When a pet comes into the emergency room, we often have to be prepared for anything. Emergency hospital veterinarians must be ready to not only work with different species, but also to be able to provide almost anything those animals need. As medicine has moved forward, the services have started to shift into divisions that suit their needs. This has become even more important as the pet population has exploded over the past few years, meaning more patients for vets to care for. Emergency medicine is often a gray area where pets aren’t acting like their normal selves, but it isn’t always clear if they are seriously ill or just a bit off.

Since emergencies cannot be planned, it is important for us to quickly determine how serious a patient’s condition is and if we will be able to provide appropriate treatment as soon as possible. Most of the time, a brief description of why a pet needs to be seen, along with vital signs from the technical staff will allow us to determine if a pet’s condition is not an emergency, stable to wait for treatment, or needs immediate care. This preliminary evaluation is called triage, and it allows the most critical patients to get a chance at life-saving care. The number of critical patients that we see per night can vary. This is why sometimes a stable patient may be able to get care quickly, and other times a pet that is moderately sick still has to wait hours when it is life or death for another.

After our staff triage a pet’s condition, the veterinarian examines the patient and gathers further history that may be related to the exam findings. A diagnostic and treatment plan is then discussed with the pet owner. Sometimes some basic screening tests may be recommended based on hospital protocol, even before the vet sees a patient, such as checking a sick puppy for parvovirus to avoid contamination of the hospital, or determining the blood sugar level in a diabetic pet that hasn’t been eating well. These preliminary tests help speed up the gathering of information needed to make the best treatment recommendations. We may also start some preliminary treatments, such as providing oxygen support to patients with difficulty breathing, or administering pain control medication to pets showing obvious discomfort or having suffered recent trauma.

Other common tests that are evaluated early on include in-house blood cell counts, blood levels for kidney and liver function, electrolytes, sugar, calcium, and pancreatitis markers. In addition, we often utilize x-rays to look for large physical changes or major changes with soft tissue, and we may perform a focused ultrasound assessment to look for abnormal fluid buildup in the chest or abdomen. These tests are all commonly used in screening pets with vague, non-specific signs and to help determine underlying factors that may affect their prognosis and treatment plan; these diagnostic tests can also provide some answers as to what may be the underlying cause of the pet’s symptoms.

Once the initial evaluation is complete, treatment plans are discussed based on an individual patient’s needs. We may recommend outpatient care involving particular treatments in the hospital and/or medications to go home, but we are also equipped to hospitalize patients with more serious illness. It is common for pets to need intravenous (IV) fluids, oxygen support, and a variety of medications to treat them. We keep an array of commonly used injectable and oral antibiotics, pain control medications, antacids, anti-nausea medication, diuretic therapy for fluid retention, anti-inflammatory medications, insulin, immunosuppressants, dewormers, and other supportive medications used regularly.

Some animals need more than medication to help them. Surgery is sometimes needed to treat injuries, stop bleeding, remove intestinal blockages, extract bladder stones, or help with problems birthing, or for a variety of other reasons that just can’t wait. Patients needing emergency surgery often need to be stabilized before starting the procedure; we evaluate them and administer appropriate medications or IV fluid support to make sure they are in the best shape possible for anesthesia. Since an emergency surgery usually involves most of the ER staff, managing these cases usually means that other patients have to wait to be seen. With just a few staff members managing patient care in the hospital along with dealing with incoming emergencies, time management and planning become critically important. Everyone works hard to make sure that the patients who need the most care are getting the appropriate amount of attention.

Overall, the emergency department strives to provide the best care possible to those animals in need. Each emergency room shift is often challenging and unpredictable, but it can be incredibly rewarding as well. Our entire team works hard to provide the best recommendations so your pet receives the proper care, whether we can provide it here at Rocky Gorge or we need to direct you elsewhere. If you are unsure if your pet needs to be seen, or you need help knowing where you can go, you can call us at any time. Once you let us know what is going on with your pet, we can provide the appropriate recommendations. Our website contains information about the services we provide and signs of common emergencies that should be addressed sooner rather than later.