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Find information on animal health topics, written for the veterinary professional.

Introduction to Emergencies

By Rebecca Kirby, DVM, DACVIM, DACVECC, Executive Director, Animal Emergency Center ; Kirk N. Gelatt, VMD, DACVO, Emeritus Distinguished Professor, Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Florida ; Pamela Anne Wilkins, DVM, MS, PhD, DACVIM-LA, DACVECC, Professor of Equine Internal Medicine and Emergency/Critical Care, Section Head, Chief of Service Equine Medicine and Surgery, Department of Veterinary Clinical Medicine, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Illinois


Emergencies include serious injuries from accidents, burns, stings, bites, and possible poisoning. Sudden illness, or an ongoing illness that suddenly becomes worse, can also be an emergency. These conditions all require immediate veterinary attention.

You can reduce the likelihood of many of these situations, for example, by keeping harmful substances away from your pet. However, it is impossible to ensure that your pet will never have a medical emergency. By their very nature, emergencies are typically sudden and unexpected. Regardless, you can be prepared to respond if an emergency occurs.

Keep information about your pet’s medical history and your veterinarian’s phone number easily accessible. Make sure you know where the closest 24-hour veterinary emergency hospital is located. It is also a good idea to keep a first aid kit on hand to treat minor emergencies.

Emergency patients present special challenges because underlying problems may not be evident for 24 to 48 hours. Many variables contribute to the overall success of emergency treatment, including the severity of the illness or injury, the amount of blood or fluid lost, age of the animal, previous health problems, and time delay in beginning therapy.

Know Your Pet

Knowing your pet’s habits will help you recognize when something is wrong. Sudden changes in your pet’s normal physical condition, gait, activity level, eating habits, elimination habits, or grooming habits can indicate a medical problem. Being able to recognize an emergency and get your pet to a veterinarian quickly is one of the most important things you can do to ensure successful treatment.

First Aid Kit

You can purchase a ready-made pet first aid kit or make one yourself. A pet first aid kit generally includes basic items similar to those of a human first aid kit. The first aid kit should have a secure lid and be kept where you can find it quickly.

Be sure you know how to properly use the first aid kit. You may be able to enroll in animal first aid and CPR classes through your veterinarian’s office, local community college, or groups such as the Red Cross.

Of course, a first aid kit is not a substitute for veterinary care. Take your pet to your veterinarian as soon as possible to determine the extent of the injury or illness and for followup care.

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