What to do in a Pet Emergency: Some Fundamentals

Pet emergencies can occur at any time, and in many emergencies, time is of the essence. However, there are many things that you can do to your pet at home in an emergency that may appear to be helpful, but can actually be quite dangerous!

Here are some common emergency situations and how to avoid causing your pet more harm than good in these situations.

Heat Stroke

Heat stroke is a common emergency, most often seen in dogs, and especially those dogs that are of the brachycephalic breeds (Bulldogs and Pugs for example). In humans, beginning treatment at home for heat stroke is pretty straightforward, getting out of the sun, removing excess clothing, cooling the body down, for dogs instituting treatment at home with an incorrect diagnosis or without the direction of a veterinarian can be dangerous and even deadly.

Dogs with heat stroke will show symptoms during or immediately after being in the heat or undergoing strenuous activity or exercise. Symptoms vary widely and may include collapse (98% incidence), shock (79% incidence), seizures (37% incidence), mentation changes (e.g. depression), tachypnea (rapid breathing), tachycardia (fast heart rate), prostration (weakness) & gastrointestinal signs (vomiting, diarrhea, etc.). Certiainly the telltale sign is hyperthermia or an elevated body temperature (well over 103° F). Without confirming a high body temperature do not cool your pet! Hypothermia (a low body temperature) is also dangerous and potentially life-threatening! If you suspect heat stroke, and you do not have access to a veterinarian, take your pet’s temperature to aid in the diagnosis before cooling them. Overcooling them is also dangerous and this treatment should only be done under the direction of a veterinarian. The cooling process should be discontinued once a temperature of 103.5° F is reached.

Poison or Ingesting a Foreign Object

Administering hydrogen peroxide by mouth to your pet is a commonly spoken about remedy to make a dog vomit who ingested something inappropriate (any item that is not meant for normal consumption, e.g. foreign body). However, not every case of foreign body ingestion warrants the induction of vomiting with hydrogen peroxide, either because the ingested item is not really a threat or the vomited item may cause more harm on the way up, there is also a short window of opportunity to make vomiting effective. Examples of the former are marijuana ingestion, most human food ingestions, and inappropriate ingestion of human or pet medications. Obviously an online veterinarian or your family vet should be consulted prior to making a determination, but these are some common examples. Items that cause more harm on the way up the throat after vomiting is induced include ruptured batteries or other power sources, sharp objects and string. Once again, consultation with a veterinarian is imperative prior to making such a decision to induce or not induce vomiting, but these are just some common examples.

Either way, contact a veterinarian immediately because there is only a 40 to 60m minute window after the ingestion before the opportunity to make them vomit successfully is lost!

Using Human Medications for Pets

Medications that help people may be quite dangerous to our pets. Although the anatomy and physiology of our dogs and cats is similar to that of humans, the differences between us can be monumental.

For example, dogs and cats cannot tolerate anti-inflammatories used in people. They are unable to metabolize such drugs and liver failure, kidney failure or gastrointestinal ulceration are a severe and, some of the time, irreversible risks. Some compounded human medications are made with xylitol, the same product used as a sweetener in chewing gum. This causes hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and liver failure in dogs and cats who ingest it. Even human medications that are safe for pets can be dangerous or ineffective if they are given with other medications that should not be given simultaneously or if the dosing is incorrect. Always check with a veterinarian if you’re considering giving your pet medications made for humans. Some medications can help, some are ineffective and others can be very, very dangerous.

Be Prepared

Despite having an infinite amount of knowledge at your fingertips, it is always recommended to diagnose and treat under the direction of a veterinarian. The above are only a few common examples of how the best of intentions can turn out horribly wrong. Instead of taking time with internet searches and dangerous advice from “Dr. Google,” take the time to seek veterinary assistance.

VetTriage veterinarians are available 24/7 on video televet sessions to help with any pet emergency or general animal health questions. Remember, in pet emergencies, time is of the essence.