While your general practice veterinarian can diagnose and treat many health problems and handle many routine emergencies, certain situations require the care of a doctor who has had specialized, intensive training in handling emergency and critical care for your pet. An emergency and critical care specialist typically works in tandem with your general practice veterinarian on a referral basis, as well as with any other needed specialists, until the emergency is resolved.
A board certified specialist in emergency and critical care is a veterinarian who has obtained intensive, additional training in treating life-threatening conditions. An emergency and critical care specialist can help in the following kinds of cases, among others:
If your veterinarian does not handle after hours emergencies, then he or she probably already has a referral relationship in place with a local or regional emergency hospital. You can also look for emergency specialists in your area on the ACVECC website. You can be assured that a veterinarian who knows when and where to refer you and your pet for emergency or critical care is one that is caring and committed to ensuring that your pet receives the highest standard of care for his or her problem.
Any of the following situations can be considered an emergency:
While an emergency is unfolding, or throughout recovery from a serious illness or accident, ongoing diagnostic and therapeutic care and constant monitoring of your pet's condition are required. Many emergency and critical care facilities offer 24-hour supervision of critically ill pets and, just as in human hospitals, may have dedicated Intensive Care and Critical Care Units (ICU/CCU). Such facilities are equipped to provide oxygen therapy, cardiac monitoring, blood transfusions, and nutritional support. Such facilities also typically have advanced diagnostic capabilities onsite, such as ultrasound and echocardiography.
Many emergency hospitals work on a referral basis with general practitioners. In some cases, your pet will only be referred to the emergency service for after-hours care. In other cases, your pet may be in the care of the emergency and critical care specialist for the duration of the emergency and recovery, but then referred back to your general practitioner veterinarian for follow up and routine care.
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.
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: