I have been working as an emergency vet for almost 10 years. Friends and family are always asking for my advice on everything from their pet’s diet to their pet’s dental hygiene.
But if you ask me, when it comes down to the two most important things that make a real, life-saving difference in true life-or-death emergencies in the animal ER every day, it all boils down to this:
- Have medical insurance.
- Don’t wait too long.
Sure, we and our pets should all strive to lead a healthy lifestyle. This means eating healthy food, getting plenty of exercise, having good dental hygiene, being happy, managing stress in our lives, attending to routine wellness check-ups, etcetera, but at the end of the day, even very healthy individuals can have major accidents and can get really, really, really sick. Living a healthy lifestyle reduces the risk of many illnesses and has too many other benefits to count, but it is not a guarantee.
The young and healthy patients that end up in the ER are the ones that everyone wants to save the most! The 1 year-old shepherd mix that gets clipped at 70 km/h on the highway, the 4-year-old cat that gets his chest chomped by its owners’ friend’s Rottweiler, the 5 year-old border collie that gets meningitis. These are all young, healthy pets facing catastrophic medical situations.
Have medical insurance
In life-or-death emergencies, the clock is ticking and every second counts. Not to mention, every minute, every hour, every day in the hospital adds to the medical bill. Catastrophic medical crises are incredibly expensive to treat. The amount of materials, labor, diagnostic tests, man-power and medications that are poured into saving these lives is truly eye opening.
Have you ever seen a pet rack up a $5K medical bill? $10K? $20K? $30K+? I have. And I have also seen those pets fully recover, go on to live a happy, healthy life…never looking back. Most of those pets either have really good medical insurance or an owner that is able and willing to come up with that kind of cash.
Many people look at those figures and say “What? For a cat? For a dog? That’s ridiculous! Time to get a new one!” Some people get angry. Some people don’t believe it. To be honest, most pet owners I know have absolutely no concept of the financial reality of medical care in situations like this.
When it comes to catastrophic medical crises, the emergency vet doesn’t have control over that degree of cost. This isn’t a nail-trim or an oil change, it is a full engine and body re-build on a truck that caught fire. It requires a team of veterinarians, nurses, assistants, 24 hour ICUs, specialty hospitals, surgical specialists and animal blood donors. Some of these pets need to use VERY expensive equipment, such as MRI (did you know an MRI machine costs $1-3 MILLION to buy?), mechanical ventilators, dialysis, CT scan, etcetera.
Most vets don’t like talking about this topic because it makes people uncomfortable and sometimes upset, but I wish that as veterinarians we could all do a better job of educating pet owners on the financial reality of medical care and the importance of having medical insurance. It would save so many pet owners the heartache and financial stress of having to make decisions between their pet’s medical care and their own financial well-being.
Most people truly do love their pets, just as though they were another family member. I hear it all the time: “Please, do whatever you need to do. This dog is all I’ve got!” We live in a world where families are divided and social stress is higher than ever. For many people, their dog or cat is the one continuous source of pure, unconditional love and light in their life.
Maybe early in my career, when I worked as a family vet, I didn’t realize how important medical insurance is, but the longer I have worked in the vet emergency room, the more pet lives I see saved by having good medical insurance. Sadly, there are many lives I see not-saved due to financial limitations, unpreparedness and lack of medical insurance. Having medical insurance is a no-brainer. In this post (Is Pet Insurance Worth It?) I discuss a couple of the different pet insurance companies and which ones I recommend.
Don’t wait too long
Again, in life-or-death emergencies, the clock is ticking and every second counts. It is much nicer when pets arrive at the ER moments before it is too late and not moments after it is too late. No emergency vet wants to fight a battle that has already been lost and no owner wants to regret having taken too long to get help.
If you are concerned about your pet, or your pet is behaving very unusually, please do not wait too long before seeking veterinary advice. The old saying in the veterinary emergency room is: “When in doubt, check it out!” Pets are much better than humans at hiding their illness. By the time it is obvious to the owners that there is something seriously wrong, sometimes it is already too late.
Just to mention a couple of signs that you should seek emergency care right away (don’t delay!):
- shallow or labored breathing (open-mouthed breathing in cats)
- difficulty getting up or walking
- reluctance to get up and move
- very pale gums
- loss of balance
- possible toxin or poison exposure
- major trauma: motor vehicle trauma (hit-by-car), big-dog vs. little dog (or cat), high-rise trauma (falling from a balcony, cliff, etc.)
- difficult or prolonged labour (pregnant pets)
- loss of consciousness or seizures
- severe pain
- distended abdomen
- active bleeding
- ….the list goes on and on, but again, “when in doubt, check it out!”
There is one situation that I want to mention further: Motor Vehicle Trauma. Dogs and cats are hit by cars all the time. Owners, bystanders and all kinds of people arrive at the scene, but these situations are notorious for excessive delay in transporting the pet to the hospital. In this post, “What to do when a dog or cat is hit by a car,” I walk you through the steps.
We all love our pets so act quickly when they appear ill and ensure you have pet insurance!