I’ve alluded to the fact that I worked in a veterinary ER for a year or two. I learned a few things, namely, that I’m not cut out for emergency medicine. I vaguely remember a few things: the frenetic pace, the adrenaline rush of a HBC (that’s hit by car for the non-vets), the sleep deprivation. I’m much better suited for day practice.
Another thing I remember are the calls. Man, you think manning the phones at a regular clinic is a challenge, try doing it in an ER. Receptionists become masters of phone triage, attempting to help owners triangulate the course of their pet’s symptoms and decide just how important is it to get to the hospital stat.
Fortunately for me, when someone requested a summary of the most common of those ER calls and when one should or should not head in, Dr. Baebler stepped up and offered to help a day doc out. She’s much more current on that stuff than I am. So without further ado, allow to to present an excellent guest post while I recover from the stress the last hour. It’s so chock full of must-know tips I broke it up into 2 parts.
PART 1: MAKING THE BEST OF YOUR ER VISIT
1. Staff can’t give medical advice over the phone
We often get calls to our ER: “Hi, my precious Fluffy has been doing XXX for XXX amount of time. What can I do for her at home? Should I bring her in? I don’t really have the money to bring her in and wanted you to tell me exactly what I can do for her at home??”
These calls are frustrating. Most of the time my staff and I cannot legally tell you it would be OK to wait until the morning or that doing XX at home will save your animal’s life. For a veterinarian to make an “official” recommendation, there has to be a “Valid Client-Patient Relationship” in place. That means the veterinarian making the recommendations needs to have examined your animal and met and spoken with you as the owner to be able to legally recommend treatment.
Most of the time if you call an ER clinic asking for advice, our hands will be tied and we will recommend you come in for an exam. There are very few exceptions to this rule. Along the same lines, we cannot recommend giving new medications, changing medications, or recommend over-the-counter medications to an animal we have never seen. Most ER clinics are not affiliated with the day practices they service, and we do not have access to their medical records.
2. Call ahead!
Even if you read through the following list and know you are bringing your animal into the ER, it helps us out a LOT to know that you’re on your way, especially if your animal is critically ill. That way, we can be ready for you when you get to the clinic. Obviously, if your dog is choking and you can’t find the ER number (a good reason to do your homework and have it on your refrigerator with your other emergency contacts) by all means, get your pet in as soon as possible.
3. Have your pet leashed or in a carrier.
I can’t tell you how many times people bring their cat in wrapped in just a towel, or are holding doggie Foo Foo in their lap with out a leash, snarling and trying to eat my fingers off. It is always safer for you to have your pet under control, especially when they are going to a place where they will be around a lot of other sick animals and stressed out people.
4. Be prepared to have the ER staff ask to take your pet to the treatment area for triage.
Please know when we do this, we’re not trying to steal your animal away or charge you money for things without your consent. A lot of times animals in ER clinics are very sick or scared or both, and it is easier and safer for us, yourself and your pet for us to evaluate them in our back area. There, I can attend to wounds quickly, go through an uninterrupted physical exam without distractions, and begin emergency life support if necessary. If we can (at least at my ER clinic), we return stable animals to their owners to await the consultation with the doctor.
You always have the right to inquire about the status of your pet, and you have the right to wait with your pet to have a physical exam performed in your presence. It usually takes a lot longer to do this, though, and if there is something more serious going on, it may not be attended to as quickly.
Dr. Baebler is an ER/exotic pet veterinarian in the Chicago area. She been practicing medicine for 2 1/2 years now, and completed a specialized internship in exotic pet medicine. In her emergency practice she sees dogs, cats, and most small exotic pets, including birds, rabbits, ferrets, and non-venomous reptiles.