Holiday Bummer Blog Answers ‘What Is an Emergency?’ (and Spreads Fear-Based Cheer and Goodwill)

The sprawling earth-warming record-breaking green Christmas of 50-degree weather and rainstorms once again fills us with nostalgia at this time of year.

Ice-cold eggnog and air conditioners whir to the crash of Christmas trees being brought down by your pandemic puppy’s first attempt to eat ornaments, your Aunt’s novelty gift of “football”-scented candles exude hints of leather and burning bushy cattails, and, of course, OF COURSE, your hypothetical 7-year-old son (who seems to only like the first bite of $15 pastries) has fed the tenth hypothetical chocolate Santa to his hypothetical best-friend dog, which is now hypothetically a zombie from the amount of hypothetical grapes, coffee, ant traps, and chocolate-based gifts he has hypothetically ingested by way of one’s hypothetical son.

And with this picture painted, I bring to you again another uplifting Spirit of the Holiday bummer blog post about EMERGENCIES and fear-based cheer and goodwill.

To ER, or not to ER?

Yes, you know that this time can be stressful for some. And despite my oddly disproportionate love of the holiday season that brings a 300X increase in workload and overall Things That Need to BE DONE RIGHT NOW, I never tire of holiday puppets playing jug band music as a soundtrack to the slew of catastrophic pet events that seem to dominate my life via a 24/7 stream of strangers reaching out to me because their cousin’s cryptocurrency dealer’s previous neighbor once brought their cat to see me in 2019 for a wellness exam and they heard that I would help.

And because this is my last blog post before my departure to the ER world, I also wish you all goodbye and thanks for everything.

Dr. Brett Grossman

And the question always comes down to a form of this: My dog/cat just did something to my something and is either acting undefinably weird, is sleeping, has blood pouring out of their eyeballs, or possibly coughed once.

Should I go to the ER right now despite having to meet my Anti-Vax Uncle from North Carolina at the airport in one hour? Or can I wait until next week when I will have more time?

So what is an Emergency and when should you act? And after I say you should go to the ER, when should you actually listen to me and when should you google to find out why seizures are normal for adult dogs staring at Christmas trees?

Listen to Your Veterinarian

First, I cannot know if anything is an emergency without evaluation. If you think your cat or dog is not doing well, is suffering, or if you need evaluation by a doctor to be able to enjoy said Anti-Vax Uncle’s visit, then just go to the ER. You don’t have to be afraid. Most ERs are equipped to deal with nervous dogs, cats, and people. The wait may be long, but that’s because there are 600 people on your block alone going through the same thing right now. So just go and treat your ER staff nicely.

Second, listen to your vet. I may have some bias, but we have families, pets, and a full schedule too. We have already squeezed in 10 people this morning, so even if you only want to see a particular doctor, if we tell you to go to an ER it’s not because we don’t care. It may be because we cannot give the treatment that your pet deserves given the schedule and our brain’s load of, honestly, dying and sick patients. If Sir Puggle Wuggle may have swallowed your friend’s custom-made Run-DMC Christmas ornament and is doing fine and you want to be seen, going to ER may be the only option.

So. What Is an Emergency?

  1. Anything your regular trusted vet tells you is an emergency. (Don’t try to out-google-smart them to get the answer you want.)
  2. If your animal is in pain: Crying, screaming, cannot get comfortable.
  3. If your animal is non-responsive: Won’t get up, won’t wag its tail, won’t respond to things it normally responds to.
  4. If your animal ingested a known toxin: Anti-freeze, chocolate, rat bait, a whole bottle of CBD chews that your sweet Anti-Vax Uncle brought you and then left on the table, Tylenol, an overdose of prescribe medication such as insulin or anti-inflammatories. You can always call the ASPCA poison control hotline for advice: (888) 426-4435
  5. If your animal is unable to breathe correctly: Wheezing, panting, congested, is turning blue.
  6. If your animal is bleeding from somewhere, and it will not stop.
  7. If your animal is having active seizures.
  8. If your animal is uncontrollably anxious and you can’t figure out why.
  9. If your animal has a broken bone, was hit by a car, suffered an extreme trauma like burn, severe cold, attack by a dog/coyote/Anti-Vax Uncle.
  10. If your animal cannot go to the bathroom (not hasn’t gone to the bathroom, but is trying and cannot).
  11. If your animal has GI distress: Vomiting non-stop, having non-stop diarrhea, not eating for days in a row.
  12. And, as a general rule, if you are freaking out because something is not right and you know your pet better than anyone else and you just know something is wrong. (This is valid.)

No One Likes a Holiday Tragedy

In these cases, and other select cases I didn’t think to mention, you can call and ask. But just plan on going to the ER.

I say this while acknowledging that not everyone can afford a visit to the ER, but don’t fear a $10,000 bill. Some things are the same price as a visit with us. Making a dog vomit up a Run-DMC ornament won’t be a life-altering expense, but waiting for the Run-DMC ornament to pass, it getting stuck, and needing a life-saving surgery in 2 days may be. It’s Like That and It’s Tricky.

I also realize that if you are home alone with a child at 2 am, you cannot always run somewhere and take care of it, but, sometimes, the alternative is to explain to an awake child something worse about Sir Puggle Wuggle, and then we are entering every Holiday Tragedy movie about angels in heaven, and I don’t like these movies at all. Nope.

What Isn’t an Emergency?

Note: Do not avoid going to the ER because of this list and blame me for it, but these are common things people call about that don’t require immediate attention.

Your animal is generally doing alright, happy and alert, but:

  1. Your animal hasn’t eaten today.
  2. Your animal had some loose stool (even a little blood in it).
  3. Your animal vomited twice this month.
  4. You think your animal may be losing weight.
  5. Your animal seems to be favoring one leg but is not in terrible pain.
  6. Your animal sneezed or coughed.
  7. Your animal has some discharge from the nose or eyes.
  8. Your animal didn’t go to the bathroom today.
  9. Your animal is scratching, you saw fleas, you found a tick and got it off.
  10. You saw some worms in your animal’s feces.
  11. Your friend/uncle’s dog just died of cancer and you are worried that your animal has it.

There are countless more. I’m not saying that these things aren’t worthy of being addressed. And of course if any of these things causes discomfort, pain, or anxiety on your part, going to the ER is not wrong. I’m just saying these things do not require immediate attention on Christmas Eve (or as we one-eighth Jewish Canadians refer to as “Justin Trudeau’s birthday eve”).

My Hopes and Wishes for You

I can totally follow a scenario where you keep your animal at home and monitor and one of these non-emergencies turns into one. But for now, there are plenty of OTC fixes that we can recommend to help before an ER visit is needed.

So, I hope all your holiday plans go seamlessly well without trauma or tragedy. I hope your new year is safe and fun.

And because this is my last blog post before my departure to the ER world, I also wish you all goodbye and thanks for everything.

Vaccinate, stay safe, and please read this book and become the tree you deserve to be.

Brett Grossman, DVM