What to do in these 5 pet emergencies

What to do in these 5 pet emergencies

Published on 30th June, 2021 at 07:56 pm

We know how stressful it can be when you have a pet emergency. Learning how to respond to them can mean the difference between life and death. Here’s what to do in five common pet emergency situations to help protect your pet’s health and give you peace of mind.

#1: What should you do if your pet is bitten by a snake?

“Firstly, try to get your pet away from the snake as soon as possible, especially in multi-pet households,” says Dr Kaylee Ferreira, a veterinarian at K Ubuntu Veterinary Services. “If you can, try to get a photograph or an identification of the snake. However, do not try to pick the snake up if it looks lifeless, as it may be playing dead and it may still be alive and dangerous,” she warns. “Some bites, such as one from a Cape cobra, can kill your dog or cat in an hour if not treated, so it’s really important that any snake bite be seen to by a vet as soon as possible,” adds Dr Travis Gray, a veterinarian at the Cape Animal Medical Centre. The chances of recovery are much greater if your pet is treated early, with some pets even making a recovery within 48 hours.

“Call your nearest veterinary clinic ahead of your arrival,” suggests Dr Ferreira, as this enables the staff to prepare everything and save time or to get to the clinic if it’s after hours. If the snake is identified as a neurotoxic, cytotoxic or haemotoxic, it is an emergency, and your pet will need immediate medical attention, says Dr Ferreira. The symptoms below are an emergency that may require you to stay on the phone to your vet to help guide you through life-saving steps:
• Sudden weakness followed by collapse
• Shaking or twitching of the muscles and difficulty blinking
• Vomiting
• Loss of bladder and bowel control
• Dilated pupils
• Change of colour of the gums to white, dark red, blue or purple
• Paralysis, no pulse or no breathing

“If it is identified as a non-venomous bite wound, flush the wound with copious amount of clean water, monitor the area for any swelling or inflammation and visit the practice at your earliest convenience for pain relief if any symptoms begin to develop,” says Dr Ferreira. What not to do? “Don’t apply a tourniquet (a device used to apply pressure to limit the flow of blood), as this could lead to the pet losing the limb, as it does not prevent the spread of venom. Also, do not try to suck the venom out, as this will only enhance the spread of the venom through stress, and will waste time,” adds Dr Ferreira.

#2: What should you do if your pet is hit by a car?

“When a pet is hit by a motor vehicle, they often go into a state of shock; regardless of the severity of the injuries the trauma is enough to elicit this reaction,” says Dr Ferreira. A state of shock can cause an animal to react aggressively, as they are panicked and often in pain. Therefore, it is particularly important to ensure that you approach the animal calmly and carefully. If your pet is reacting aggressively, Dr Ferreira suggests securing a thick blanket over their head to prevent them from accidentally biting you. This will also calm them down. Once you have safely secured your pet, get them to an emergency vet facility as soon as possible to assess their injuries, she adds. Even though your pet may look fine, internal injuries are always a big risk and can quickly escalate if not attended to swiftly. “If there is a lot of bleeding ask someone to help you apply pressure to the bleeding area with a towel or a shirt while you call an emergency vet.”

If you need to move your pet into a vehicle to take them to the vet, Dr Ferreira recommends the following steps:
1. Safely secure the animal and assess the injuries. Attempt to identify breathing and pulse if the animal allows. Apply pressure to active bleeding.
2. Bring a motor vehicle as close to the animal as possible and try to lift it onto a flat surface like a back seat.
3. If possible, try to gently shift the animal onto a blanket or towel that can act as a makeshift stretcher. Take the four corners and support the animal while lifting them into the vehicle.
4. Transport them to an emergency facility, call ahead and detail the injuries to the staff so that they are ready to receive the animal. They will also be able to help you remain calm and address any injuries that may be life threatening.
5. Do not give the animal any food or water.

