Moose’s recent illness has had me thinking a lot about my judgement as a pet owner. Because Moose often has a sensitive stomach, I often end up treating him at home. This last time, we needed the vet. But did I call for help quickly enough? Could I have saved him (and me) some suffering by calling the vet in sooner?
Between writing about pets for more than three years, working at the cats-only boarding and vet, and reading a lot of pet health books, I feel like I have a pretty good grasp of what’s an emergency and what isn’t. And a lot of times, diarrhea isn’t an emergency. Vomiting usually isn’t, either.
Some signs that you DO need the vet:
- Vomiting and diarrhea together. At this point, your pet is in serious danger of becoming dehydrated. Among other things, it can indicate a blockage in the digestive tract.
- Refusal to eat or drink for several days. Again, dehydration is a threat. More than 48 hours without eating or drinking should be addressed by a vet.
- Very dark colored, tar-like stool.
- Large quantities of blood in stool or vomit. A few drops or clots may not be an emergency — a little blood can signal irritation in the digestive tract, stress, or straining to potty. When Moose started passing blood last week, it was a lot of blood. The dark color of the blood told the vet that the problem was in the upper GI tract, rather than the lower. (Very bright red blood means the problem is in the lower GI tract, because the blood hasn’t been digested.)
- If your pet is showing signs of pain while trying to potty.
The type of care you give — and whether or not you treat your pet at home or at the vet’s — really depends on the owner’s ability to judge their pet’s comfort level. When Moose was sick, he wasn’t eating or drinking. That’s not like him at all, so I knew something was very wrong. When he passed what seemed to me like a lot of blood in his stool, I went into panic mode. I was sure he was going to bleed to death before I could get him to the doctor’s office.
Although my fears were unfounded — his blood tests showed that he was not anemic from blood loss — he did need to see the vet. And we had an appointment for that day… the bleeding just moved things up a few hours.
How do I draw the line? I treat what I can at home, but stay alert for signs of distress or serious health issue. In the case of Moose’s frequently sensitive stomach, I’ll probably continue to treat him at home… and see if things progress to the point where a doctor is needed. Nine times out of ten, he feels better after a change in diet (rice and chicken broth) for a day or two. The tenth time, we’re off to see the Wizard.