I always thought of myself as a great cat mom. I had emergency phone numbers and a signed blank check made out to my emergency veterinarian on my refrigerator. The cat carriers were always prepped with blankets and ready to go. I drilled a routine into my roommates, just in case something happened while I wasn’t home. If any sort of veterinary emergency arose, I was prepared. Fortunately for me, we never had any veterinary emergency. Then the unthinkable happened: I was caught unprepared.
About six months ago, I moved to Chicago. The cat carriers are still in the front hall closet, ready to go. I have pet chauffer service number on my fridge. But somehow, I’d never gotten around to locating the nearest 24-hour emergency veterinary hospital. When my cat Ben, who is on prescription blood thinners for his heart problem, cut his leg and started bleeding all over the floor earlier tonight, I had no idea where to take him.
After wiping the blood from his wound with a damp cloth, I realized that although he bled enough to scare the crap out of me, his cut had clotted pretty quickly. It was just a surface wound. If he licks it regularly, he’ll be just fine in no time. But should Ben have needed emergency veterinary care, I would have wasted precious minutes flipping open the Yellow Pages for a phone number and an address to give the cab driver. (There are always at least five cabs tooling around my block looking for someone to pick up, so that’s one less thing I need to worry about.)
Hopefully, the checklist that follows will help you prepare for any sort of veterinary emergency you may encounter. If I’ve learned anything from this experience, it’s that veterinary emergencies occur when you least expect them, and the best thing you can do for your pet is be completely prepared.
Let’s get cover the basics first. To prepare for any type of veterinary emergency, you’ll need:
a. Phone numbers and addresses of your main veterinarian and the closest 24-hour emergency animal hospital. If your veterinarian does not board pets overnight, also have the number of a reliable boarding facility.
b. Travel carriers and/or leashes for each one of your pets, prepared and stored near your door.
c. A small duffel bag with a list of any medications your pets may be taking, copies of important vet records for pre-existing medical conditions, a bottle of water, a blanket, and a couple pop-top cans of food. Take this with you in every emergency situation.
d. A good pet first-aid book with important pages bookmarked and a pet first aid kit.
e. A strong board a little bigger than your pet, and strips of strong fabric.
f. A guaranteed, fast, and reliable form of transportation, whether it be the plentiful cabs on your street or your own car. The last thing you want to be doing in a veterinary emergency is consulting a bus schedule.
Also note: If you are taking your pet to an emergency veterinary care facility, call while you’re on your way. This allows the staff to be properly prepared to deal with your emergency as soon as you arrive.
Veterinary Emergency #1: Your pet is bleeding.
Your primary concern should be to find the wound and quickly assess whether or not your pet needs emergency veterinary treatment. Gently wipe the wounded area to remove excess blood and look at the wound. If the wound is deep and not clotting quickly, or if your pet has lost a significant amount of blood, you need to go to the vet.
Before you go, you need to try to stop your pet’s blood loss. Bandage the wound with gauze. If you pet is bleeding from a leg or tail wound and the blood is quickly soaking through the bandage, you may need to apply a tourniquet. This is where your first aid book and kit come in handy. Then, proceed directly to the veterinarian.
Veterinary Emergency #2: Your pet has a broken limb.
You may need to tie your pet to a board to keep him immobile for the trip to the vet. Again, consult your first aid book for detailed instructions. The most important thing in this situation is to not create further damage to your pet’s limb.
Veterinary Emergency #3: Your pet is ill.
Your first aid book should give you a general idea of whether or not your pet’s symptoms warrant emergency veterinary care. (By this point, you should be figuring out just how critical that first aid book can be in an emergency.)
Generally, if your pet has difficulty breathing, is vomiting or having diarrhea to the point of dehydration, has ingested something that may cause blockage, or has been exposed to a poison, go directly to the vet.
Veterinary Emergency #4: Your pet needs CPR.
Remember the all-important pet first aid book? It should have detailed instructions on how to give your pet CPR, and hopefully a good diagram.
As a rough guide, though, you’ll need to hold your cat or dog’s snout closed so that air cannot escape through the mouth. Blow short puffs of air into your pet’s lungs through the nose. But don’t take my word for it-look it up and memorize the procedure, just in case. While you’re doing this, have someone else call the veterinarian for you.
Once your pet is breathing, go immediately to the vet.
Veterinary Emergency #5: You and your pet must evacuate because of a fire.
Pack your pets in their carriers, grab the duffel bag, and get out as quickly as possible. If you cannot return immediately to your home, drop the pets off at a neighbor’s or at their boarder.
Veterinary Emergency #6: You and your pet experience a natural disaster.
In a tornado or a hurricane during which you are not going to evacuate your home, put the pets in their carriers and take the duffel bag with you to your safe place. Even if you’re just going down to the basement to wait out the storm, you’re pets will be safer in their carriers if your roof collapses. If you live in a region that experiences earthquakes, develop a plan for your pets to keep them safe during the aftershocks. You should also have a plan for an emergency evacuation in a hurricane or a chemical spill.
Veterinary Emergency #7: Any of the above happens, and you are not at home.
Your family, roommates, and neighbors should be familiar with what to do in a veterinary emergency. Leave blank, signed checks made out to your veterinarians in an easy-to-find place along with phone numbers where you can be reached. Should a natural disaster occur while you are away, you should have a door sticker to alert firefighters and rescue workers that you have pets, so they may look for them. Many pets perish in house fires and other disasters because they instinctively hide, and firefighters do not know to look for them.