Pets clearly don’t always get sick or hurt only during their veterinarian’s regular office hours. A handful of animal hospitals in the state offer 24-hour pet emergency care.
At the Animal Medical Center of New England, cases can vary by season, said Dr. Vindhya Cianelli. Dogs hit by cars and heat stroke are some of the typical reasons they see patients in warmer months.
Dr. Sara Junkin of the Veterinary Emergency Center of Manchester said in the spring and fall, staff there “see a lot of dogs who have tried to take on porcupines and come out on losing end.” Sometimes it can take hours to get all of the quills out, Junkin said.
AMC is busy around holidays, when pets eat things they shouldn’t. They see dogs that have gotten into the chocolate at Easter, or cats that have eaten lilies (toxic to cats). Toxins in general are a typical reason pets come in for emergency care, Chianelli said.
In the spring, patients end up at AMC after getting in dog fights, and the number of infectious disease cases usually increases, Cianelli said.
Cats with urinary tract infections are also common, Cianelli said. Pets also end up at AMC after eating things they shouldn’t other than human food — like a lot of Berber carpeting or sewing needles. Staff can use an endoscope for some of those cases, for example to find and pull coins out of a patient’s stomach, Cianelli said. AMC has a surgeon and internal medicine veterinarian on staff.
The AMC complex on Main Dunstable Road includes a crash center, surgical suites, a digital X-ray area, an ultrasound room, an area for dental work, a pharmacy, a lab for blood work and an ICU with an isolation area. The AMC emergency facilities are shared with their connected referral center. Among their gadgets is fluoroscopy, a real-time X-ray that uses low levels of radiation and can aid in surgery.
A crash cart for CPR is set up on a Craftsman tool cart, with emergency drugs, breathing bags, an oxygen supply and more.
Being able to do full blood work is important in an animal hospital, Cianelli said. You may need results of a test within minutes, Cianelli said.
The ICU isn’t just for intensive care, Cianelli said. It’s also where they monitor and administer fluids. A few patients were recovering there last week from issues like bladder stones, liver problems, knee surgery and ankle surgery.
One puppy was recovering from parvovirus, “a very scary disease” young or unvaccinated dogs might pick up in shelter situations, Cianelli said. Dogs coming from the South may suffer from it, she said.
The virus can attack the intestinal cells, and bloody vomiting and diarrhea are symptoms. Without treatment, dogs can die from parvovirus. Patients can recover if treated aggressively, with antibiotics, fluids and plasma transplants for instance, she said. The puppy had been under treatment for five days at AMC and was scheduled to head home.
One of the benefits of the AMC hospital is that it’s always staffed, so patients aren’t left alone overnight, Cianelli said.
AMC’s center includes a blood bank. So if your dog is hit by a car or has a cancerous stomach tumor, donor blood for transfusions is available, Cianelli explained. Cianelli said most donor dogs aren’t bothered by having blood drawn but some do need to be sedated. Pet owners are given discounts on services at AMC if their dog is a blood donor. The animals are given a complimentary physical before donating and are screened for diseases. AMC staff’s pets also donate, Cianelli said. And like human blood donors, animal donors are provided with snacks and fluids, and are monitored after they give blood.
When to call
People are usually pretty much in tune with their pets, and can tell when something is off, Cianelli said. Things like coughing, whining, restlessness, lethargy can be signs of trouble — besides obvious things like bleeding or trauma.
Cianelli said usually pet owners call AMC and ask if they should come in.
“I usually think if they are worried enough to call, they should come in,” she said. It can be difficult to figure out whether something is life-threatening over the phone. She also recommends checking the list of things to watch out for under “Emergency and Critical Care” at www.amcne.com.
Clearly, since pets can’t really discuss or describe what’s ailing them, diagnosis requires other means.
At the Veterinary Emergency Center of Manchester, a physical exam and history from the owners help staff reach their conclusion. They also have X-ray and blood work capabilities.
The ultrasound is an invaluable diagnostic tool, Cianelli said. It can show whether there’s something stuck in a patient’s chest, whether there are bladder stones, or how many babies a pregnant patient is carrying. AMC can create a video of the ultrasound for the patient’s primary veterinarian.
A dog might be so excited once he’s at AMC that adrenaline increases, and he’ll hide his symptoms. That’s one instance when tests can be critical — an X-ray showed something lodged in intestines in one case, she said.
Junkin said it’s good to establish a relationship with a primary veterinarian and find the baseline of what’s normal for your pet, which in turn helps during emergency situations.
Veterinary Emergency Center of Manchester focuses on “companion animals” and “pocket pets” like ferrets and guinea pigs. AMC has seen a piglet, a goat and a chicken suffering from a dog bite — but they don’t see large animals.
The Veterinary Emergency Center of Manchester was founded by a number of animal hospitals in the area from which veterinarians used to rotate on-call duty, until they hired full-time veterinarians. Currently, the center is owned by a single veterinarian.
General practitioners might leave the AMC number on their answering service or refer pet owners to AMC if the emergency is beyond what their office can handle, Cianelli said.
The Veterinary Emergency Center of Manchester is strictly an emergency clinic, Junkin said. A lot of primary care veterinarians do surgeries or bring surgeons in, she said.
For Cianelli, one challenging difference from human medicine is that in veterinary practice, cost is always a factor. It’s tough, she said. She’d like to be able to just worry about helping the patient, rather than costs, she said.
AMC tries to work with patients who have financial constraints, and is seeing more owners using pet insurance.
Junkin said Veterinary Emergency Center of Manchester hasn’t seen a tremendous amount of pet insurance users. However, it’s the pet owners who pay the veterinary bill initially anyway, and the insurance company reimburses the owner, Junkin explained.