VET'S DIARY: How to deal with pet emergencies

When your pet is ill or injured it can be difficult to decide whether they need urgent treatment, especially outside of normal working hours.

Generally your pet will need attention if they are struggling to breathe, are in severe pain, or if they seem dull or weak. Vomiting and diarrhoea is not usually urgent, unless persistent and profuse in a young or elderly animal.

If you have a deep-chested dog who is retching, but not producing anything, this may be a sign of a twisted stomach, which if left untreated is fatal. Equally, a tomcat who is straining to urinate can deteriorate rapidly if left.

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Treatment can nearly always be given more rapidly and to a better standard if you take your pet to a surgery, rather than call the vet out. Phone the practice first as you may be required to attend a different branch, or a vet may have to be called in. Advice may be given over the phone.

In cases of trauma, such as bleeding wounds, broken bones and road accidents, first assess whether it’s safe for you to approach. If your pet is distressed, it may be best to apply a muzzle or wrap them in a thick towel and try to calm them.

If broken bones are obvious, keep them still and try to improvise a stretcher with a towel or blanket. Bleeding wounds can be covered with a towel and pressure applied. Do not be tempted to pack the wound with powders as these are not sterile. If you have bandaging materials, apply a non-adhesive dressing and cover with a layer of cotton wool and conforming bandage. Ensure it is not too tight by fitting a finger around the edge. If you can’t apply a bandage, try to secure the dressing with porous tape.

Wounds to the face and neck may be more serious, especially if the eye seems swollen or bulging.

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If your pet has a seizure or seems disorientated, give them space as they may lash out in confusion. These episodes normally settle by the time you have contacted the vet so ensure they are kept warm and in a quiet place while you call.

It may be useful to have a basic first aid kit to carry with you. This could include non-adhesive absorbent dressings, cotton wool, conforming bandage, crepe bandage, surgical porous tape, a muzzle, Elizabethan collar, round-ended scissors, a thick towel and a bottle or water.