As a pet owner, we have to accept that emergencies involving your furry companion is bound to happen at one point or another. In a conversation with three vets from different clinics, it is revealed that some of the typical emergency cases they face are of ingestions of foreign objects or toxic items such as toys, chocolates, and grapes; respiratory, cardiac, or urination issues; traumatic accidents like fights, falls, and road accidents; vomitting and/or diarrhoea; as well as seizures.
If those incidents are as common as stressed by our panel of vets, it is only right for all pet owners to be aware on how to effectively handle such situations.
After all, knowing the right way to respond to such circumstances can sometimes make a difference between life or death.Precautionary measures
We all know that prevention is better than cure, but do you know what exactly you can do to deter your pet from getting into such sticky situations in the first place?
Keeping small objects away from the curious little one’s reach is the most obvious measure to keep in mind, but it is not enough to only think of non-edible items as potential threats. Consumables such as treats can pose as choking hazards too if they are too large to swallow; supposedly “safe” chew toys can also become dangerous if they have parts that can come apart after a chomp or two.
Still, more can be done to ensure our pet’s health and safety.
For paw-rents of felines, “cat-proofing” your home is the next big step to take. Due to their agility, you will often find them sitting in precarious positions, such as by the window sill, and assuming that they know better than to jump out is the biggest mistake you can make! Always keep doors and windows closed, or install fine mesh grilles in those access points.
Besides taking your furry friend to regular veterinary check-ups, you are also able to monitor certain aspects of their health at home.
“If your dog relieves themselves outside, let them do so on a piece of white paper or tissue paper so that the colour of the urine is visible. Any signs of abnormalities, such as redness or brownness, or the pet straining to urinate, or a sudden increase or decrease in frequency of urinating, are things to look out for,” elaborates Dr Brian Loon, Principal Veterinary Surgeon of Amber Vet and Ambet Cat Vet.
When outdoors, Dr Loon also advises having your pooch on a short leash during walks so that are within your sight at all times.What to do in an emergency
Still, should anything unfortunate happen to your furkid, there are ways to save them.
“The first thing to do is not to panic, and analyse what just happened,” says Dr Eugene Lin, senior veterinary surgeon at The Animal Ark.
He says, “In the case of choking, identify the hazard. If the matter is still visible in the mouth and not deemed to be corrosive or dangerous to yourself, quickly attempt to remove it with your hands. If it has been swallowed but is not causing obvious breathing obstruction, take your pet to the vet as soon as possible for a radiograph. Should it be causing the animal to choke, however, perform the Heimlich Manoeuvre (abdominal thrusts) by compressing the abdomen a few times to hopefully dislodge the object. When going to the vet, bring along a sample of the ingested material if possible; the vet will decide if it is safe to leave it alone and let the body purge it out naturally, or attempt an immediate removal by inducing vomiting through medication, conducting an open surgery, or performing endoscopy.”
Dr Jansen Ng from Companion Animal Surgery, too, says that pet owners should rinse the animal’s mouth with water should the substance they swallowed be potentially toxic, and to remove any observable remnants.
Too add on, Dr Loon reminds pet owners that it is important to seek veterinary attention within three hours to prevent the object from passing further through the digestive system. In other worrisome — yet not immediately life-threatening — situations, he shares that it helps to take videos or photos of any display of unusual behaviour or symptoms (such as paleness of gums).Treatment options
When it comes to giving our pets immediate medical attention, all three vets agree that endoscopy is the best approach; a majority of emergency conditions can be resolved with endoscopic procedures.
Otherwise known as minimally invasive surgery or keyhole surgery, endoscopy is an umbrella term for the use of endoscope — essentially an illuminated, slender, and miniaturised camera — to take a look at the internal organs by projecting the magnified images on a monitor. Despite the use of the word “surgery” in its alternative names, endoscopic procedures do not necessarily involve incisions being made as the endoscope — which can be rigid or flexible — can be inserted via natural orifices.
