Emergency & Critical Care

VCA ASEC’S Department of Emergency and Critical Care is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Our team of veterinarians and technicians are equipped to handle any emergency, including vehicular trauma (hit by car), bite wound injuries, respiratory impairment, cardiac disease, gastrointestinal emergencies, endocrine disorders, and ophthalmologic conditions. Our intensive care unit provides the maximum level of care and technology for critically ill dogs and cats.

At any time, day or night, referring veterinary hospitals may transfer pets to our I.C.U. for overnight care or ongoing continuous care, to be transferred back to the referring veterinarian once the patient is stable. We also offer first-class post-operative care to ensure your pet the best possible surgical recovery.

Frequently Asked Questions

It goes without saying that the best way to avoid an emergency is to prevent it in the first place. To reduce the chances that you will experience an emergency situation during the lifetime of your pet, consider the following tips:

  • Follow your veterinarian's advice regarding all relevant wellness care, including vaccinations, age appropriate health screenings, and parasite prevention.
  • Prevent traumatic injury by keeping pets under your control at all times. Keep cats indoors and dogs fenced. When pets venture outdoors, keep them leashed at all times. If you do allow them off leash, limit this privilege to large enclosed areas away from traffic, other potentially aggressive pets, and wildlife.
  • Invest the time in training your pet to obey simple commands, such as Come, Sit, Down, Stay, and No.
  • Never leave your pet alone or unattended in a car, even with the windows open.
  • Pet proof your home, removing all potential hazards from your pet's reach, much the same as you would do with an infant or toddler.
  • Supervise your pet as much as possible. Puppies and kittens, just like human babies, like to explore with their mouths. Supervising them during playtime can prevent their ingesting poisonous substances or choking hazards.
  • If your pet is coping with a chronic illness, carefully follow all of your veterinarian's recommendations regarding medication administration and check ups.


Make sure you know ahead of time what your veterinarian's policy is regarding emergency care, both during regular practice hours and after hours. If your veterinarian does not have a referral relationship in place, then make sure you know the location of the closest emergency referral center for your area.

If your pet has an ongoing medical problem that could result in a sudden emergency, make sure you keep any pertinent medical records in a handy place so that you can quickly locate them and bring them with you to the emergency service or hospital in the event of a crisis.

Keep your veterinarian's phone number and any emergency phone numbers and directions next to your phone along with all other important emergency information for your family.
Know basic first aid tips for pets. Ask your veterinarian for these ahead of time during a routine wellness exam

Handle With Care

Pain, fear, and shock can make animals behave differently. When you are faced with a pet emergency, remember that even the most well trained and loving pet can behave differently when feeling ill or in pain. Also realize that even relatively small animals, such as cats or small dogs, are capable of inflicting serious bite and scratch wounds when they are disoriented and in pain. If this occurs, it is important not to take such actions personally, but to realize that it is an expression of the extreme pain or disorientation your pet may be experiencing at the time.

Approach all injured pets with caution. Despite your natural wish to comfort your ill or wounded pet, do not place your face or hands near his or her head until you can assess your pet's condition. If you feel you cannot safely manage the emergency situation, ask your veterinarian for advice on how to handle and transport your pet when you call to report the emergency. Sometimes wrapping small, injured pets in towels (taking care not to cause further injury or pain) or placing larger pets in crates or carriers for transport may be the safest option for both you and your pet.

Veterinarians who want to become board certified in emergency and critical care medicine must seek additional training to become a specialist and earn this prestigious credentialing. Specialty status is granted by the American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care (ACVECC). A veterinarian who has received this specialty status will list the initials, 'DACVECC,' after his or her DVM degree. Or, the veterinarian may indicate that he or she is a 'Diplomate' of the ACVECC. The word 'Diplomate' typically means the specialist has achieved the following:

  • Obtained a veterinary degree (three to four years of college plus four years of veterinary school).
  • Completed a one-year internship at a referral private practice or veterinary teaching hospital.
  • Completed an additional three years of advanced training in emergency medicine, surgery, and critical care through a residency at a veterinary teaching hospital where the veterinarian will have trained with some of the best specialists in the field and obtained hands on experience. This training focuses on the most up to date techniques for the diagnosis and treatment of life threatening disease processes or injuries, not only for the duration of the emergency but throughout the critical care period right after.
  • Passed a rigorous examination.

