Run, Don't Walk
It seems that these days, most people in most areas have access to 24-hour emergency care for their dogs. While it is good that care is available, the fees can be expensive and the wait to be seen can be hours long.
Here is a list of conditions that are true emergencies to help you determine whether you need to seek immediate care for your dog or if you can wait to see your regular veterinarian.
• Severe bleeding or bleeding that doesn’t stop within five minutes. Bleeding from a superficial wound should stop with moderate pressure. Wounds on ear tips and tails can be difficult to control since shaking of the head and wagging the tail cause the bleeding to continue. Deep cuts on the legs may require a tourniquet, although these should be placed with caution and only left in place for a short period of time.
• Bleeding from the nose, mouth, rectum, coughing up blood, or blood in the urine are all signs of potentially serious disease. The underlying cause needs to be determined to control the bleeding and prevent it from recurring.
• Choking, difficulty breathing or nonstop coughing and gagging can be signs of an airway obstruction or serious heart or lung disease. If your dog’s tongue or gums have a grayish color, he is not getting enough oxygen and you need to get him seen ASAP.
• Inability to urinate or pass feces, or obvious pain associated with urinating or defecating. A blockage of the urethra will prevent the dog from passing urine. It also results in pressure that will damage the kidneys. This type of obstruction can be life-threatening in less than 24 hours.
• A fecal impaction will result in vomiting and anorexia if not resolved. If the impaction does not respond to intravenous fluids and enemas, surgical extraction of the feces may be needed.
• Injuries to your dog’s eyes should be examined immediately. There is the risk of permanent damage and loss of vision if treatment is delayed. Do not apply any medication into your dog’s eye without checking with your veterinarian. Some medications, such as eye ointments containing steroids, can make injuries to the eye worse.
• If you know or suspect your dog has eaten something poisonous, such as antifreeze, xylitol, chocolate or rodent poison, you should go to the emergency veterinarian. It is a good idea to have the contact information for a poison-control hotline handy. Small amounts of milk chocolate may not be a concern, but larger amounts of dark or baking chocolate can lead to seizures and death. Some microchip membership programs offer free access to poison-control calls.
• Seizures, staggering and loss of consciousness are emergencies. The veterinarian will determine the cause of these conditions and provide appropriate treatment. It can be anything from low blood sugar to a brain tumor. Dogs diagnosed with epilepsy may have occasional break-through seizures. If these are mild and resolve quickly, there is no need to run to emergency. However, if the seizures continue into a “cluster,” the body temperature can rise dangerously high, and this is a true emergency.
• Fractured bones, severe lameness or the inability to move legs are all conditions that need to be seen right away. If there are broken bones, they need to be stabilized until the dog can get a complete orthopedic evaluation. Dogs with short legs and long backs are susceptible to spinal injuries. If they are unable to stand on their legs and seem to have no feeling in their legs, they should be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible. A ruptured disc can cause irreversible damage to the spinal cord if the pressure is not relieved.
• Heatstroke is another term for hyperthermia or elevated body temperature. The normal body temperature for dogs is 100oF to 102oF (37.7oC to 38.8oC). If a dog’s body temperature exceeds 103oF (39.4oC), it is considered abnormal or hyperthermic. Body temperatures above 106oF (41oC) without previous signs of illness are usually the result of exposure to excessive environmental heat. This condition is called heatstroke.
Gradual cooling measures need to be started immediately. The critical temperature where multiple organ failure and death occurs is around 107oF to 109oF (41.2oC to 42.7oC). These dogs need emergency treatment for shock and medication to prevent swelling of the brain.
• Severe vomiting or diarrhea that involves more than two episodes in a 24-hour period may indicate an intestinal obstruction requiring surgery. Puppies and older dogs can quickly become dehydrated and struggle to recover from episodes of repeated gastrointestinal upset. These dogs need to been seen for electrolyte fluid treatment and to determine the cause of the vomiting and diarrhea.
• Gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV), or bloat, is a serious condition and is fatal if left untreated. GDV occurs when a dog’s stomach fills with gas, food or fluid and subsequently twists. GDV develops without warning and can progress quickly. It is always an emergency.
When the stomach becomes dilated, or severely distended with gas, food or fluid, it puts pressure on the surrounding organs and decreases blood flow to and from these organs. The torsion, or twisted stomach, is more severe, as it completely obstructs blood supply to major organs and can impact blood flow throughout the whole body, resulting in shock. Toxic products build up and tissues begin to die. Every minute without treatment increases the risk of further damage and death.
Recognizing the early signs of bloat is essential to increasing the chances your dog will survive. Signs of bloat can include a swollen abdomen, retching or attempting to vomit, restlessness, drooling, panting and collapse.
• Dystocia is the term for difficulty delivering a puppy. Every delivery is different. Even bitches that have whelped past litters easily can run into trouble. Some of the warning signs that your dog is experiencing dystocia are strong abdominal contraction for greater than 30 minutes without the delivery of a puppy or weak straining for greater than two hours with no puppy produced.
Other indications are a time lapse of greater than four hours between the delivery of puppies. Some bitches with large litters will take a break, but failure to progress and finish delivering the litter in a timely fashion could be a problem. The whelping mother may need oxytocin or calcium injections to get things restarted.
Greenish black discharge from the vulva is not always a bad sign if a puppy is delivered right away. The placental attachments will have some dark green coloration, so it might be normal. However, this color discharge can also indicate a dead puppy if no puppy is delivered within three hours of the discharge.
Medical treatment of the dystocia is generally attempted first unless there is an obvious reason that a C-section should be performed immediately. Reasons for an immediate C-section may include a very large puppy, a malpositioned puppy, abnormal pelvic structure that prevents natural delivery such as a previous fracture of the pelvis, or complete exhaustion of the mother.
It is a good idea to know where you can get the best assistance for a dystocia if you find yourself with an emergency situation in the middle of the night. Not all 24-hour veterinary practices are able to handle emergency reproductive cases.