As a practicing board certified cardiologist, Dr. Wood wants all pet owners to understand one thing: sometimes despite your best efforts, your pet’s cardiac status will change suddenly. Recognizing the signs, and having a plan in place before an emergency occurs, could make all the difference in your furry family member’s ongoing cardiac care.

There are a few simple ways to prepare for an emergency ahead of time:

Know the closest Emergency Hospital

Research your area and locate the nearest emergency hospital. Your primary care veterinarian should have a recommended emergency facility and be able to provide you with their contact information. You may want to program their number into your phone, or keep their contact information and address on your fridge. ER photoYou may also consider taking a “test drive” to the facility. Knowing where to go will help you during the stress of an emergency situation.

Keep your pet’s medical history

Keep a folder of up-to-date reports, and bring it with you to the emergency hospital. Providing the emergency doctor with your pet’s medical history will give them immediate insight into how to proceed with treatment.

Have a specially-designated emergency fund

The last thing you want to consider when your pet is experiencing an emergency is the cost of treatment! Establishing a designated emergency savings account or credit card removes financial stress from an already stressful situation. Along the same lines, consider opening a CareCredit account specifically for emergencies.

So how do you know if it’s an emergency? The following are the top indicators of a change in your dog or cat’s cardiac status:

Respiratory rate

The resting respiratory rate (RRR) is a simple and powerful tool in assessing your pet’s cardiac health. The RRR is the number of breaths your pet takes per minute while sleeping or resting comfortably. We recommend regularly tracking your pet’s breathing rate so you have a baseline idea of “normal” for you pet. A normal RRR is less than 30 breaths per minute. If your pet’s respiratory rate while sleeping is elevated and stays elevated (sustained for an hour or more), your pet may be experiencing cardiac distress. You can download an RRR Log to track your pet’s respiratory rate.

Respiratory effort

Sometimes your pet’s breathing rate won’t be faster, but the effort will be increased, even when at rest. Your pet may need to be seen if their breathing is heavier, more abdominal, or seems strained. Continuous coughing, gagging, and choking could also be indicative of an emergency.

Sudden lethargy or weakness

Your pet’s energy and attitude are a good indication of how they’re feeling! A sudden change could be indicative of an emergency situation. If your pet seems suddenly lethargic, is having trouble walking due to weakness, or seems generally depressed, please seek emergency care.

For cats: sudden paralysis or dragging of a limb, particularly the back legs, could be symptomatic of a clot. Pain vocalization (yowling, crying, etc.) may or may not be present. If your cat experiences any of these symptoms, visit an emergency hospital immediately!

Gum color

Under normal circumstances your pet’s mucus membranes (gums/inner lips/tongue) will be pink. If you apply pressure with your finger, the gums should blanch white and return to their normal color within two seconds once pressure is released.  If your pet is experiencing cardiac distress their gums may be pale, grey, or white due to insufficient blood flow or purple/blue (cyanotic) due to improper oxygenation.

Trust your instincts!

You spend more time with your pet than anybody else, making you the resident expert! If you believe your pet is acting strangely or exhibiting unusual symptoms, don’t second guess yourself. If you think it’s an emergency, it probably is! Trust your instincts and knowledge of your pet’s normal behavior.

So you’ve evaluated your pet and feel they may be exhibiting emergency symptoms… how can an emergency hospital help? Emergency hospitals are specifically equipped for quickly assessing, stabilizing, and monitoring your pet. Often an emergency hospital will provide oxygen support or IV therapy during a cardiac emergency. Once your pet is stable they may perform diagnostics such as lab work, chest x-rays, or an ECG. Diagnostic results are shared with your pet’s medical team (including your primary veterinarian and specialists) and will help tailor your pet’s care plan going forward.

A few simple steps can make all the difference in recognizing a cardiac emergency, and responding in a timely manner. By knowing the nearest emergency hospital, keeping a copy of your pet’s records, and recognizing the symptoms of cardiac distress, you can give your pet every advantage in their fight against heart disease!

We are pleased to announce that Lake Oswego Veterinary Emergency (LOVE) joined the Animal Care Group of Lake Oswego team on June 1, 2015. LOVE offers overnight, weekend, and holiday emergency services. For more information, please visit their website!