Saturday, 20 February 2010

Vet's Views

Veterinarian, Dr. Michelle Chiunti is a regular contributor to Cramahe Now. This month she takes a humourous poke at some the more unusual "emergency" calls.


The Funny Side

Michelle Chiunti, D.V.M.

Rinnnggg ..., Rinnnggg ..., Rinnnggg ..., Rinnnggg ... It takes at least four of these annoying sounds to wake the blissfully sleeping veterinarian on call for emergencies in the middle of the night. Even alarm clocks and ringing phones heard on television make my blood pump to jump into action. That call better be important.

As discussed last month, the dog or cat with constant vomiting and diarrhea, the cat unable to urinate and screaming in agony, the dog that just got hit by a car or poked by a porcupine, the bitch unable to have her puppies, the animal unable to breathe normally, or the cold and unresponsive animal are ALL emergencies. Over the years, though, it is hard to imagine the non-emergency calls we have received in the middle of the night.

Listening intently to the slurring person on the other end of the phone who just got home from the bar at 2:00 a.m. to discover that the new puppy just vomited up worms is NOT an emergency call. We all realize that our judgement is impaired after returning home from a night of drinking (that is why you took a cab home). However, before you pick up that phone to call the veterinarian about that “emergency”, I implore you to ask yourself these questions. Is your animal still happy, bright and more alert than you? Is that animal about ready to eat the vomit you just produced upon seeing the worms on the floor? Was this problem present before you went out partying? Will your animal live until the morning? The answers to all of these questions are “YES”. Therefore, your response will be to clean up all the messes, and call the veterinarian during regular business hours to arrange for deworming.

I also love hearing from shift workers in the middle of the night. Those whose night is day, and day is night forget that the world does rest opposite to them. We have had many midnight phone calls from shift workers regarding fleas and ticks on their animals. However, when you explain that they can come during the day to pick up the flea retardant of their choice, their invariable response is “but that is when I am sleeping. Aren’t you open 24 hours a day for emergencies? This is an emergency. My dog has fleas!” Fleas and ticks are NOT an emergency. Before you pick up a retardant, you can pick off and kill the pesty critters, eliminating half of the problem. It would also do well for you to remember that the veterinarian that you just woke up still has to put in a 10-hour day on top of managing your emergency flea problem in the middle of the night.

And then there is the invariably favourite emergency phone call about your dog being “stuck” to the neighbor’s dog. Yes, they are literally stuck together – it is called a “tie”, and they will part amicably in about 20 minutes. You will also likely have adorable puppies because of the “tie” in 63 days. Please do not disrupt this process as it could harm either or both the male and female dog. Look away, call your neighbour and start making plans for the impending birth.

Some of my all-time favourite emergency phone calls concern accidental medication ingestions. When your Labrador Retriever eats your pack of birth control pills, not to worry. Your dog will be fine (including fending off the neighbor dog’s advances!), but you may want to get to the drugstore as soon as possible.

Or the poodle that accidentally ate the anti-depressant that you just dropped on the floor. Your dog will also be happy for the rest of the day (who knows, it may even help the dog to be able to live with you more easily!). However, the possible side effects include monitoring him/her for suicide. Don’t let him/her near that rope toy for 24 hours! Luckily, the clients that I have talked to regarding these emergencies realize the humour in these situations, and it is easier to defuse the panic.

There are certainly some medications that are harmful if ingested by your pet, and calling your veterinarian or poison control center should be pursued. I am just saying that at times you can create your pet’s emergency without it trying hard.

At times, let logic, and sometimes sleep, prevail before you pick up that phone to call the veterinarian in the middle of the night.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for spreading the word on pet poisoning! Below is a list of the top 10 human medications most frequently ingested by pets, along with some tips from the veterinarians at Pet Poison Helpline on how to prevent pet poisoning from human medications.

    1. NSAIDs (e.g. Advil, Aleve and Motrin)
    Topping our Top 10 list are common household medications called non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), which include common names such as ibuprofen (e.g., Advil and some types of Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve). While these medications are safe for people, even one or two pills can cause serious harm to a pet. Dogs, cats, birds and other small mammals (ferrets, gerbils and hamsters) may develop serious stomach and intestinal ulcers as well as kidney failure.

    2. Acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol)
    When it comes to pain medications, acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol) is certainly popular. Even though this drug is very safe, even for children, this is not true for pets—especially cats. One regular strength tablet of acetaminophen may cause damage to a cat’s red blood cells, limiting their ability to carry oxygen. In dogs, acetaminophen leads to liver failure and, in large doses, red blood cell damage.

    3. Antidepressants (e.g. Effexor, Cymbalta, Prozac, Lexapro)
    While these antidepressant drugs are occasionally used in pets, overdoses can lead to serious neurological problems such as sedation, incoordination, tremors and seizures. Some antidepressants also have a stimulant effect leading to a dangerously elevated heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature. Pets, especially cats, seem to enjoy the taste of Effexor and often eat the entire pill. Unfortunately, just one pill can cause serious poisoning.

    4. ADD/ADHD medications (e.g. Concerta, Adderall, Ritalin)
    Medications used to treat Attention Deficit Disorder/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder contain potent stimulants such as amphetamines and methylphenidate. Even minimal ingestions of these medications by pets can cause life-threatening tremors, seizures, elevated body temperatures and heart problems.

    5. Benzodiazepines and sleep aids (e.g. Xanax, Klonopin, Ambien, Lunesta)
    These medications are designed to reduce anxiety and help people sleep better. However, in pets, they may have the opposite effect. About half of the dogs who ingest sleep aids become agitated instead of sedate. In addition, these drugs may cause severe lethargy, incoordination (including walking “drunk”), and slowed breathing in pets. In cats, some forms of benzodiazepines can cause liver failure when ingested.

    Pet Poison Helpline is a service available 24 hours, seven days a week for pet owners, veterinarians and veterinary technicians that require assistance treating a potentially poisoned pet. Staff can provide treatment advice for poisoning cases of all species, including dogs, cats, birds, small mammals, large animals and exotic species. As the most cost-effective option for animal poison control care, Pet Poison Helpline’s fee of $35 per incident includes follow-up consultation for the duration of the poison case. Pet Poison Helpline is available in North America by calling 800-213-6680. Additional information can be found online at