Dr Lin explains, “Prior to the availability of endoscopy, most choking hazards were removed with a long grasper with the animal under sedation or general anaesthetic. Objects stuck in the throat are highly difficult or impossible to remove as access and visibility down the throat is very limited. Foreign bodies in the stomach were removed through open abdomen surgery, while those down the oesophagus require an open chest surgery (thoracotomy). These procedures are fraught with technical difficulties and high mortality rates, especially in smaller-sized animals. The incisions made for these procedures are large and may cause considerable blood loss, post-operative pain, and wound dehiscence.”
“In contrast, endoscopes can be guided smoothly down the throat, oesophagus, and stomach. As no incisions are made, the pets experience minimal pain and enjoy quicker recovery, sometimes even returning home on the same day as the procedure.”
He then recalls a case he once treated. “Recently, I treated a six-year-old Shih Tzu, it was a small dog weighing about 15kg. The owner had given his dog a 15cm-long rib bone as a treat, and turned around just for one moment before facing the dog again. In that split second, the treat had disappeared, and his dog was sitting on the floor eager for more treats! The owner thought of it as the dog appeared normal — at least until it started yelping in the evening. Only then did the owner realise that it might have been the bone that was causing discomfort to his dog.”
“The owner brought his dog to a family veterinary clinic where they had a radiograph taken, clearly showing the bone sitting in the proximal oesophagus all the way to the stomach. It did not even stop the dog from having more treats though! The clinic referred them to me and I performed endoscopy on the dog that night itself. The procedure went well without any complications, and the dog went home that very night and was eating normally the following day.”
Dr Loon also explains that endoscopic procedures for removal of ingested foreign bodies allow the opportunity to examine other organs — as the endoscope passes the organs on its way down to retrieve the object — for any secondary injury such as tears or ulcers. This advantage was evident in a case he once treated, where a dog had swallowed a fishing hook.
“The removal process was tricky as the hook had already pierced through the oesophageal wall. My team and I had to be very careful, patient and resourceful in removing the hook,” he recalls. In such cases, the use of the endoscope was also crucial in inspecting the throat for any collateral damage. Fortunately, the hook was dislodged successfully and the dog recovered.
Dr Ng, who faced a similar case, shares, “Once, I treated a dog who swallowed a sewing needle! X-rays showed that the needle was visible in the stomach. By using endoscopes, we could see that the needle had not lodged itself in inner walls of the organs, and that no consequential injury occurred. The needle was retrieved smoothly and successfully, also using flexible endoscopes, without causing further damage.”
Elaborating on other emergency cases, Dr Loon says that urinary obstructions, commonly due to stones lodged in the urethra and occasionally tumours, can also be resolved with endoscopic procedures. Urinary obstructions can be life-threatening as urine is retained in the bladder and further up to the kidneys, potentially causing kidney failure or ruptured bladder. Such conditions can be treated either by inserting a urinary catheter, retrograde flushing while the animal is under anaesthesia, or removing the obstruction using very fine endoscopes which can be inserted naturally up the urethra. Similarly, foreign bodies obstructing the airway can be removed through endoscopy as well.Where can I seek medical attention?
Thanks to the plethora of veterinary clinics dotting every neighbourhood, emergency care is highly accessible, and usually only a call away.
“Amber Vet and Amber Cat Vet has extended opening hours — up till 9:30pm on weekdays and 8pm on weekends. Beyond that, we have an emergency hotline to call for emergency consultation and treatment outside our official hours,” says Dr Loon. “We are equipped with intensive care facilities to monitor and treat emergency and serious conditions. We also have overnight nursing care for all hospitalised pets, as well as appropriate boarding options that meets the varying needs of small to medium dogs, large dogs, those with infectious diseases (isolated spaces). On top of that, we have in-house diagnostic facilities to achieve immediate diagnosis, such as machines for blood, urine, and stool analysis, machines for X-ray machines, ultrasonography, and echocardiography, as well as different endoscopes.”
Likewise, even though The Animal Ark is not open round the clock, there is always an assigned on-call veterinarian on standby to tend to after-hours emergency cases. They are also able to engage the help of an external pet-ambulance to transport the patient to the clinic should they require it.
Companion Veterinary Clinic however, explains Dr Ng, is open 24-hours with a vet present on the premises at all times.