Top Five Preventable Veterinary ER Visits

Veterinarian Examining Little Husky Puppy

#1: Vomiting & Diarrhea

On average, vomiting and diarrhea cases account for about 25% of ER visits across the nation. While some causes for GI upset such as kidney disease, are not preventable, many of them are. The top underlying cause for vomiting and diarrhea symptoms in ER patients is foreign body ingestion- when a pet eats something, it shouldn’t have. This can range from the squirrel your dog chased down in the yard to more dangerous items, such as tampons, diapers, needle & thread, or even dental floss.

How Can You Prevent This?

If you have a pet who continuously gets into your trash, consider getting a trash can with a lid. In addition to this, you could consider storing the can somewhere put away, like a pantry or cabinet. If this isn’t an option, place the can in a corner and use furniture safety straps made for toddlers to strap it into the wall; this way, your pet can’t knock it over. Human food can also be responsible for GI upset and may cause a condition called Pancreatitis. Pancreatitis is often triggered by fatty foods that your pet’s digestive system can’t handle. Some pets and breeds are more susceptible than others, so it’s best to limit your pet’s diet to food items made for their species and pet-safe human foods. When in doubt, ask your veterinarian. Lastly, make sure to supervise your pet when outside to ensure that wildlife doesn’t become snacks. If you have a dog that is always eating things it shouldn’t, consider training them to wear a basket muzzle whenever you can’t have eyes on them at home. Basket muzzles are comfortable, and your pet can still breathe easily, drink water and eat some approved treats with one on.

Check out this Fear Free flash class on basket muzzle training.

#2: Bite Wounds

Bite wounds are the second most common cause for emergency veterinary visits in the United States. Depending on the severity of the bite, the necessary treatment can be minor, like cleaning and suturing the wound, or major, like reconstructive surgery, followed by bandage changes and physical therapy.

How Can You Prevent This?

When it comes to dog bite wounds, dog parks are most often the culprit. Before taking your dog to a dog park, make sure to socialize them with other dogs that you know well, making sure to start by setting them up for success with friendly, mellow dogs that aren’t likely to jump on them, frighten or overwhelm them. This should be done when your dog is still a puppy or shortly after you have adopted them. Before proceeding to the dog park, allow yourself time to get to know your pet and observe their behavior and body language closely. Does your dog become upset when another dog gets in their face or barks? Some dogs love this kind of attention, and others are triggered by it. Once you have decided to try out a dog park, you will need to observe your pet at all times. If you notice that your dog is overstimulated or fearful or that the other dog they are interacting with isn’t being supervised, you must intervene and remove them from the situation. The second most common cause for dog bites is fighting amongst housemates. The most important thing to do in these situations is to determine the trigger as quickly as possible. For example, do incidents occur when food is dropped on the ground (fighting over resources) or when one dog is lying next to the owner on the bed and the other dog approaches (guarding the owner)? Prevent the opportunity for a triggering moment to occur by avoiding any situations that you have identified. In the examples mentioned here, the dogs should be crated during mealtimes and when the owner lies down in bed. If a deep bite wound occurs that is more than a nip and requires medical intervention, we suggest contacting an experienced trainer and/ or veterinary behaviorist for help. These professionals have the skills needed to assess the environment and behavior of each pet involved and are able to give suggestions for how to better manage, train, and desensitize both dogs.

Most feline bite wounds occur in outdoor cats. Often the cat is unsupervised, so a trigger cannot be established. The best way to prevent bite wounds in cats is to keep them indoors or install a cat fence. Cat fences prevent your cat from getting out and keep other animals from coming into your yard. Cat fences allow your cat to continue to have outdoor enrichment with much less danger involved.

To learn more about cat fence options, click here.

#3: Urethral Obstruction in Cats

The urethra is the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside world. For male cats, in particular, a urethral obstruction can be life-threatening and is a common issue among young to middle-aged cats. A cat’s urethra is only the width of a single angel hair pasta noodle, so when there is any debris or inflammation in the bladder, stones, or crystals, it can cause an obstruction, and the cat becomes suddenly and acutely unable to urinate.

How Can You Prevent This?

