A Vet’s 5 Tips for Coping With a Pet Emergency

Even though I’m a seasoned veterinarian, I am as anxious as anyone when my pets are sick or injured. When my own little QT Pi was fighting for his life after a distemper outbreak in the shelter where we found him, I was in agony. And as a father, I’ve been on the other side, too: My daughter, Mikkel, often turns to me for reassurance when her dogs are sick.

So I understand when pet owners share with me how anxious they are during a petís emergency, especially if itís life-threatening. Iíve been there ó with my patients, my pets and my granddogs.

Over the years, Iíve found ways to cope during the long wait. Hopefully, my time-tested strategies will help you, too, if your pet is sick or injured. Though they wonít take away the stress and fear ó not completely anyway ó Iíve found that they help me to relax, so I can think straight and make good decisions. Fear and anxiety are normal reactions in an emergency, but they donít have to be in charge.

5 Things to Do in a Veterinary Emergency (and 1 to Skip)

Rely on your vet ó not the internet. Let’s start with what not to do: Resist the urge to Google your petís signs. An overload of information isn’t likely to be helpful ó it will just give you more things to worry about, which can increase your anxiety. Instead, put your trust in your veterinarian, who has the training, experience and insight needed to care for your pet.

Take a deep breath. When youíre confronting a pet emergency, remember to breathe first. Not rapid, hyperventilating breaths but slow, deep breaths. It will help to calm you. Taking deep breaths helps carry oxygen to the brain. Thatís going to help you think more clearly about what you need to do. Anytime you are stressed or fearful about something, you need to do four things: Stop, breathe, think, then act.

Reach out. Once you have your pet at the veterinary hospital and heís being cared for, donít sit and fret or pace the floor. Call a sympathetic, supportive friend, neighbor or family member. Talk out your worries with her. She might even come sit with you at the hospital. Even better, she might help you out by taking care of things at home for you ó walking or feeding other pets, for instance. A really great friend will volunteer to do these things for you, but donít be afraid to ask if you need help. Most people are glad to jump in if you just let them know what you need.

Stay busy.
Fretting while your pet is being examined or undergoing surgery isnít productive. Work on your knitting or crocheting, read a book, or watch something funny on television. Laughter is one of the best ways we can relieve tension, even if we are upset or sad or worried. It really is the best medicine.

Keep moving. Light physical activity can also help manage your anxiety. Do some stretches ó stretching increases blood flow to muscles and helps them to relax. It also sends blood to the brain, which can help improve mood and reduce stress. If your pet is in surgery or otherwise being cared for and thereís nothing else you can do, take a walk. The exercise and fresh air will help to soothe your fears. Taking a walk also increases your brain’s production of endorphins ó feel-good hormones ó which can help to reduce signs of anxiety.

Give yourself permission to cry. Donít hold in your tears. Itís perfectly normal to cry when youíre anxious or frightened. Those tears are your bodyís pressure relief valve. Shedding them may also release stress hormones from the body.

One last thought: It wonít help if youíre experiencing a pet emergency right now, but in the future, take a pet first-aid class. If you do have an emergency with your pet, youíll feel more confident about responding to it and then getting him the professional help he needs. Repeat the class annually to reinforce what you know and learn new information.

By Dr. Marty Becker | Vetstreet.com

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47 comments

Melania P
Melania Padilla20 days ago

Who searches on the web during an emergency? I call my vet! If not, another vet... Thanks for sharing

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Philippa P
Philippa Powers2 months ago

Thanks.

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Joanna M
Joanna M2 months ago

I agree with Heather G -- it's good to look online because you want to become a bit knowledgeable about whatever your pet is experiencing. I would never override the vet's advice, though.

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Rosslyn O
Rosslyn O2 months ago

These emergencies are a disaster, for we parents. I have had a couple of them recently with a dog, then my horse and almost over the the Galah illness. With our Vet some 6 hours travel by car, it means I have to be level headed for the most part. My Vet and the nurses have been so wonderful and take my tears and sniffles over the phone in their stride! They are all the most beautiful group of caring people. Jamal (dog) had to stay for almost 2 weeks and my hubby visited every day and stayed almost all day. Not only did he assist with our boy he helped out the nurses to walk some of the other patients as well. Jamal has taken 14 months to gain almost his correct weight, and his coat is growing back slowly. He lost his coat and nearly died 2ce, but happy to report he is fine now. captain gashed his bottom eye lid, but by a miracle it managed to heal fairly well with creams and bathing twice daily by itself. The bird, tore his toe nail (claw) off and lost almost half his blood supply! I sincerely hope that is all the animal traumas for this year...!

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heather g
heather g2 months ago

I think is helpful to look on-line...... perhaps because I enjoy being knowledgeable.

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Janis K
Janis K2 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Winn A
Winn A2 months ago

Don't just rely on a "google" search.

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Winn A
Winn A2 months ago

Find a vet practice you trust and ask questions and listen to their answers.

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Winn A
Winn A2 months ago

Thanks

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Winn A
Winn A2 months ago

It's the reason I still have my Timothy kitty.

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