After completing and passing all of these requirements, the veterinarian is then recognized by his or her peers as a board certified specialist in veterinary emergency and critical care. When your pet faces an emergency, years of additional training and education will be focused on helping him or her to recover from injury or illness and enjoy the highest quality of life possible.

  • Call your veterinarian immediately. Even if it is after hours, most veterinarians have recordings that explain how to obtain emergency help for a pet when the practice is closed.
  • Call your veterinarian rather than attempting to obtain advice online. Do not leave a voicemail. In an emergency, your pet needs help immediately. Keep going until you get a live person on the other end of the phone who can connect you with a veterinarian or direct you to an emergency facility.
  • If you are away from home, consult the yellow pages of the local phone book for the closest veterinary emergency facility.

High Tech Help

Much of the same high tech equipment that human doctors use to help critically ill humans is also available to help save injured or seriously ill pets. Emergency and Critical Care specialists are more likely to have access to the following cutting edge equipment or capabilities to help your pet recover:

  • Supplemental oxygen delivered via oxygen cages or nasal tubes
  • Pulse oximeters
  • Blood gas monitoring
  • End tidal carbon dioxide measurement
  • Colloid oncotic pressure measurement
  • Continuous ECG monitoring and telemetry
  • Ultrasonography
  • Endoscopy
  • Blood pressure and central venous pressure measurements
  • Blood transfusions
  • Advanced imaging techniques, such as CT scans and MRI

Most emergency hospitals are still seeing a surge in cases and have had to adapt their protocols to prioritize patient needs, while also considering the patient caseload their teams can effectively provide care for. Our Limited Intake Protocol is available for just that reason!

When our Limited Intake Protocol is in effect, we restrict patient intake depending on the level we are currently in. Please consult the lists of Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3 conditions for more information about how we determine which situations we are able to treat.

  1. If you believe your pet is experiencing a life-threatening situation, call (310) 473-1561. 
  2. If you are unsure if your pet’s condition requires immediate assessment and intervention, please call our team at (310) 473-1561.  You will be asked some screening questions to determine if your pet requires immediate assessment. 
  3. If you have arrived at our hospital, our team will assess the nature & urgency of your pet’s condition. If your pet is deemed stable, and their condition does not fall within the level we are currently able to see, we will be unable to check your pet in for a visit. Please see our list of Other ERs that you may be able to contact. 

What does our Level 1 Intake look like?

  • This level is for critical cases only.
  • Cases that are experiencing life-threatening emergencies (Level 1) will likely be the only cases that get checked-in. Urgent (Level 2) cases should be assessed but will likely not be seen and non-urgent (Level 3) cases will not be checked in.
  • Our team will attempt to divert pet owners with non-urgent cases over the phone and in-person. They will consult the lead doctor for any cases in question.
  • Our triage tech will be available to assess all Level 1 and Level 2 arrivals, and may divert obviously stable Level 3 cases from our parking lot without bringing them in the hospital for assessment.

Level 1 conditions may indicate a life-threatening situation for your pet and should be assessed right away. Please call 310-473-1561 immediately if any of the following conditions apply to your pet. This is not a complete list of all potentially life-threatening emergencies. If you are concerned that your pet may be experiencing a life-threatening emergency, please call. 

Level 1 Conditions:

