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Triage is a system of sorting casualties into three different categories:
  1. Those that will live with or without treatment
  2. Those that will die with or without treatment
  3. Those with life-threatening problems that require immediate medical attention in order to survive
Critically ill patients or those with life-threatening illness or injury are always the first priority for medical personnel.
The goal of triage is to quickly identify problems that could be life-threatening so the opportunity to save that patient’s life isn’t lost.
Patients with potentially life-threatening problems fall into a rapid transport category which means that only life-saving interventions should be performed in the field and other first-aid interventions, like wound care, may need to be delayed until after the patient arrives at the hospital.
I have seen a lot of situations where pet owners or pet care professionals delayed too long providing too much first aid in the field and by the time the patient arrived to the emergency room it was too late for us to be able to save the patient’s life.
The focus of a triage exam is:
  • Vital functions: primarily airway, breathing and circulation
  • Disability assessment
  • Abdominal problems
Considering the mechanism of illness or injury is also very important and there are situations where a patient may appear stable in the field but regardless because of what happened to them or other concerns they must be transported to an emergency facility for immediate evaluation and care.
As a first aid attendant you must be able to recognize problems at triage that are potentially life-threatening. All of these patients need to get to a medical facility as soon as possible.
In critical patients, interventions in the field should focus on:
A) treatment priorities of the airway: making sure that the airway is patent
B) breathing for the patient: if they’re not taking breaths on their own
C) circulation: initiating CPR if necessary, controlling ongoing bleeding and assessing whether shock could be present
D) disability: recognizing the possibility of spinal cord injury or neurologic impairment and stabilizing the spine for transport
E) evaluating for problems of the abdominal cavity such as inability to urinate and a painful or distended abdomen and covering any penetrating open wounds to the chest or abdominal cavity.
In the critical patient you must initiate immediately-life-saving interventions as quickly as possible. Prepare the patient for transport and get on the road to the nearest emergency hospital as efficiently as possible – the clock is ticking.

Here are the 3 best pieces of advice from the emergency vet that could save your pet’s life:

1) DON’T WAIT TOO LONG TO GET HELP! If you wait too long, it could be too late. This is especially true for concerns such as laboured breathing, pale gums and weakness. You know your pet best, so if you are worried or concerned, “when in doubt, check it out!”

2) PREVENT THE PREVENTABLE. Learn as much as possible about dangers that face your pet, such as household poisons, seemingly harmless objects (such as toys, clothing, garbage and rocks), other animals, and vehicles. Pets are like toddlers and they need a responsible adult/babysitter to protect them from danger. Puppies and kittens need to start their vaccines at 8 WEEKS (and they need boosters too!) to protect them from deadly diseases.

3) BE PREPARED FOR THE WORST CASE SCENARIO. Have a plan in place, know your nearest emergency clinic, have the ASPCA phone number on speed dial. Know basic first aid training and CPR. But MOST IMPORTANTLY, BE FINANCIALLY PREPARED. The cost of medical treatment in an emergency, and the owners’ ability to pay for it, is probably the most important factor that determines whether a pet will receive the medical care it needs. The best way to protect yourself is to have good medical insurance for your pet. Do your research.

**REMEMBER**: WE ARE ALL ON THE SAME TEAM, with the best interest of the patient as everyone’s first priority. Let your vet do what he/she does best, and don’t try to grab the steering wheel and obstruct your vet from doing his/her job. We are all in the same car, we are all headed to the same place, but only one of us has the driver’s license (meaning, only the vet has the medical training and background to “drive the car”).

Please remember to spay/ neuter your pet, and to donate to your local animal shelter- they really need your help!

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