Medical Emergency Care Tips for Your Pet

By Alberto Roy

Updated on:

Our pets are like our family, which is why when they are ill or hurt, it can be highly stressful. Emergency situations can arise anytime; when they do, it helps to be as prepared as possible.

The first and arguably most important step in medical emergency pet care takes place long before the actual emergency event occurs. This step includes ensuring you’re armed with the knowledge you need to tackle such situations and plan for when the unavoidable happens.

Being prepared includes researching and comparing the features of pet insurance alternatives so you have something in place long before you need it. Consider insurance and emergency funds for your pets before an emergency happens.

Regular check-ups at the vet are one of the most overlooked weapons in medical emergency pet care. Vaccines, parasite prevention, and other routine health checks can ensure that your pet is in optimal health, making medical emergencies less likely (outside of accidents).

Let’s review all the essential elements to handle a pet emergency.

Knowing when medical emergency pet care is required

As a devoted pet parent, knowing what constitutes a real emergency can be tricky. To us, any time our sweet little fur baby looks anything less than deliriously happy, we spin out into complete panic. Long is the list of veterinarians who can confirm that pet parents tend to be alarmist, but this is sometimes good.

So, what does constitute a medical emergency in pets?

When we talk of a pet emergency, we’re referring to those situations that require immediate care by a veterinarian. In a genuine emergency, you absolutely cannot wait until morning to have your pet seen during regular office hours. Examples of this include:

  • Severe vomiting and diarrhea – especially if the vomit or stool is black or bloody
  • Difficulty breathing, rapid breathing, severe coughing, choking
  • Trauma – being hit by a car, attacked by another animal, a fall from a great height
  • Seizures or convulsions
  • Extreme bleeding that doesn’t stop after 5 minutes, any wound with a protruding foreign body, bleeding from the nose, mouth, or rectum
  • Pale gums
  • Painful urination and difficulty with going to the toilet
  • Difficulty standing, paralysis, loss of consciousness
  • Ingestion of toxic substances, i.e., human foods, toxic plants, chemicals, etc
  • Bites from venomous animals, allergic reactions to bee stings and insect bites
  • Any eye injuries – no matter how mild
  • Heatstroke

This list is just an indication and is not a complete list by any means. Call your regular vet or an emergency vet clinic for advice if ever you’re in doubt. It can be tempting to wait it out to see if the problems go away on their own, but don’t wait too long. In an emergency, time is of the essence.

Handle a pet emergency with first aid

First aid isn’t just for humans. Knowing the essential things to do in a pet emergency can go a long way to helping your pet until a professional can take over.

For starters, having a pet first aid kit handy is a good idea. Your kit should contain the following:

  • Disposable gloves
  • A washcloth and towel
  • Cotton swabs
  • Alcohol wipes
  • Antibacterial ointment/spray
  • Ice pack
  • Medical tape
  • Scissors
  • Tweezers
  • Digital thermometer
  • 3% hydrogen peroxide
  • Saline solution

Taking a pet first aid course is a really good idea to ensure you’re ready to tackle any pet emergency. Cat and dog first aid courses are available online through the American Red Cross.

These courses will prepare you to check your pet’s vital signs and care for them in an emergency until you can get them to a vet. Make sure to do a refresher from time to time to make sure the information stays top-of-mind.

Prepare a pet emergency plan

In an emergency, staying calm and acting decisively and quickly is essential. It’s significantly easier to remain calm when you have a solid plan in place to follow. The following steps from can help you with your medical emergency pet care:

  1. Contact your regular vet or an emergency animal hospital before you head there. They can offer advice on things you can do before you leave home that may alleviate some of your pet’s distress.
  2. Depending on the situation, the vet may ask you to do one of the following:
    • If there’s bleeding, you may be asked to apply firm pressure, a bandage, or a tourniquet
    • If your pet is having seizures, cushion their head so they don’t injure themselves
    • In the event of choking, carefully sweep the back of your pet’s throat to dislodge any foreign objects. You can also firmly pat your pet’s back to dislodge any obstructions
    • If you suspect your pet has ingested something toxic, call the poison control hotline. You should never induce vomiting in these cases unless you are directed to by a trained veterinary professional
    • With an unconscious pet, only perform CPR if you have received training
  3. Make sure you keep your pet in a secure place until you’re ready to head to the vet. Remember, a sick or wounded animal is a flight risk, and they are instinctually hardwired to seek a hiding place while they are weak or vulnerable. It’s also worth noting that distressed pets can be aggressive and may bite. Be aware and take measures to protect yourself.
  4. Before you leave, take anything important with you. Collect anything that will help your vet make an accurate diagnosis – any packaging of medication or human food your pet may have eaten, plants, detergents, etc.
  5. Make sure you know the quickest route to your veterinary hospital.
  6. Safely put your pet in the car: cats should always be in a carrier, while dogs should be muzzled if they’re likely to bite. Don’t muzzle a dog that is struggling to breathe. If you suspect a spinal injury, ensure your pet’s back and neck are supported.
  7. If you’re alone and need to do the driving and pet comforting at the same time, take care. The road is your priority – pay attention. The last thing you need at this stage is a fender bender or worse.
  8. Try to remain calm – your pet will sense your stress. Talk to your pet on the way and try to keep them as calm and comfortable as possible.

Phone numbers to keep handy

When you’re trying to handle a pet emergency, there’s no time to be scrambling about looking up phone numbers. Make sure you have these numbers saved in your phone, clearly labeled:

  • Your regular veterinary clinic
  • Your local emergency pet hospital for after-hours emergencies
  • Poison control hotline

At the vet with an emergency

No one wants to find themselves sitting in the emergency room with a sick or injured pet. But when you have to face this reality, here are some tips that will make the ordeal slightly less traumatic.

  1. When you arrive, let the receptionist know you’re here. You may have already spoken on the phone. Try to remain calm as you give them as much information as possible.
  2. Let the receptionist know if you have an emergency fund or insurance.
  3. Again, try to remain calm. Your pet is most likely very scared and in pain, and they will pick up on your energy. Talk to your pet in a calm and reassuring manner.
  4. Assess your pet – do they look like they want cuddles or do they look like they want space? Strome them or back away accordingly, but stay close enough that they don’t feel abandoned. Sit where they can see you.
  5. It could take a while to be seen, and you may be in the waiting room for what feels like an age. Be patient with the staff – they are working as fast as they can to get to you. Snapping and being rude with staff won’t get your pet seen to any sooner. Ask for some water for your pet.
  6. If your pet can go home after the vet has seen them, pay attention to aftercare instructions and ask about any follow-up appointments. Depending on the situation, there’s a chance your pet may need to be hospitalized for further treatment.

Final thoughts

Prevention is always better than cure, but even the best and most prepared may need to handle a pet emergency at some point. While we all secretly wish that the day never comes when we must face this reality, being adequately prepared and armed with knowledge can make a huge difference.

In an emergency, staying calm and thinking clearly can be challenging, but half the battle is already won if you’re well prepared. Preparations like having a first aid kit to hand, easy access to important phone numbers, and a detailed plan can put you in the best position to help your pet quickly.

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