On the Road Veterinary Emergencies

Photo © Sumner Fowler

A recent survey was commissioned by Petplan Pet Insurance to determine the popularity of traveling with pets. Among the 3,300 responders, 70% reported that their pets accompany them on vacations. I’m not surprised by this whopping statistic- we are a society in love with our pets! The fact that so many people leave home with their four-legged family members in tow supports the notion that, sooner or later, a medical emergency will land many of these travelers in an unfamiliar veterinary setting.

While in the midst of an emergency with a pet, it is normal to feel distraught. Add to the mix a waiting room filled with other sick or injured animals, a new veterinarian (who may not look much older than 18) bustling from room to room, unfamiliar technical staff, and higher fees, and it just might be tempting to interrupt your vacation and head straight back to the home front.

Fear not. Here are some pointers for keeping your visits on foreign veterinary soil a bit more relaxed and productive for everyone involved:

  •  Travel with your pet’s medical records. Having access to this information can make all the difference in terms of enabling a veterinarian examining your pet for the very first time to expediently get to the heart of the matter. Sure, you or a staff member can call your family veterinary clinic to have records emailed or faxed, but what if it’s the middle of the night or the weekend? (And don’t forget about those time zone changes.) What, you don’t have a copy of your pet’s medical record? Time to change that! I invite you to take advantage of the free “Advocacy Aids”  I have created. If there is no smart phone app for storage of your pet’s medical record, now’s the time to invent one! Be sure to include vaccination history, current medications and diet (you’d be surprised how many folks don’t know the brand name of what they are feeding), medical record notes pertaining to all major health issues, and results of all laboratory testing, X-rays, and ultrasound evaluations.
  •  If the emergency arises when your veterinary clinic at home is open for business, ask the doc examining your pet to call your family vet to check in. He or she may be able to provide some insights based on their history with your pet.
  •  Don’t assume you must make rushed decisions. Ask the emergency vfet which choices truly need to be made right away and if recommended therapies must happen immediately. For example, does your dog’s broken leg really need to be repaired in your current Texas location, or can a splint be applied for travel and pain medication administered until you reach your family vet in Florida?
  •  As you likely know, not all daytime veterinary practices and off-hour emergency hospitals are created equal. When you arrive at an unfamiliar facility, trust your gut just as you did when selecting your current family veterinarian and clinic. If your gut is telling you to get the heck out of Dodge, pay attention! Granted, depending on location, you may not always have a choice, but don’t deny yourself the opportunity to try again if more than one option exists. To learn more about evaluating veterinary health care providers, I encourage you to read, “Finding Dr. Wonderful and Your Mutt’s Mayo Clinic” in Speaking for Spot.
  •  Just because you are in an emergency situation does not mean you cannot educate yourself about your pet’s condition and make good choices. Ask a staff member for pertinent reading material. While you are hanging out in the waiting room, whip out your smart phone and do some Internet research (educate yourself in advance about surfing responsibly). Call a friend or relative who is not under the influence of adrenaline to serve as your sounding board.
  •  Take some deep breaths and monitor your own pulse rate! The last thing your sick little buddy needs is to feed off your anxiety.

Medical emergencies are never fun, particularly when you are on the road. When the need for veterinary care arises during your travel, step up to the plate as your pet’s medical advocate just as you would in any other situation. You have the means to make a positive difference.

Have you ever experienced a veterinary medical emergency while on the road? What were you able to do to make a positive difference?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

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5 Comments on “On the Road Veterinary Emergencies

  1. As usual, excellent advice, Dr. Kay! I think the info on asking the right questions and finding out what you need to do right now vs. what can wait are especially helpful bit of info for folks to know. The piece on responsible surfing is one that should be printed out and given to every pet owner in the country – weekly!

    Thanks again for another gem!

  2. Hi Dr Kay,

    I wanted to mention that whenever I travel with “the kids” I make sure to take note of the veterinary hospitals that I pass by as we are getting closer to our destination just in case I find myself needing one. I take a mental picture of the place and location and store that away until its time to leave.

  3. Great advice, Dr. Kay. I would also add that it helps to research available veterinarians and/or emergency clinics in the area where you will be ahead of time, including directions to get there from your vacation spot. That way you won’t waste critical time having to find out what’s available. I’ve traveled often with my dogs and have in general been lucky (knock on wood a thousand times) not to have had any major problems. I did once cancel a trip to place that I was really looking forward to because my dog was recuperating from a major illness and hospitalization that had taken place about two weeks before. Although she was doing well, the chance of a recurrence was high and I was unwilling to have her far away from the vets who had been treating her. We rescheduled to a closer place and thankfully did not need medical care while we were away!

    I love the idea of having all your pet’s records with you and will implement that for some upcoming trips that Alli and I will be taking this fall. Simple concept but one I hadn’t thought of. Thank you!

  4. As someone who travels extensively both by air and truck with their dogs I’d be interested in your suggestiOns for basic first aid to take along.

    For what it’s worth I generally have Imodium, benadryl, tweezers, vetwrap and a maxipad with me at all times. The last two can act as a pressure bandage. And please remember that you may have to muzzle your dog to help him if he is panicked or in pain.

  5. Great, practical advice as always, Dr. Kay! I’ve used your Advocacy Aids when I’ve traveled and left my dogs in the care of a friend. Just knowing she had all the info on my older dog with her (suspected) IBD and what has become the “normal” symptoms for her gave me peace of mind (it helps that my friend is a dog person, too).

    I’m thinking it wouldn’t hurt for me to fill out some of these forms and post them on the frig in case my husband actually had to care for the dogs!

    Thanks, again, for all the helpful information.