When owning a pet or livestock it might be hard to tell whether to call the vet after-hours or not. The most common call after hours is vomiting or digestive issues. Although horribly unpleasant for you as the owner, there are many different reasons for an animal to vomit. Some are not an emergency, but knowing the difference between wretching or vomiting can be a big help. Animals that cannot vomit but are in a type of distress-like gagging are always a call for help. Horses get an emergency condition called “choke” that needs immediate attention and dogs get a condition called “bloat” that also needs immediate care. If it isn’t one of the previously mentioned causes and you think it can wait, try pulling up food and water for a few hours and keeping to animal close by to see its level of comfort. Also, look around the area for any dangerous objects that could mean it is a true emergency such as an open bottle of medications that was ingested, sharp objects or a certain type of weed or feed in the pasture.
Another common emergency is birthing or ‘dystocia,’ waiting too long in this situation could put the mother and/ or her offspring at risk. Dogs and cats in labor should progress within a few hours, especially after seeing a fetal membrane or fluid passing. If no progress then call. This is true with livestock as well. Horses progress very quickly and cattle should only labor for an hour. Heifers may labor for a little longer since it is the first time having a calf. Sheep and goats often have multiples so the young are smaller and should be easily passed unless their little legs get tangled up with their siblings. Be around to help and know the gestation times. Remember that not all animals read the books so this could be a day or two in either direction. I rarely recommend inducing labor- babies come when they are ready and finished cooking.
If your pet has a seizure that usually warrants a call to your vet’s office. If it is a single isolated event and your dog seems fine otherwise you might wait until normal office hours, otherwise call. Seizures that cluster or group together can be dangerous for your pet and cause long term effects. The reason a seizure begins may also be an indication of whether it is an emergency or not. Seizures from head injuries or trauma need to be controlled immediately. Toxins that cause a seizure also need to be addressed quickly to correct the initial cause. Keep your pet safe and in a quiet area so they don’t injury themselves during the involuntary movements of the seizure and loud noises may startle the animal further and worsen the tremors.
Although the intent of this blog is to inform, by no means should you not feel as though a call to your veterinarian is not necessary. Making an educated decision based on the moment you are witnessing in your home at that time is incredibly important. It makes me think of one of my favorite emergency calls of all times. I got a call from a frantic Nebraska pet owner. I could barely understand her when she told me that her dog is in respiratory distress of some kind. I told her to meet me at the clinic and as she was getting off the phone her laughing husband told her to tell me not to come. I guess the dachshund had gotten so scared and worked up because it has been cornered by a prairie dog! She thought the dog was sick, turns out it was all about perspective. The little dachshund and prairie dog were both fine although the dachshund may have needed counseling for night terrors about five pound rodents.