Because cats can die within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms, it is critically important to get your cat to a veterinarian immediately. The earliest signs of obstruction are vocalization and frequent trips to the litterbox. While there are some components of this disease that aren’t preventable, like Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD) or Feline Idiopathic Cystitis, there are factors that we can control. If you own a cat, especially a male one, managing and preventing environmental stressors is the single most important thing you can do. Diet and genetics also play a role in how likely your pet is to develop this problem. Your primary veterinarian may recommend a specialized prescription diet and will want you to make sure that your pet has access to freshwater. Some cats prefer the fresh, running water from pet fountains and others prefer still water in a bowl. Identify and provide your cat’s preference. If your pet still isn’t drinking enough, consider feeding wet food to increase their water intake. Additionally, you should make sure to have one litterbox for each cat in the home plus one extra. If you live in a multi-level home, make sure that there’s at least one litterbox located on each floor of the home. If your cat is urinating anywhere outside of the litterbox, you should get them assessed by a veterinarian as soon as possible because inappropriate urination can be an early warning sign of a variety of urinary health issues. Make sure to provide your cats with multi-modal enrichment by providing climbing shelves or perches, scratchboards or posts, or a window with a view of a birdfeeder. Encouraging active play with interactive toys and scattering treats throughout the home has also been shown to reduce stress in cats.

For more feline enrichment ideas, click here.

#4: Exposure to Toxins

Prescription and over the counter medications used by human household members are often the culprit in toxin cases, but we also see food toxicity in dogs and plant toxicity in cats as well. The most important thing to remember if your pet has ingested a known toxin is that time matters. Whether or not vomiting should be induced also depends upon the particular toxin- in some cases, this is the right thing to do; in some, it may accelerate illness and clinical signs. We recommend calling Pet Poison Control as soon as possible to get appropriate advice from a Veterinary Toxicologist. After consulting with the Toxicologist, you will know whether to monitor for signs of something more mild like GI upset or head to your local veterinarian with an emergency treatment plan drafted up by the Toxicologist. If reported early, there are many things that emergency veterinarians can do- induce vomiting, administer medication(s) to absorb the toxin, or even push fluids to help the toxin pass through your pet’s system quicker.

How Can You Prevent This?

It’s important to remember that pets are opportunistic and will take advantage of guests and disruption to your schedule. They seem to pick the most chaotic times to get themselves into trouble. That means during the times you know you will be the most distracted, you must make an effort to be more vigilant. Be mindful of where dangerous items are located and if they’re accessible to your pet. After all, pets can really surprise you. Just ask that puppy who unzipped his owner’s purse to get into some highly toxic sugar-free gum or the cat that swatted his owner’s heart medication off the counter only to have the dog come along and eat the entire contents. For this reason, we suggest keeping toxic items out of reach and any medications inside of a cabinet with a lock. Keep in mind that there are many toxic commons over the counter medications as well, such as Tylenol and Ibuprofen. Even low doses of OTC pain medications can cause extreme illness and can be potentially fatal. Unlike dogs, cats tend toward ingesting toxic plants, the most well-known being Lilies. A cat that has simply licked Lily pollen off a paw or drank the water from a vase of Lilies could be in grave danger. Inspect any bouquets delivered to your home before bringing them inside. If you aren’t sure if a stem of something mixed into the bouquet is toxic, you can download a free plant identification application to your smartphone and upload a picture to get a quick answer.

We like the free version of Plant Snap.

#5: Vaccinatable, Preventable Diseases

The most common, emergent, preventable diseases that we see and treat here in North Carolina are Leptospirosis & Lyme Disease in dogs. We also see occasional cases of Kennel Cough that have developed into a severe secondary Pneumonia that may have been prevented by a Bordetella vaccination.

How Can You Prevent This?

Be aware of your pet’s risk factors for acquiring each of these diseases, as they are all dependent upon lifestyle factors. Is your pet exposed to other dogs frequently through dog park visits, training and grooming facilities, or dog shows? Your pet is likely a good candidate for the Bordetella vaccine. Does your pet drink from and have access to still-standing water, like a pond in your own back yard? Your pet is likely a good candidate for the Leptospirosis vaccine. Do you live in a tick endemic area of Guilford County? If so, make sure you stay on top of giving safe, veterinarian-approved tick preventative medications and talk to your vet about the Lyme vaccine.

For more info on vaccinations, visit the American Animal Hospital Association.

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At Happy Tails Veterinary Emergency Clinic in Greensboro, NC, our kind and knowledgeable team is available to provide gold standard emergency vet care for you and your pet. We’re available in the late night and early morning hours during the week, and 24/7 on weekends for your convenience.