Pet Connection: For animal hospital visits, be ready, patient

Taking a pet to the emergency hospital is something none of us wants to do. It’s scary and stressful for you and your dog or cat.

We’ve been there more times than we like to think about, and we have some tips to help you cope. We hope you won’t ever need to use them, but tuck them away in the back of your mind just in case.

• Protect yourself when handling a sick or injured animal. Even the most docile dog or cat can bite when in pain.

Keep a muzzle on hand or ask your veterinarian to show you how to safely tie one using a scarf or tie.

• Be patient. Your pet won’t be seen in the order of arrival. Animals who are most unstable will be seen first.

“We do them in order of medical need,” says our friend and colleague Dr. Tony Johnson, an emergency and critical care specialist at the Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine. “If I have a hit-by-car and a dog with diarrhea, even if the dog with diarrhea has been waiting two hours, the hit-by-car is going to get seen first.”

The only time someone jumps that line, he says, is if they’re bringing in a pet to be euthanized.

• Be prepared to wait as little as five minutes or as long as six hours. It all depends on what other cases are there or come in while you’re waiting. If you think about it before you leave the house, grab a book or your iPod in case you’ll be there for a while.

• If possible, have someone go with you or meet you there. You may need help getting your pet in and out of the car and into the hospital.

And it’s always good to have someone’s hand to hold while you’re waiting.

• Designate a single person to communicate with the veterinarian, so he or she doesn’t have to repeat information to multiple family members. Take notes or record the conversation on your smartphone so you can refer back to it.

• Don’t forget your wallet in your mad rush out of the house.

Most veterinary hospitals won’t treat your pet without proof that you can pay for care. Your regular veterinary hospital might do that if you’ve been a client for years – they know where you live and that you’re probably not going to skip town – but an emergency hospital isn’t in that position.

“It sounds avaricious, but there are not too many emergency hospitals that are going to do something on a handshake,” Johnson said.

“ERs usually see people once. They can’t separate out the people who are a risk of not paying from those who aren’t.

“They’re not trying to be greedy.”

• Know when to go. Some things are obvious. Take your pet to the emergency hospital in the following situations: allergic reactions, any animal bite, bloated belly, bloody diarrhea, difficulty breathing, distress from excessively hot or cold temperatures, eye injuries, frequent or projectile vomiting, heavy bleeding, ingestion of a toxic substance, such as antifreeze, human medications or snail bait, seizures, serious trauma such as being hit by a car, straining to urinate or defecate, sudden lameness, unconsciousness or collapse or venomous snake or spider bites.

If you’re not sure, well, we recommend erring on the side of caution. Like their counterparts in human medicine, veterinary emergency clinics are expensive, but sometimes the cost of a visit is a price worth paying for peace of mind. And when a visit saves your pet’s life? Priceless.