are emergencies:

• Trauma—hit by a car, falling off the deck, etc. Injuries may be internal and not easily detected.

• Collapse and/or paralysis

• Difficulty breathing

• Inability to control urination/defecation OR inability to urinate (in neutered male cats this is a sign of an obstructed ureter, an urgency emergency)

• Pale mucous membranes (whitish-blue gums, for example, may indicate internal bleeding)

• Uncontrollable vomiting and/or diarrhea

• Bleeding from any orifice: anus, vulva (except for dogs in heat), mouth, nose

• Unconsciousness

• Seizures and/or inability to wake up

• Known toxin ingestion: D-Con, for example, antifreeze, human prescription drugs, chocolate (click here to learn more),

• Signs of pain—whining, pacing, panting

• ANY eye injury

• Bloating—with true bloat a dog can die in just a few hours

• Heatstroke (click here)

• Possible broken bone

If your pet has any of the above symptoms, call a veterinarian while preparing to transport to a hospital.

The American Red Cross has an app on Pet First Aid that can help you locate a hospital. You can also take an online training course on cat and dog first aid on the same website.

Remember: all veterinarian offices have telephones. If you aren’t sure you have an emergency, call to find out. And if you’re in doubt, choose the safest option for your pet and take them to a vet. Again, you know your pet better than anyone else. If you think something is wrong, trust your instincts and call for help.

Dr. Deanna Tolliver has been a full-time RVer for over 3 years, although she has been an RVer for several more. She travels with a fifth wheel and a 1-ton dually truck. Her travel companions include 4 small dogs and a 36-year-old Yellow-Naped Amazon Parrot. She has a BS and MS in biology and zoology, respectively, and a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from the University of Missouri, Columbia. She owned a veterinary hospital for many years and recently handed over the reins to a new owner. 


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