Preventing Pet Emergencies: Advice from a Critical Care Veterinarian

April marks Pet First Aid Awareness Month, a great time for pet owners to refresh their first aid skills and supplies. But beyond being prepared for emergencies, what if you could prevent a crisis before it strikes? Corinne Lawson, an Emergency and Critical Care clinician with UW Veterinary Care, recently shared a variety of tips to help keep your dog or cat out of harm’s way.

At its most basic, Lawson advises situational awareness – not putting your pet in a situation where they might need first aid. If you do have to administer first aid to your pet, they should always next be seen by a veterinarian. “The important thing — the huge thing — is that you follow up with veterinary care,” she says.

Gray cat next to Monstera plant
Corinne Lawson, an Emergency and Critical Care clinician with UW Veterinary Care, advises awareness about common household items that are hazardous to pets. For example, many plants are harmful to pets if ingested.

And if you are concerned about your pet but unsure if they require veterinary medical care, Lawson suggests you trust your instinct: Call your veterinarian or nearest emergency clinic to discuss the situation and decide if care is needed. In the meantime, be sure to observe your pet so that if anything changes, you can bring them in quickly.

Toxicities

In any season, toxicity is a concern and among the most frequent source of cases seen by the Critical Care team at UW Veterinary Care. If you suspect your pet has consumed a toxic item, contact your veterinarian or the nearest emergency clinic immediately. And do not induce vomiting unless you have been advised to do so by a veterinarian’s office.

Off-limit items: Lawson advises awareness about common household items that are hazardous to pets, where these poisonous items are located, and how to prevent access for pets. The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Website, Hotline and Mobile App is a helpful resource to learn what plants, human foods, medications, and other items are potentially poisonous to pets. “It’s important that pet owners know what is toxic,” Lawson says. “Part of the responsibility of having an animal is knowing what they should or shouldn’t have.”

Bad blooms: Many plants are harmful to pets if ingested and can cause vomiting, diarrhea or worse. For cats, lilies are especially toxic and can cause rapid kidney failure. “If you have a cat, they cannot be around lilies,” Lawson says, noting that all parts of the plant are toxic. “And don’t think that they won’t eat them, because they will.”

Dogged pursuit: Dog owners should think creatively about what things their dog might want to get into in the home and how they could access these items — counter-surfing included. “We’ve all seen the video of the beagle that moves the chair and figures out how to get on the counter to get whatever is up there,” says Lawson. Trash often contains bones and sometimes moldy food items that can be dangerous for dogs. Keep trash behind closed doors or in a secure container and dogs should never have access to a compost pile or bin. “Assume that dogs are little Houdinis that can get into or out of anything. If it smells good and it tastes good, and sometimes even if it doesn’t, they’re going to want to eat it.”

Prescription medicine bottle
All medications should be stored securely in cabinets or behind a closed door. And don’t assume that an animal can take the same drugs a human can. Lawson recommends not giving any medications to an animal without first consulting with a veterinarian.

Medicine cabinet: All medications should be stored securely in cabinets or behind a closed door. And don’t assume that an animal can take the same drugs a human can. As an example, common pain medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen and Tylenol can be dangerous for dogs and cats. Lawson recommends not giving any medications to an animal without consulting with a veterinarian first. Special attention must also be paid to keep chewable pet medicines out of reach of animals. “Especially in the veterinary world, there are some drugs that are made to taste good; they’re like treats,” Lawson explains. “That can be problematic because animals will eat a whole bottle.”

Bag check: An often-overlooked source of pet illness is items stashed in purses or backpacks, so be aware of your bag’s contents and where you place it. For example, candy or chewing gum that contains the sweetener xylitol can be a toxic temptation for curious pups. “Not many people think that gum is a bad thing and they have it in their purse or backpack, then they come home and their dog has eaten an entire pack. That can make them very sick,” Lawson says.

Other General Safety Tips

Walking precautions: When heading out for a walk, check the fit of your dog’s collar or harness. “We have seen many cases where somebody had their dog on a walk and it slipped out of its collar and got into a fight,” Lawson notes. “A lot of dogs also get hit by cars that way.” The collar should be snug, but not so tight that it restricts your dog’s breathing. “The rule we use is two fingers should fit underneath. And make sure you can’t pull the collar off over the head.” Also use caution with children walking dogs, as dogs can easily get away. And dogs should always be under supervision if leashed outside, as chains and tethers can break or uproot.

Yellow lab in e-collar
If you do have to administer first aid to your pet, they should always next be seen by a veterinarian. And if you are concerned about your pet but unsure if they require veterinary medical care, call your veterinarian or nearest emergency clinic to discuss the situation and decide if care is needed.

Regarding dog fights: If you are walking your dog and an unfamiliar loose dog approaches, Lawson suggests you assume that the dog has the potential to be unfriendly. Either pick up your dog (if they are small) or try to get away from the situation however you can. Should a fight ensue, do your best to break it up, but be careful to avoid being bit yourself. Lacerations and puncture wounds should receive veterinary medical care. “Sometimes there can be significant damage with no to minimal outward signs of injury, so if there was a fight, having your dog evaluated by a veterinarian is a good idea,” according to Lawson.

Dog parks: The pack mentality of dog parks can lead to frequent altercations. If you and your pup visit dog parks, be aware of your surroundings and how your dog is doing with the group, Lawson says. “If the dynamics of the group make you uncomfortable, and your dog seems uncomfortable, then you should leave.”

Closed-door policy: Dogs and cats are more likely to get out of the house when visitors are present or when outdoor activities have a lot of people going in and out. Be mindful of your pet’s whereabouts and encourage visitors to be cautious by doors.

Heat-related harms: Pet owners should take a number of precautions during warm weather, from using caution if exercising with your dog to being mindful of hydration. Learn more about heat-related threats to pet safety.

Meghan Lepisto


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