When to go to the vet?
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By Mickey Zeldes  April 5, 2013 12:00 am

When your pet is not acting right – lethargic, not eating, perhaps vomiting or having some diarrhea – when do you decide to take him to the vet? Emergencies are much clearer when injuries are involved. A broken bone or bleeding wound is a clear signal help is needed, but when your pets just aren’t quite acting normal, it’s a gray area. While you don’t want to fork over big money and seem like an overprotective parent, animals are stoic, and it can be hard to gauge what is a true emergency. No one wants to feel guilty later about waiting too long.

Vomiting can definitely be one of those gray area symptoms. No one should panic if an animal throws up occasionally. If you have a multi-animal household, as I do, it seems like there is always someone upchucking something – fur, grass and sometimes food. But when they continue well past the clearing the stomach point and into the dry heaves, it’s time to worry. Aside from the underlying cause of the upset tummy is the secondary issue of dehydration. Animals (and people) lose a lot of liquid when they vomit and/or have diarrhea, and that can cause other problems. What starts out as a simple upset stomach can quickly become a life-threatening situation.

A simple way to assess your pet’s hydration level is to feel his gums. Normally, they should be pink and very moist – almost slippery. If they feel dry and tacky (sticky) then the animal is dehydrated. You can also pinch the fur along the scruff and see how quickly and completely it falls back into place – a well-hydrated, healthy animal’s fur will fall back rapidly. But this is a less reliable test because other factors come into play.

With vomiting, you always wonder whether the pet could have ingested a poison of some sort or a foreign body (Labradors are notorious for eating weird things like socks and rocks) that could cause an impaction. Some of you might remember the story I shared a few years ago of our $4,000 cat toy that had to be surgically removed from the intestines of my Bernese mountain dog.

Which, of course, was forefront in my mind as I sat in our vet’s office all day Sunday with our sick dog. Our vet is open seven days a week, so I didn’t have to go to the emergency room. But because I didn’t have an appointment, we were there a long time, being squeezed in between their full schedule of clients. Poppy, my 8-year-old sheltie, was definitely not her active, happy self. She had started to vomit Saturday afternoon, and after emptying her stomach of all food, continued through the evening with the dry heaves. She seemed a bit perkier in the morning, so I offered her a tablespoon of rice and baby food. But an hour later, she gave it back (why does it come out an uglier color on the carpeting than it looked like in the bowl?) so we knew it was time to get the professionals involved.

Several hundred dollars and many hours later we had ruled out all the horrible life-threatening possibilities. With a shot of anti-nausea medication and a bag of fluids inside her, Poppy was acting (and probably feeling) much better. Final conclusion? She probably just ate something she shouldn’t and had a “gastro-intestinal upset” – meaning a tummy ache. Oh well, always better safe than sorry. But expensive lesson learned; I will keep a closer eye on her to make sure she doesn’t eat anything else she shouldn’t.

Bunny Day: Meet the Bunny Event, second Saturday of each month (next is April 13), 1-5 p.m. Meet our adoptable rabbits, have your care questions answered by our knowledgeable rabbit volunteers, bring your rabbit for a free nail trim and support our small animals by shopping our Bunny Boutique for fresh hay, treats and toys.

Animal Talk: There are still some openings for our next adult education program about pocket pets. Learn about guinea pigs, rats, mice and hamsters on Wednesday, April 10, from 6:30-8 p.m. The cost is $10 per person, and pre-registration is requested. Call 584-1582 or stop by the shelter for more info.

Dine and donate: Support us by enjoying delicious food at El Torito in Rohnert Park on Thursday, April 18, from 11 a.m. -10 p.m. Be sure you print out the flyer at our website (rpanimalshelter.org) to bring along with you, and we will get 15 percent of your food bill.

Mickey Zeldes is the supervisor at the Rohnert Park Animal Shelter. She can be contacted at mzeldes@rpcity.org.

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