  • Difficulty breathing
    • Rapid, shallow, or labored breathing, neck stretching, open-mouth breathing in cats, loud/noisy breathing, esp. if accompanied by pale or bluish-purple-tinged gums
  • Pale or bluish-purple gums
  • Major bleeding
  • Seizures
    • Active seizure, multiple seizures in the past 24 hours, failure to return to a normal level of consciousness following a seizure
  • Multiple episodes of vomiting and/or diarrhea in the last hour with associated lethargy and/or weakness
  • Repeated retching, gagging, hacking, coughing
    • Particularly if associated with a swollen abdomen
  • Severely elevated temperature (>105 F)
  • Heat stroke
    • Often accompanied by heavy breathing, altered mental state, weakness
    • May occur when your pet has a recent history of exertion (hiking, running, etc.) or confinement (hot car, un-shaded yard)
  • Snake bite
    • Either witnessed or assumed based on activity or location (for example, hiking in the hills)
  • Severe allergic reaction
    • Marked facial swelling, hives, rapid onset vomiting/diarrhea, weakness/collapse
  • Trouble giving birth
  • Ingestion of a known toxic substance
    • Please first call ASPCA Poison Control: (888) 426-4435
  • Ingestion of a material likely to cause a gastro-intestinal blockage (sock, underwear, tampon)
  • Very young pet who’s not eating 
    • Particularly if accompanied by a subdued mental state, lack of responsiveness, or weakness
  • Non- responsive or rapidly declining level of responsiveness
  • Generalized weakness or collapse
    • Inability to lift head, stand, or walk
  • Full or partial paralysis
    • “Knuckling,” stumbling, inability to stand or walk, “down in the hind end”
  • Swollen abdomen
    • Particularly rapid onset or if accompanied by drooling, retching, dry-heaving, or vomiting
  • Inability to urinate
    • Straining to urinate but no urine coming out
  • Severe traumatic injury
    • Hit by car, fall from height, animal attacks, penetrating wounds
    • Large wounds, obvious broken bones, burns
    • Particularly if accompanied by pale gums, difficulty breathing, major bleeding, altered mental state 

What does our Level 2 Intake look like? 

  • This level is for urgent and critical cases only. 
  • Non-urgent (Level 3) cases will likely not be seen and our team will attempt to advise pet owners of this as they call in.
  • Our triage tech will be available to assess any cases that arrive (Level 1, 2, and 3) and then consult our lead doctor to determine which pets should be seen.
  • Critical calls and arrivals will be handled with priority.

Level 2 conditions likely warrant evaluation and treatment, but are not expected to be immediately life-threatening. Please monitor your pet for a decline in their condition and call us if you believe your pet is deteriorating. You also have the option to reach out to other emergency hospitals to check their wait times and availability. If you are concerned that your pet may be experiencing a critical emergency and may not be stable to wait, please call (310) 473-1561.  

  • New significant swelling or mass lesion
    • Exception: whole abdomen is swollen (Level 1 condition)
  • Yellow discoloration of the eye, gums, and/or skin
  • Vaginal discharge
  • Eye conditions
    • Eye discharge, squinting, redness, pain
    • Exception: proptosed eye/eye out of its socket (Level 1 condition)
  • Mild fever (103-105 F)
  • Non-weight-bearing lameness
    • Exception: Obvious fracture (Level 1 condition)
  • Acute deterioration of a patient with a known chronic disease

Level 2 Conditions:
(not immediately life-threatening but urgent)

  • Generalized pain or restlessness
  • Bleeding from an unexpected site
    • Bloody nose; bleeding gums; blood in urine, vomit, or stool; bruised skin
  • Minor allergic reaction
    • Mild facial swelling, hives, restlessness
  • Lower urinary tract signs
    • Blood in urine, urinating more often than usual, straining to urinate but still passing urine
  • Decreased appetite or not eating, vomiting, diarrhea, or a combination
    • As long as these symptoms are not accompanied by weakness or decreased responsiveness
  • Abdominal pain
  • Constipation with straining to defecate

What does our Level 3 Intake look like? 

  • This is our least limited level.
  • All incoming cases are being filtered by our emergency team to keep control of our patient caseload.
  • We will admit a mix of non-critical, urgent, and critical cases, ultimately at the discretion of our lead doctor. Factors to consider: staffing, current caseload, and the status of other local ERs.
  • Our team will consult with our lead doctor first for all non-urgent calls and arrivals to determine whether or not we are able to see the pet.
  • Critical calls and arrivals will be handled with priority.
  • Longer wait times will typically apply for Level 3 conditions.

Most clients will first try to take their pet to their primary care veterinarian for Level 3 conditions. If you are concerned that your pet may be experiencing a critical emergency and may not be stable to wait, please call (310) 473-1561.  

Level 3 Conditions:
(non-urgent under the majority of circumstances)

  • Stable, chronic disease (no change in condition)
  • Skin issues
    • Itching, hot spots, minor wounds, abscesses, foxtails
  • Lameness/limping
    • Exception: Obvious broken bone (Level 1 condition)
  • Ear infections
  • Sneezing, coughing, nasal discharge
    • Exception: Accompanied by difficulty breathing (Level 1 condition)
  • Broken or torn toenails
  • GI parasites (worms)
  • Fleas and/or ticks
  • “Scooting”