If you’ve visited an emergency room with your pet recently, you know veterinary ERs have become more hectic places than ever. Shortages of doctors and increased numbers of pet owners during the coronavirus pandemic have made the process of assessing and dealing with emergencies more difficult. Yet the process itself – triage, testing and immediate treatment — remains the same. So how does life in the emergency room work?

Triage in the ER

When there’s a backlog, the staff must decide who needs attention first. Conditions that affect stability, such as a blocked airway or impaired circulation that could cause a stroke, send an animal to the head of the line, as they do in a human ER. Owners may be surprised not to be accommodated in order of arrival, but a limping dog gives place to one that can’t breathe.

Veterinary technicians meet owners, take notes on the pet’s history, and bring the animal in for assessment. Stable animals may wait to be seen; unstable ones will be assessed immediately by a veterinarian. Owners can make the process go smoothly by providing all pertinent records — particularly recent diagnostics, blood work, radiographs and the like – and explain what medications the animal has taken. Bring every record you think may be useful.

Testing in the ER

Some common emergencies include difficulty breathing, heart problems, internal bleeding (usually from a ruptured mass), shock, anaphylactic/allergic reactions, urinary obstructions, difficult labor and damage from animal attacks or being hit by a car. Snake bites, though less common, can also be serious.

Life in the Emergency Room dictates that the team first stabilizes the patient, then will meet with the owner to discuss diagnostics and treatment options. Animals that come in with stable conditions such as skin problems, ear infections, or limping will have appropriate diagnostics and treatment, but may have to wait to be evaluated.

After assessment, animals get a diagnostic workup. The basic workup can include blood work (CBC, Chemistry, Urinalysis, clotting profiles) radiographs and FAST ultrasound: Focused Assessment with Sonography in Trauma, a rapid bedside examination that screens for blood around the heart (known as a pericardial effusion) or abdominal organs (hemoperitoneum).

Treatment in the ER and Beyond

All pets can have a full workup in the ER, and a surgeon stands by in case surgery must take place immediately. If an underlying condition such as cancer or cardiac disease seems to be the problem, the ER vet will consult with the specialists in the hospital to arrange appropriate care.

At that time, the animal can get whatever service it needs. That could mean an MRI, which gives detailed images of organs, bones, muscles and blood vessels; a CT scan, which combines X-rays and computer technology; a full ultrasound; an echocardiogram, chemotherapy; or non-emergency surgery.

Emergency room vets face challenges not all doctors want to undergo: They can’t regulate the flow of patients. Their hours may be longer. And life in the emergency room means there’s extra stress in making immediate diagnoses and dealing constantly with potentially fatal cases. But they’re your secure line of defense the moment your pet needs help on the spot.

Think of CARE as the animal-focused version of a complete medical center for humans. It provides all forms of treatment. It offers emergency care 24 hours a day and 365 days a year, plus board-certified specialty care once you get a referral from your primary veterinarian. Please take a visual tour of the practice at carecharlotte.com/tour.

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