Be prepared--pets can have medical emergencies, too


January 30, 1993|By Gina Spadafori | Gina Spadafori,McClatchy News Service

In the blink of an eye, Andy's muzzle and my budget for January were forever altered. These things happen, of course, but it seemed to suggest that this year will be as bad as last when it comes to unplanned, unavoidable veterinary costs.

Last year was bad enough. I've spent so much time at the emergency clinic lately that when I took Andy in for stitches after his four-second altercation with younger dog Bobby -- which Andy started -- the staff welcomed him by name.

And they are as good as they are friendly: Two weeks later, Andy barely shows a scar. And he and Bobby are on friendly terms again.

Good thing, too, because the credit card's practically at its limit after the recent round of emergencies. Like the time Bobby pulled down garbage and Andy ate it, ending up in the emergency clinic with what was clinically described as "severe garbage gut." Or when Bobby pulled down my briefcase, wolfed down a handful of my prescription medication and spent the night monitored and on IVs.

"There may be brain damage," warned the vet that time, but Bobby has as much sense now as he did before he overdosed. Problem is, it isn't much.

I can almost laugh about it, of course, because the dogs are OK and because I managed to find a way to pay the bills. But I'm no more fond than the next person of late-night vet trips (these things never seem to happen when my regular vet is in).

I weigh each case against a mental "is it urgent?/can it wait?" list, although I prefer to err on the side of caution, calling if there's doubt.

Here are some guidelines for concern, developed with the help of a couple of local veterinarians:

* Vomiting. A couple of hairballs or a little food is nothing to worry about, but frequent vomiting -- more than two or three times in a short period with no sign of stopping -- requires an immediate call and alikely trip to the vet, as does dark or bloody vomit.

L * Diarrhea. Bloody means an immediate call, probably a trip.

* Fever. No, you can't hold your hand to your pet's forehead and that old "wet nose" standard isn't valid. Rectal thermometers for pets are available at many pet-supply outlets. Get one before you need it. Normal for dogs and cats is between 100.5 and 102.5 degrees; more than two degrees over rates a call.

* Eye problems. Swollen eyes or lids, distinct redness, visible foreign body, discharge or heavy tearing all rate an immediate call and go.

* Ear problems. Frequent shaking or intense pain when touched at the base. Immediate call and go.

* Bad cuts, burns or swollen areas with discharge. Call, probably a trip.

* Violent, unstoppable sneezing. Could be a foxtail; Call, probably a trip. Even if the sneezing stops in a few minutes, a foreign body still might be in there and must be removed.

* Coughing and labored breathing, swelling of lips, mouth or throat. Insect stings or hives. Immediate call and go.

* Convulsions, seizures, loss of coordination or severe abdominal pain. Immediate call and go.

* Difficulty urinating, bloody urine. A call, probably a trip. A critical situation if your pet can't urinate: Immediate call and go.

* Hit by a car, or similar trauma. Immediate call and go. Broken bones are an obvious call and go, but even seemingly unscathed pets can be in grave danger. I can't tell you how many times people have told me about pets that seemed uninjured after an accident but were dead the next day -- from internal injuries. Don't take a chance -- have your pet checked out.

* Obvious exposure to any household poison or chemical. If you find your pet with an empty box of rat poison, immediate call and go. And take the box with you.

* Severe pain. A call, probably a trip. Pain may be able to hold until your regular vet is open, but honestly, would you want to wait if it were you? Plus, animals can be dangerous when they're hurting.

A final note: Knowing what to do doesn't help if you don't know where to go. Know where the emergency clinic is and keep its number by the phone next to your vet's number. You never know when you'll need it.

Ms. Spadafori is a newspaper reporter and an animal obedience trainer in Sacramento, Calif. Questions about pets may be sent to her c/o Saturday, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278

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