Pet Connection

Stress Less

A TRIP TO THE VETERINARY ER IS NEVER EASY, BUT THESE TIPS CAN HELP YOU GET THROUGH IT

Taking a pet to the emergency hospital is something none of us wants to do. It's scary and stressful for you and your dog or cat. We've been there more times than we like to think about, and we have some tips to help you cope. We hope you won't ever need to use them, but tuck them away in the back of your mind just in case.

Protect yourself when handling a sick or injured animal. Even the most docile dog or cat can bite when in pain. Keep a muzzle on hand or ask your veterinarian to show you how to safely tie one using a scarf or tie.

Be patient. Your pet won't be seen in the order of arrival. Animals who are most unstable will be seen first.

"We do them in order of medical need," says our friend and colleague Dr. Tony Johnson, an emergency and critical care specialist at the Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine. "If I have a hit-by-car and a dog with diarrhea, even if the dog with diarrhea has been waiting two hours, the hit-by-car is going to get seen first."

The only time someone jumps that line, he says, is if they're bringing in a pet to be euthanized.

Be prepared to wait as little as five minutes or as long as six hours. It all depends on what other cases are there or come in while you're waiting. If you think about it before you leave the house, grab a book or your iPod in case you'll be there for a while.

If possible, have someone go with you or meet you there. You may need help getting your pet in and out of the car and into the hospital. And it's always good to have someone's hand to hold while you're waiting.

Designate a single person to communicate with the veterinarian, so he or she doesn't have to repeat information to multiple family members. Take notes or record the conversation on your smartphone so you can refer back to it.

Don't forget your wallet in your mad rush out of the house. Most veterinary hospitals won't treat your pet without proof that you can pay for care. Your regular veterinary hospital might do that if you've been a client for years -- they know where you live and that you're probably not going to skip town -- but an emergency hospital isn't in that position.

"It sounds avaricious, but there are not too many emergency hospitals that are going to do something on a handshake," Dr. Johnson says. "ERs usually see people once. They can't separate out the people who are a risk of not paying from those who aren't. They're not trying to be greedy."

Know when to go. Some things are obvious. Take your pet to the emergency hospital in the following situations:

-- allergic reactions

-- any animal bite

-- bloated belly

-- bloody diarrhea

-- difficulty breathing

-- distress from excessively hot or cold temperatures

-- eye injuries

-- frequent or projectile vomiting

-- heavy bleeding

-- ingestion of a toxic substance, such as antifreeze, human medications or snail bait

-- seizures

-- serious trauma, such as being hit by a car

-- straining to urinate or defecate

-- sudden lameness

-- unconsciousness or collapse

-- venomous snake or spider bites

If you're not sure, well, we recommend erring on the side of caution. Like their counterparts in human medicine, veterinary emergency clinics are expensive, but sometimes the cost of a visit is a price worth paying for peace of mind. And when a visit saves your pet's life? Priceless.

Q&A

Respond to cat's 'gifts'

with gratitude, distraction

Q: My cat is always bringing me dead gophers. Why does he do this, and how should I respond? -- via Facebook

A: My mother's cats have delivered four rats to her front door in the past week. Isn't she lucky that they are so thoughtful? I guess with colder weather coming on, they are concerned that she won't be able to provide for herself.

Cats are known for bringing "presents" to their people. Why do cats hunt for us? They are natural predators, of course, and it's instinctive for them to bring their prey to a safe place. In the wild, leopards drag their kill up into trees so it will be safe from other animals and they can munch on it at their leisure. Our domestic cats choose their own home, and sometimes their own food dish, as the best place to securely deposit their kill.

Of course, we can't get into their heads, fascinating though it would be, but they may be acting out the instinct to nurture us and to provide us with food. Maybe they are trying to teach us to hunt, as they would a kitten. Or it could just be that they're saying, "Hey, could you fix this for dinner tonight?"

Be polite when your cat brings you the gift of a dead mouse or other critter. Praise him for being such a good hunter, and then try to distract him while -- ideally --someone else disposes of the carcass.

If your cat is a great hunter, there's little you can do to prevent his offerings. There's the classic bell on the collar to warn prey animals of his approach, or the policy of keeping him indoors. And learn from my mother's experience: Look carefully before you step outside the door. -- Kim Campbell Thornton

Do you have a pet question? Send it to petconnection@gmail.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.

THE BUZZ

Dogs with 'smart collars'

could be health barometers

-- Researchers at England's Newcastle University developed a high-tech, waterproof dog collar with an accelerometer and used it to track movement, barking, sitting and other actions to gather data on the normal activity level of a variety of dog breeds. The information they obtained allowed them to quickly notice changes that might indicate that the dog was bored or in poor health. Their next step is to study whether changes such as the dog being walked less often or not being fed regularly can serve as a warning that an aging owner is struggling to cope or has deteriorating health.

-- The Eau Gallie Veterinary Hospital in Melbourne, Florida, has started regularly utilizing humorous messages, such as "No hump Wednesdays: 10 percent off spay and neuter." The clever and comical signs are the brainchild of office manager Gemma Millar, who says they are a fun way to get people's attention and promote preventive care and the benefits of spaying and neutering. The signs have increased the clinic's spay/neuter appointments and even brought in new clients.

-- Everyone knows that black is chic, sophisticated and goes with everything. So why are black dogs and cats so difficult to place? Shelter employees and humane organizations agree that the animals tend to stay longer than lighter-colored pets, possibly because they are difficult to photograph, blend into backgrounds, or maybe just look a little scary. Shelters are working to improve their chances by putting colorful bandanas on black animals, putting up bright backdrops in their kennels to help them stand out, and having their pictures taken by professional photographers. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton

ABOUT PET CONNECTION

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.

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