Emergencies always seem to happen when your family veterinary office is closed, don't they? You're having a great time and suddenly your pet seems ill. Is he sick enough for a trip to the emergency clinic?
No one wants to see a pet in pain or in danger. But every day, people spend money they didn't need to for emergency clinic trips they didn't have to make.
Some of the things that get people in a panic can be of no concern at all. One time, while working overnight in an emergency veterinary clinic, I saw a woman frantic because she thought pieces of her dog's intestines were leaking out his back end. In fact, the dog was infested with tapeworms. Definitely in need of treatment, but nothing that couldn't wait until the weekend was over.
Knowing what's a true emergency and what's not can save you hundreds of dollars, since emergency clinics -- like human emergency care -- can be quite expensive.
With the holiday season coming up quickly, it's a good time to review when a pet needs to see a veterinarian. Anything is worth at least a phone call if you're not sure what's wrong, while some things require immediate attention by a veterinarian.
How to tell the difference? Here are some signs that should have you heading for a veterinarian, day or night:
-- Seizure, fainting or collapse.
-- Eye injury, no matter how mild.
-- Vomiting or diarrhea -- anything more than two or three times within an hour or so. Also, a dog who's trying to vomit (or may be vomiting foam, licking lips), has a drum-tight abdomen and a "roached-back" appearance indicative of abdominal pain.
-- Allergic reactions, such as swelling around the face, or hives, most easily seen on the belly.
-- Any suspected poisoning, including antifreeze, rodent or snail bait, or human medication. Cats are especially sensitive to insecticides (such as flea-control medication for dogs) or any petroleum-based product.
-- Snake or venomous spider bites.
-- Thermal stress -- from being either too cold or too hot -- even if the pet seems to have recovered. (The internal story could be quite different.)
-- Any wound or laceration that's open and bleeding, or any animal bite.
-- Trauma, such as being hit by a car, even if the pet seems fine. (Again, the situation could be quite different on the inside.)
-- Any respiratory problem: chronic coughing, trouble breathing or near drowning.
-- Straining to urinate or defecate.
Although some other problems may not be life-threatening, they may be causing your pet pain and should be taken care of without delay. Signs of pain can include panting, labored breathing, increased body temperature, lethargy, restlessness, crying out, aggression and loss of appetite. Some pets seek company when suffering, while others will withdraw.
When in doubt, err on the side of caution, always. Better to be dead wrong about a minor medical problem than to have a pet who's dead because you guessed wrong about a major one.
Call your veterinary clinic or hospital before you need help to ask what arrangements the staff suggests for emergency or after-hours care. If your veterinarian refers clients to an emergency clinic after regular business hours, be sure you know which clinic, what the phone number is and how to get there quickly and safely.
Rats! Do parents
have a chance?
Note: A reader pointed out this question-and-answer in our PetConnection.com searchable archives, and we liked it so much that we're sharing it again. The e-mail is from 2006, so this young woman wasn't at a top medical school ... yet. And we bet she got her pet.
Q: I'm an academics-oriented-to-the-point-of-mania student in high school. My dwarf hamster died a few months ago, and I'm very eager to purchase another domesticated rodent.
I've researched rabbits (I know, I know: They're lagomorphs, not rodents) and guinea pigs, and I've come across an unsettling plethora of setbacks. However, I stumbled upon rats, and I'm now smitten. I've read that they're exceptionally intelligent and willing to be handled by humans (two factors I value), and I've simply realized that I'm quite compatible with them.
Unfortunately, my parents are completely averse to keeping a "filthy creature" that spread an abhorrent plague in "their house," in spite of my fervent assertions that domesticated rats are different than wild rats. My city-bred mother always mentions the fact that rats have infiltrated New York City. She's being so close-minded.
Responsibility isn't an issue, for my parents are completely cognizant of my maturity and dedication. During the school year, I study maniacally, and my parents have always been worried about my unhealthy devotion to my studies. I believe that owning such active pets as rats will calm me during my scholastic frenzies. Could you aid me in this seemingly fruitless quest to persuade my parents? I see a pair of rats in my future. -- P.C., via e-mail
A: I have a feeling that your parents don't stand a chance when you really have your mind set on something. I imagine you will have your rats, and that you will soon have them trained to negotiate mazes, run through tunnels, climb ladders and jump through hoops on your way to winning the state science fair for the best-ever project on operant conditioning.
Like all pets (even dogs and cats), domesticated rats do present some risk of disease transmission, but proper handling, care and sanitation will reduce those risks substantially. Domesticated rats are friendly, easy to train, and much cuter than their wild counterparts, thanks to years of breeding that have introduced all manner of interesting and attractive markings.
I know you won't have any problem presenting a good case to your parents. Just be sure you don't let them see "Willard" on DVD or read the utterly fascinating but unhelpful-to-your-cause book, "Rats: Observations on the History & Habitat of the City's Most Unwanted Inhabitants," by Robert Sullivan.
After they relent, consider adopting a rat from a rescue group or shelter. You can connect with rescue groups through the Rat and Mouse Club of America (www.rmca.org). My favorite sites for rat care information are Rat Guide (ratguide.com) and the Rat Fan Club (www.ratfanclub.org).
Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com.
Vets' advice on ears:
Leave the flaps alone
-- While ear-cropping is often defended by breed traditionalists as a preventive measure against ear infections, the American Veterinary Medical Association has long countered that view, pointing to research showing otherwise. In the trade group's online question-and-answer on the subject, the AVMA notes that while surgery to open the canal can be helpful to dogs with chronic ear infections, changing the appearance of the ear flap doesn't do the same. The AVMA first advocated for an end to ear-cropping in the American Kennel Club's standards for the show ring in 1976; the ASPCA first called for an end to the practice more than a century ago, in 1895.
-- One-third of married women believe their pets listen to them better than their spouses do, according to an Associated Press-Petside.com poll. Among married men, 18 percent hold the same belief.
-- Cancer detection for dogs may be a blood test away. The BioCurex company reports that its test has detected 85 percent of a variety of cancers in dogs in premarket studies. The same blood test is used in humans and detects the so-called RECAF marker in the blood, a sign of malignant cell growth. The RECAF marker is produced from rapid cell growth, a characteristic both of cancer and fetal development. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker
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Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Dr. Becker can also be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker.