One of the most difficult things we have to decide as vets and nurses is what constitutes a real emergency? What can wait until the morning or an afternoon appointment and what needs to be seen straight way?

At Donaldson’s Vets we have a 24 hour hospital so that we can provide top clinical care at all hours of the day. We have a fully qualified nurse and a vet available to answer an emergency phone call at any time. Having worked in a veterinary practice that did not have this facility, I can see the real difference it makes, and most practices that don’t have a hospital now use an external company to provide this service for them. Donaldson’s Vets is a mixed practice so emergencies come in all forms – from lambings and calvings, to colics, lame cats and dogs or rabbits and guinea pigs that have been dropped or become poorly. It certainly keeps us busy!

This time of year signals the start of the emergency calving and lambing time. We will, for the next two to three months, have at least a couple of these a day. As Spring begins people will start riding their horses more often, taking their dogs for longer walks and cats will decide that the weather is more pleasing for hunting and exploring their territories. All of this means the chances of an emergency situation occurring increases, resulting in Spring being our busiest time of the year. Summer and autumn are very similar. We tend to find our small animal and equine emergencies remain high, whereas the farm side of things quietens down a bit. During Winter we tend to see less small animal emergencies for accidents, but there are Winter lambing and calving seasons that keep the case load high. Despite this, Winter is our quietist season.

Judging what is an emergency or not is not an exact science. Some people would not think twice about calling the vet out for a non-life threatening condition, whereas others will bring their pet down in the middle of the night for any sort of pain signs. Who is right? Both is the answer. Our job is to provide professional advice if asked and to see any animal that the owner wants us to. The owners see their pet every day and will know when they are “not themselves” better than we do.

Here are some very simple things you may find useful in assessing your own animal and that would require a phone call to your vets:

  • Gum colour – if the colour goes very pale or white.
  • Tummy swelling – if the tummy area swells, especially in big dogs, this is an emergency.
  • Breathing – any difficulty breathing, gasping or increased rate.
  • Mentation – If they are very dull and unable to raise their heads or get out of their beds.
  • Colic – horses that roll, keep getting up and down or kick their tummy area.
  • Bleeding – ears and toes bleed a lot, these usually stop though.
  • Twitching – muscles twitching regularly could be a sign of toxic ingestion.
  • Vomiting – uncontrolled vomiting, especially with blood.
  • Unable to stand on back legs – can be very painful.