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Emergency: You Are The Pet Paramedic


By Jeff Smith, DVM

Do you have an Emergency Plan for your family?  Does it include your pets or livestock?

There are two types of emergencies you may face:  a medical emergency or a natural disaster.

For a natural disaster you should have the following:

         Pet Identification:  Microchip AND Collar with readable ID tag


Restraint Bag for cats (pillow case) and Muzzle for dogs

         Pet Carrier

         2-week supply of food and water

         Medical Records

         First Aid Kit

         The ability to evacuate all of your pets and livestock

         A pre-arranged location to evacuate to

Local agencies and local veterinary Disaster Coordinators from the California Veterinary Medical Association will be able to provide some assistance, but you will be far better off with some simple pre-planning. As we learned in the recent wildfires in southern California, highways may be closed, advanced warning may be short, and public facilities may be filled beyond capacity.  Your pets depend on you, just like your children, and you have a responsibility to plan for their safe passage in the event of a disaster.

In a medical emergency, you may need to provide first aid for your pet.  In many respects first aid for pets is analogous to humans.  Remember ABC:  Airway, Breathing, Circulation.  Airway:  Make sure there is no vomit, ball, toy, bone, or tongue obstructing the airway.  Breathing:  If possible do mouth to nose artificial breathing—about 1 breath every 5 to 10 seconds; use a gentle puff that causes the chest to expand.  Circulation:Compress the chest (gentle but firm) over the heart about once per second (in small dogs and cats you may compress the heart using your fingers against your thumb)—also make sure to stop any obvious bleeding by applying direct pressure over the wound with a bandage or your hand.  If blood is spurting out, you may pinch the artery directly or compress the artery an inch or so from the wound on the side of the heart.

If at all possible have a first aid kit that includes:

Latex gloves, Cotton bandages (gauze and rolls), Vet Wrap or Co-ban, Splint material(halved pvc pipe), Adhesive tape, Small scissors, Tweezers, Needle-nose pliers,Nylon Leash, Towels, Muzzle or restraint bag for cats, Thermal blanket, Rectal thermometer, water-based lubricant, Benadryl, Pepto Bismol, 3 percent hydrogen peroxide (to induce vomiting), Baby aspirin, 1% Cortisone cream, Sterile saline wash for eyes and wounds, Emergency phone numbers for the veterinarian and poison control.

Please, do not use any medications without consulting a veterinarian—many animals have died or been seriously injured from medications like Tylenol, Advil, Naproxen, Vicodin, and even “natural” medications like Cranberry pills.

The most common emergencies in Lake County are Trauma (hit-by-car, cuts, bite wounds, dog attacks, gun shot wounds, or broken bones), Envenomations (rattlesnake bites, bee stings, spider bites), Poisonings (Marijuana, Rat Bait, Snail Bait Antifreeze, Xylitol),Gastrointestinal upsets (vomiting and diarrhea) (Parvo, Worms, Garbage, Pancreatitis,and Foreign Bodies), Seizures, Foxtails (in the eyes, ears nose, toes, vulva, or just about anywhere), Heat Stroke, High Fever, Dystocia (baby animals not coming out of the Mom as expected), Urinary Blockage, Constipation, Eye Disease, Difficulty Breathing (Asthma, Heart failure, Heartworm Disease,Cancer, Pneumonia), and Bloat (twisted stomach).

Some veterinarians are not available for emergencies.  Some veterinarians are only available for their regular clients.  Some veterinarians will choose to see emergencies on a case-by-case basis. All veterinary clinics do expect that you will be able to take care of the charges and make a deposit BEFORE delivering care—so you must be prepared to do that.  Unlike human medicine there is no mandate or insurance reimbursement for emergency care.  Most clinics accept credit cards, so this is the best choice—even if it means bringing along a close friend or relative that can lend you the money. The cost of care can be high even though it is only a tiny fraction of the same care delivered on the human side.  Still, costs commonly run from $300-$500 for simpler cases, and from $1200-$2500+ for complicated cases.  Remember EVERY veterinarian entered this profession to take care of animals and they want to help you, BUT you must provide the means for them to do that.

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