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Emergency Medicine

What is Emergency Medicine?

Millions of dogs and cats visit a veterinary emergency room each year. Veterinarians who practice emergency medicine focus on immediate decision making and action necessary to recognize, evaluate and stabilize patients in response to acute illness and injury. 

Some conditions for which owners bring their pets to a veterinary emergency room include:

  • Car accidents
  • Broken bones and cuts
  • Uncontrolled bleeding
  • Weakness or collapse
  • Trouble urinating or defecating
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Unconsciousness
  • Intoxications
  • Allergic reactions
  • Persistent vomiting or diarrhea
  • Seizure
  • Heatstroke
  • Snake bite or other envenomation

Some veterinarians specialize in veterinary emergency medicine. These doctors graduated from a recognized college of veterinary medicine and then completed a minimum (or equivalent) of three additional years of residency training in emergency medicine, surgery, and critical care. Once these years of specialty training have been completed, doctors must pass a rigorous board certification examination. Upon successful completion of the training and passing of the examination, the veterinarian is board certified in veterinary emergency and critical care by the American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care (ACVECC). 

Be prepared!

If your pet is experiencing an emergency, you need to seek immediate medical attention for him/her. You need to bring your pet to the emergency room at the specialty hospital as soon as possible. With that being said, it may be quite helpful for you to contact your local emergency hospital prior to leaving or at least while in transit to the emergency room. Providing the emergency team with your estimated time of arrival (ETA) can be quite helpful, especially if the emergency room is very busy! By calling ahead, the hospital’s emergency team may also be able to give helpful advice for your pet, including techniques for:

  • Controlling bleeding
  • Covering / protecting wounds
  • Stabilizing a broken bone
  • Safely transporting a patient with a suspected or known back injury
  • Slowly cooling a heatstroke victim

If your pet ingested a possible or known toxin, please bring the packaging of the toxic substance with you to the emergency room. 

What happens in an emergency room?

When you bring your pet to a veterinary emergency department, the first stop is triage. Triage is the process of prioritizing a pet’s medical condition, and is typically performed by a veterinary technician. This categorization is necessary so a pet with a life-threatening condition is not kept waiting if they arrive a few minutes later than a pet with a more routine problem. The triage nurse records your pet’s vital signs (i.e.: heart rate, respiratory rate, body temperature, etc.) and gets a brief history of your concern. As soon as possible after triage, a member of our client service team will ask for your contact information, as well as demographic information to create your pet’s medical record.

Patients with the most serious problems are seen first, and patients with less serious problems are attended to as soon as possible (similar to emergency rooms in human hospitals). Your pet will be thoroughly evaluated in an examination room where the doctor will ask additional questions about our pet’s medical history and perform a complete physical examination. The veterinarian will formulate a list of possible causes of your pet’s clinical signs and will talk with you regarding additional testing needed, prognosis and treatment options, as well as the anticipated costs associated with the recommended care.

Emergency teams have one goal: to provide your pet the best possible emergency care. These teams work tirelessly to make your pet feel better and to keep you informed every step of the way. Emergency veterinarians partner with you and your family veterinarian to maximize the likelihood of your pet making a complete recovery.


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