Pets can be a wonderful addition to the family and they can bring many benefits, but when they are injured or unwell they can also bring many worries and expenses. Many common problems can be identified and treated at home, so how do you know when to call the vet?
There is no simple answer, but here are some guidelines to help you work out whether a vet visit is required.
Is this a serious illness or injury?
Check their airway first; if there is swelling around the throat or they appear to be struggling to breathe, contact the vet immediately as this is an emergency.
If they are breathing normally and they are conscious and alert and bright-eyed, keep them calm and comfortable and monitor their condition, ensuring they have fresh water available at all times. Most animals will improve on their own, and do not require a vet.
If symptoms do not improve within a reasonable time frame, or they worsen, contact a vet for advice and describe the symptoms as accurately as possible. They will advise you on the best course of action based on what you have described.
Look at the whole animal
If it is a dog, is their tail wagging? Are they bright and alert? Did they immediately try to eat their own vomit? Are they snuffling around to find more food? Are they drinking normally?
If it is a cat, are they still grooming themselves? Are they still using the litterbox? Are they interested in what is going on around them? Are they able to stretch with ease?
Animals sometimes seem unwell for one reason or another but just like us, they can have an “off” day. If everything else about the animal seems normal, it’s probably nothing to worry about and you should just keep an eye on them to see if the symptoms continue or worsen.
You only need to be concerned if there are multiple symptoms or if there are obvious signs of illness (trouble eating, dull coat or eyes, loss of interest in normal activity, excessive drinking or urination, pain when eating or urinating, etc), or if the symptoms worsen. Otherwise, just make them comfortable and monitor them for a few days. You will often find that they will pick up on their own.
If they have not improved within a few days, contact the vet for advice.
Does this wound require vet care?
If it is a surface wound and it is not infected, you do not need to see the vet. Just keep it clean with some saltwater or betadine (never use antiseptic liquid such as Dettol) until a crust appears. Remove any foreign matter such as dirt or gravel daily, and keep it uncovered after the initial bleeding has stopped.
If it is a gaping wound, or it has “lips” that open when the area is touched, it is wise to have it assessed by a vet as it may require stitches or glue. Don’t panic if there is a bit of blood. Just apply firm pressure with a clean cloth or gauze until the bleeding stops, and bandage lightly until you can get to a vet if the bleeding cannot be stopped within two minutes.
If it is a deep wound and/or there is a lot of blood loss, call the vet immediately for advice.
Something just seems “off”. Should I see a vet?
If there is something that doesn’t seem quite right to you and you are worried, try to identify what it is so that you can describe it to the vet:
- They are not as energetic as usual
- They do not seem happy / They seem uncomfortable
- They are eating or drinking more or less than usual
- They are displaying a behaviour that is out of character for them (including things like digging or barking or failing to use the litter tray)
- They seem irritable
The vet can discuss your concerns over the phone and either suggest something for you to try, or advise you to bring them in. There are no guidelines for this one, it relies on you knowing what is normal for your animal.
Drastic changes require professional advice
If anything suddenly changes and it is alarming or worrisome, it is wise to call the vet for advice. Examples include seizures in an animal with no history, drastic behavioural changes such as sudden aggression or withdrawal, confusion or pain, biting or clawing at themselves with no known cause.
Any sudden and dramatic symptom may indicate the onset of a serious illness and requires professional assessment.