An emergency pet consultation can be costly, so pet insurance is always advised, says Dr Gray. “An after-hours consult can cost anything from R 900 to R1 950, depending on the practice and what the emergency is,” shares pet insurance expert, Dr Nicky Greenblatt. As a Reality Access for Fedhealth member, you have free accident cover for your pets valued at up to R3 000 per household per year. You’ll be reimbursed up to 100% if your cat or dog is accidentally injured.

#3: What should you do if your pet has an allergic reaction to an insect bite?

An allergy is a state of over-reactivity or hypersensitivity of the immune system to a particular substance, which can cause harmful side effects, explains Dr Ferreira. A mild reaction may result in the following symptoms:
• Itching and pawing at the affected area.
• Facial swelling – commonly around the eyes and muzzle (lips).
• Redness and hives may also be noted on the body and legs. This is easier to see in short-coated pets.
• Other signs of an allergic reaction may include agitation, panting or even vomiting and diarrhoea.

“In most cases, the symptoms go away without much intervention, although antihistamines can help them to resolve quicker,” says Dr Gray. “I would suggest calling your local vet for advice before giving any human medications, as some can be toxic, or interfere with the drugs that are actually indicated.”

A vet visit is warranted if your pet collapses, or shows any shaking, difficulty breathing or bloody diarrhoea after the bite or sting. “As most animals tend to catch bees in their mouths, any swelling affecting the tongue or back of the throat also requires immediate veterinary treatment to stop the swelling before it blocks the entrance to the windpipe,” adds Dr Ferreira.

#4: What should you do if your dog swallows a foreign object?

“This usually depends on the type of foreign object,” says Dr Gray. “Soft objects such as towels and socks can be retrieved if the patient is made to vomit. However, harder objects like bones will damage the throat if vomited up, so the patient will have to be monitored. I normally advise an X-ray to be taken to confirm that the object is still inside the animal. This also enables us to keep a track of its movement with subsequent X-rays.”

Luckily, not every swallowed object needs to be retrieved surgically, and a surprising number of them pass without incident, says Dr Gray. “However, if the patient develops pain or vomiting, or if there is no movement on the X-ray, then surgery will need to be considered.” Treatment for this can also be pricy. “Foreign body removal can cost anywhere between R10 000 to R30 000, and, with sedation, X-rays can cost anywhere between R1 200 to R2 500,” says Dr Greenblatt. “These estimates are dependent on complications or other ongoing or underlying issues, which can end up costing more.” This is why making sure you’re covered is so important. Sanlam Reality Access for Fedhealth members have access to Pet Accident Cover. Find out more here.

#5: What about a cut or wound caused by another dog or car or as the result of a burn or electrocution?

“All cuts and wounds need to be shaved and cleaned properly, as the most common issue we have with them is infection,” explains Dr Ferreira. For cats, bites and scratches can often lead to an abscess formation. Dr Ferreira suggests that if your cat appears to be in pain or develops a fever after a cat fight, it’s best to take them to a vet to examine the wounds and rule out an abscess, as an abscess can cause extensive damage if not treated with medication, drain insertion or surgery.

Dog bites, on the other hand, can cause significant trauma. Issues that occur are often due to ‘pockets’ from the puncture wounds forming under the skin which act as ‘dead space’, which can fill up with bacteria, debris like hair or soil and inflammatory mediators, which cause abscesses and lead to severe infections, she explains. “For cleaning the wound, I suggest using soaps and disinfectants containing chlorhexidine, as these tend to be less harsh on the underlying tissue,” says Dr Gray. “They are also not poisonous if the patient licks the wound afterwards. These types of disinfectants are available at pharmacies.”

Burn wounds can be nasty and often take a lot of time to heal. Antibiotics are almost always needed, says Dr Gray. Avoid covering the burn with fabric or bandages, as these will stick to the underlying wound and be painful to remove. Electrocution wounds can be similar to burn wounds if severe, but always watch the animal’s breathing after a shock. Some develop water on their lungs and can die if not treated.

Pet Accident Cover is one of several benefits Reality Access for Fedhealth members get to enjoy and help save big when it matters most. Learn more here.

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