The need for veterinary emergency care will probably arise at some point in your pet’s life, often for unforeseen illness or injury. Many emergencies are unavoidable, but some common situations can be prevented with proper attention to your pet’s health and environment. The Neighborhood Vet shares their top tips to keep a pet emergency at bay.

#1: Visit us for regular wellness examinations

Chronic, undiagnosed medical conditions may go unnoticed at home because initial signs can be subtle. Then, as disease progresses, illness signs can suddenly appear, seemingly out of nowhere, necessitating emergency care. Examples include an acute exacerbation of kidney failure, diabetic ketoacidosis, or heart failure.

To diagnose health problems early and prevent them from becoming an emergency, your pet should visit the veterinarian once yearly, or twice per year for senior pets. These wellness examinations are the best way to keep your pet as healthy as possible.

#2: Avoid high-risk pet situations

Some situations put your pet at higher risk for trauma that may need emergency care. For example, introducing strange dogs to one another too quickly can lead to a fight, with potentially devastating consequences if one dog is significantly smaller than the other. Dog parks, poorly structured doggy daycares, dog cafes, and bars are common areas for dog fights to occur. If your pet enjoys social interactions, invest in supervised daycare where pets are thoroughly screened and placed with other pets of similar temperament. Ensure your chosen doggy daycare has enough space for all dogs and an appropriate staff-to-dog ratio for safety.  

Other dangerous situations include pets who are left outside in a yard unattended or tied to a post, where they could be attacked by another dog or stray cat, or struck by a passing vehicle.

#3: Address medical issues as soon as they appear

In addition to regular wellness examinations to detect early disease signs, your pet should visit us any time you notice a change in their appearance, attitude, or behavior.  

#4: Prevent access to pet toxins

Pet toxicities are common emergencies, and often quickly become life-threatening, or result in long-term organ damage. Common household toxins include:

  • Chocolate
  • Grapes and raisins
  • Onions and garlic
  • Antifreeze
  • Rodent poisons
  • Over-the-counter and prescription medications
  • Fertilizers
  • Lilies

Keep your home toxin-free by securing all medications and food in high cabinets, keeping pets out of the kitchen during meal times, and hanging bags and coats rather than leaving them on the floor. Also, consult the ASPCA list of toxic and non-toxic plants to determine which plants and flowers are safe for pets. If you have a rodent problem, use traps or other alternatives instead of poison.

Many emergency hospitals recommend that you contact a pet poison control hotline prior to coming in, which saves time for you, your pet, and the veterinary team formulating a treatment plan. The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center and Pet Poison Helpline charge a consultation fee, but may save you hundreds in emergency fees if a visit is not necessary.

#5: Know your pet’s limits

Pushing pets to spend time outside during extremely hot or cold weather can lead to heat stroke or hypothermia. Thick-furred, short-nosed (i.e., brachycephalic), and overweight pets can easily overheat with minimal activity in hot weather and must be kept in air-conditioned homes and provided with plenty of fresh water. Heat sensitivity is more common at the beginning of a new season, because pets have not had time to acclimate to the change. Small breeds, pets with short or thin fur, geriatric or pediatric pets, and those with medical conditions are more susceptible to cold stress and should stay inside with a cozy sweater when temperatures drop. 

#6: Avoid quick diet changes and fatty food scraps

Gastroenteritis and pancreatitis—inflammation in the stomach and intestines or the pancreas, respectively—are common vomiting and diarrhea causes that may become severe. Gastroenteritis in pets can be the result of switching diets abruptly, introducing a new treat, or eating food from the trash. Pancreatitis can result from eating a fatty treat or food scrap, such as turkey skin, bacon, or butter. Keep your pet’s diet as consistent as possible, secure trash bins, and limit treats to less than 10% of your pet’s total food intake.

#7: Choose your pet’s chews wisely

Overzealous pets can bite off and swallow large chunks of chews or toys that lodge in their stomach or intestines. When offering a new toy or chew, always supervise your pet to ensure they are chewing or playing, and not ingesting the item. Never leave pets alone with rawhides, bully sticks, tennis balls, or soft toys they could choke on or swallow. 

You can’t always prevent a pet emergency, but you can be prepared for one. Keep emergency phone numbers handy, and know where your nearest veterinary emergency hospital is located. If you have immediate concerns about your pet’s health, contact The Neighborhood Vet, your local veterinary emergency facility, or—in the case of a pet poisoning—the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center or Pet Poison Helpline.