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When should I see a Veterinarian?

There are plenty of times that folks reach out on social media looking for advice for their pets.


There are certain conditions in which you shouldn't be sitting on social media trying to decide whether to take your pet in or not.


You can use a standard veterinary triage list to let you know if this is something you should seek advice from an emergency veterinarian or if it is something that can wait the weekend to call your primary care veterinarian.




Triage Level One


These are life-threatening conditions in which it could be life or death within minutes of getting your pet seen.


Any loss of consciousness including seizures. Depending on the cause of the seizures, but cluster seizures (seizures back-to-back) or status epilepticus (a seizure that lasts longer than 5 minutes).


It always surprises me that people are filming their dogs having a seizure or talking to them to tell them they are ok. It just baffles me that we aren't calling a medical professional and if this is the 3rd or 4th seizure that day, or that week... or that month even, why are they not on anti-seizure medications.


Anyway, I digress again. Heat stroke can also lead to seizures.


Hit by car: if the pet has a fractured bone, this is painful. If the pet has a flailed chest; there is a rib fracture and air is being sucked into the thoracic cavity outside of the lungs, this is an emergency.


That same injury of flail chest can also occurred when we have a big dog, little dog attack. This is when a large dog grabs a small dog by the body and shakes them like a rag doll.


Choking or difficulty breathing. This should be an obvious one. If there is something in the airway, or if the patient is becoming cyanotic or pale, this is urgent. Take a look at their gums to see if they are blue, purple or white.


Actually, if they are any other colour than their usually pink bubble gum colour, they aren't doing well.


Pale gums could suggest active bleeding. The obvious ones would be visible lacerations. But the not so obvious ones are the ones that have internal bleeding, say a mass on that spleen that has ruptured.


If an animal is trying to urinate and cannot pee. This suggests a blockage. Usually accompanied by pain or straining. As time passes, this becomes more urgent, which risk of kidney damage and cardiac arrhythmias.


Large breed or deep chested dogs that appear to be retching, gagging or just increased respiratory rate could be developing 'bloat' or gastric dilation and volvulus. All those with Great Danes know what I'm talking about.



Non-urgent concerns.


Almost all skin infections, except active bleeders as above. Almost all ear issues, again, unless it's acute trauma like a dog attack or hit by car. Almost all eye issues, while some can be painful and should be seen, you might be waiting 4 hours at the ER clinic.


Low appetite that is not accompanied by vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, collapse, etc Similar if there is softer stool without blood.


When I went to a humane society to discuss what they should do, they asked several questions about cases, for example. Eyes - yes, they can be painful, but not all eye issues are major urgent. But you also need to use a bit of common sense. Eye issues that were associated with trauma. You likely should be calling your veterinarian.


Ear infections - these can also wait a day. The ear infection did not just randomly start at 4pm. Likely the pet parent has missed the subtle signs of scratching or head shaking. It's ok if you want to go to the ER, but keep in mind that there is a hit-by-car, big-dog-little-dog flailed chest, a cat that cannot urinate, a puppy that got into recreational drugs and a 12 yo dog that is vomiting blood that are also on the docket.



What happens if I cannot afford to go to the emergency vet hospital? Most veterinary hospitals offer some sort of lending service. Some humane societies will assist with veterinary costs, especially if the alternative is to let the pet suffer through a painful condition. The one thing you should note is that most veterinarians will try to meet you where you are. Yes, we want to be able to perform the gold standard of medicine, and we understand that you start to feel guilty that we offer this and you cannot afford this. But when you feel guilty that you cannot afford the costs, it is not that individual veterinarian's fault... yet, how many of you have thought about this. Veterinary medicine is so expensive. Life is really expensive. For most of us, we are not the clinic owner, and we do not set the prices. We also do not control inflation. But, you need to care more about your pet than we do.


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