Be prepared for a pet emergency

April is Pet First Aid Awareness Month and a good time for pet owners to review emergency situations that they and their pets may be faced with. I am going to discuss a few of the various emergencies we see in our clinic, and what you can do to prevent these emergencies and help your pet before bringing them to the veterinarian.

With spring here and summer just around the corner, many of our pets are out and about either on walks with their owners, playing in the yard, or hunting and exploring on their own, which many of our feline patients enjoy doing. We recommend always having your pet on a leash. Unfortunately, there are owners who leave their dogs outside loose to roam.

When walking your pet, be sure to test your route first without your dog. If there are homes with dogs that appear territorially aggressive, I would avoid those routes even if they are tied outside or in a fence. There is always a possibility the dog might get loose and attack your dog.

Our clients experienced this with their little dog Megan on one of their walks. The dog broke through the door and attacked their little dog without hesitation. Megan had to be rushed to the emergency clinic, because she had a tear to her chest wall with air escaping from her lungs. She also had a few broken ribs from the incident and it took some time for her to recover and heal. She was one of the lucky few small dogs that survive an attack by a larger dog. You might consider taking some sort of protection with you in case you come across an aggressive dog such as pepper spray or an air horn to deter the attacking dog.

Another important reason for keeping your dog on a leash is to avoid a run-in with a motor vehicle. We see many dogs hit by cars and in some cases the dog does not survive their injuries. Charlie, a 95-pound yellow lab, was hit by a car and had a deep laceration down to the joint on his back leg. He was hit so hard that his lungs collapsed and air was escaping into his chest cavity. The air had to be aspirated from his chest and the laceration had to be repaired late that night. Many dogs aren’t as fortunate and can have severe internal or external bleeding and bone fractures. Charlie did well and recovered without any issues!

If your dog is hit by a car, try to stay calm and call your veterinarian immediately. Safely remove them from the road and use caution as many dogs can bite when in pain. If this is the case, use any kind of linear object to tie their muzzles like a shoelace before you move them. Use a blanket or board to transport them. If there is excessive bleeding, put pressure on the area and cover with a bandage. If there is an obvious fracture to a leg, try to support the leg by wrapping a towel or T-shirt around it if not too painful for the dog. Get them to the veterinarian immediately as they can go into shock quickly – a severe life-threatening condition.

Injuries to cats when they are outdoors include fight wounds from another cat. These can be serious, causing injury to the eyes and ears. Wounds on the body that may go unnoticed until the wound becomes severely infected. These infections can lead to fever, lack of appetite, dehydration and death from the bacterial toxins that enter into their bloodstream. If you know your cat has been in a fight or you notice a small wound, take them to the veterinarian immediately before infection sets in.

Scottie is one of our patients who came to us with a wound on his neck. The wound was small, but the trauma and infection caused a good portion of the skin over the area to die over the next week. Even with surgery and antibiotics it took weeks for Scottie to heal completely!

Finally, I am going to discuss our pets’ nature to ingest things that they shouldn’t. This might include a foreign object, a toxic substance or garbage. Baxter was a patient of ours who got into the owner’s compost pile. A couple hours later, he was experiencing severe muscle tremors. These were caused by a toxin released from mold that had grown on the old food. Baxter had to receive multiple injections of a muscle relaxant, activated charcoal to absorb the toxins in his gut, and he had to be on intravenous fluids to prevent shock. He recovered and was never allowed near the compost pile again!

Use caution with what you leave lying around your yard and house. This time of year, be sure to pick up any sticks, stones and pine cones that your pet may try to ingest. Make sure there is no mouse or rat poisons left out from the winter. If your pet likes toys and balls, be sure they can’t chew the toy and swallow small pieces, or swallow the whole toy or ball itself.

Sadie is a patient of ours who had been vomiting once daily for over a month. We discovered on ultrasound that she had ingested two racquetballs that were causing a partial blockage in her stomach. She was still able to eat OK, but had lost some weight from the daily vomiting. We were able to surgically remove the balls before they became lodged in her intestines.

In most cases, your pet can get sick very fast when they ingest a foreign object. Coco, a dachshund friend of ours, had a tendency to chew up any toy that was given to him. He became very ill with vomiting and lack of appetite, which was very unusual for this little guy! We found a small piece of toy lodged in his small intestine and had to surgically remove it.

If your pet is experiencing any vomiting and cannot keep down food and water, they should be seen immediately in case they have ingested an object leading to an obstruction. If the obstruction is not removed, a portion of the intestines can die allowing infection to spread into the body.

There are many more emergency situations that can be discussed and if you are interested, check out our article that ran last year in the OBSERVER on the top 10 emergencies. Always prepare yourself for an emergency with your pet. Take a first aid class put on by local organizations or the Red Cross; consider purchasing a first aid kit which we have available at our clinic again this year. The proceeds benefit our Big Foot fund which we set up to help stray and injured pets.

Dr. Rebekah Frost is a veterinarian at the Dunkirk Animal Clinic. Send comments on this column to