Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Prepare for Pet Emergencies

Pet Column for the week of October 17, 2011

Related information:

Related site - Emergency Services at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana
Related site - Emergency Services at the Chicago Center for Veterinary Medicine
Species - Exotics

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Brittany Way Rose
Information Specialist

Profuse bleeding, a paralyzed limb, crying in pain, persistent vomiting or diarrhea—it's not too difficult to see that any of these are signs that your pet needs to see a veterinarian, pronto!

But what if something just seems not quite right with your pet? According to Dr. Maureen McMichael, a veterinarian at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana who is board certified in emergency and critical care, you should trust your intuition. Something could definitely be wrong.

Dr. McMichael offers these pointers on how to prevent, identify, and handle medical emergencies experienced by your pet.

First, make sure you have the phone numbers of your veterinarian and a nearby 24-hour emergency clinic handy. The "Good Human" emergency pre-registration program at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital is one way to keep the contact information at hand and also eliminate much of the paperwork involved in an emergency visit. Pre-registration also saves owners the new patient registration fee. Visit to learn about this free program.

Another important step is being aware of things in your home that could be toxic to animals, both to prevent poisonings and to recognize when that could be the cause of a sudden illness. Acetaminophen or other human medicines, grapes and raisins, and plants such as lilies are among the many household items that can be toxic to your animals.

If you suspect your animal has ingested something toxic, contact a veterinarian immediately. In some cases, you may be instructed to administer hydrogen peroxide to induce vomiting, so be sure to keep some on hand.

If you suspect your pet is choking on something, you can try to pull it out if the object is not far down the pet's throat. One exception to that is if your pet has swallowed string; in that case, seek veterinary care before acting. Pulling on the string could cause the taut string to rupture an intestinal wall, possibly leading to a deadly infection.

If an object is blocking your pet's windpipe, the Heimlich maneuver for animals is similar to the procedure used in humans. If your animal isn't breathing, call your emergency veterinarian immediately. You can place your mouth over their nose and give three quick breaths in order to help stimulate their breathing.

You can learn to assess your pet's vital signs to provide information to veterinarians who can decide whether emergency care is needed. Watching your pet's chest rise and fall with each breath can help you get a respiratory rate. Normal is between 12 and 15 breaths per minute.

By placing your hand on your pet's chest, you can feel the heart rate and determine whether it is increasing or decreasing. A normal heart rate is 60 to 120 beats per minute in dogs and 140 to 180 beats per minute in cats.

"Call ahead to the ER to let them know you are coming," advises Dr. McMichael. "That allows the clinic to prepare for your arrival. Many emergency clinics are open all day, every day, all year long."

When transporting an injured pet, you may wish to cover the pet's head with a blanket and ask a neighbor for help if your pet seems anxious or aggressive. To stabilize an injured pet, you can use a board to carry them.

A final piece of advice from Dr. McMichael is to consider taking a class on pet first aid and CPR from the American Veterinary Medical Association or the American Red Cross. The College of Veterinary Medicine offers such a course each spring through its Pet U owner education series (

Talk with your veterinarian to get recommendations for emergency care, and formulate a plan so you'll be prepared if an emergency situation arises with your pet.