A couple of weeks ago I was enjoying a Sunday afternoon walk along the seafront with my husband and our dog, when we came across a couple crouched over a small dog on the pavement. At first I thought they were drying the dog after a dip in the sea, but when we got close I could see that the dog was having a fit. I asked if I could help at all, and they were very relieved to find an off-duty vet on the scene.

Luckily all that was needed in this case was some advice and some reassurance, and the fit soon stopped. The owners were able to take him home to rest, and I advised them to phone their own vet to discuss what to do next. Blood tests to rule out certain problems would be helpful, but could wait until Monday. If the dog continues to have fits it might need to take medication to control them. If the fit had not stopped within 10-15 minutes, then an urgent call to the nearest vets would have been needed.

I have already written about fits in dogs in a previous blog, so I won’t repeat it all here. More detailed advice about dog seizures and fits can be found in the blog Epilepsy in Dogs and Cats.

Emergencies can crop up at any time, wherever you are. One tip that could help to reduce the distress in an emergency is to make sure that your usual veterinary surgery’s telephone number is in your mobile phone. If you take your pet on holiday with you, it would also be worth locating the nearest vets when you arrive and take a note of their number. Even if a problem occurs out of hours it should be possible to get help quickly by dialling the usual surgery number.

All veterinary practices in the UK have a duty to provide 24 hour cover for their patients, but the way in which they provide this may vary. In some practices, the regular staff will provide out of hours cover in the usual place. The advantage of this is having access to all the pet’s history, as well as familiar people and surroundings for the pet and owner. Other practices may share a rota with neighbouring practices. This might mean taking your pet to a different practice from your usual one, but each practice being on call less frequently can be a very efficient way of providing the necessary service. Another way is to use the services of a dedicated out of hours veterinary centre which is staffed by vets and nurses working shifts to cover all hours.

The single most important thing to remember when you have an emergency is to telephone first. Even if you know that your pet definitely needs to be seen, it will save time if you turn up at the right place and the staff are expecting you and are prepared for your arrival. In some cases, you may find that advice is all that is needed.

BrodieThe most common injuries which arise when out and about are things like cut pads, bite wounds, stick injuries and of course road accidents. Many illnesses can also have a fairly sudden onset, sometimes needing an out-of-hours visit to the vets.

Carrying a small first aid kit with you can help with emergencies such as cuts, bites or torn nails. If bleeding is part of the problem, then a temporary bandage applied just until you can get to the surgery can save a lot of mess but could also stop your dog from losing so much blood. A hankie or a sock can be very useful substitutes for a bandage, or anything clean with which you can apply pressure for a few minutes.

However, there is a risk of making matters worse if a bandage is too tight or applied for too long. The circulation may be reduced so much that tissue starts to die, so just use a bandage as a first aid measure until bleeding stops or you can get to your vet’s surgery.

The other thing that can reduce the stress when the unexpected happens is having your pet insured. This can give peace of mind by removing concerns about the cost of emergency treatment, allowing the owner to concentrate on getting their pet better as quickly as possible. Insurance policies vary in what is covered, so do compare the cover provided and not just the cost of premiums when taking out a policy.

Working as a vet seeing emergencies outside of normal working hours can be very interesting and exciting because you never know what sort of case the next one will be. As pet owners, we would all prefer not to have to make use of the emergency service but we are glad it’s there if we need it.

If you think you have an emergency please contact your vet or check your pet’s symptoms with our Interactive Pet Symptom Guide if you are unsure how urgent the problem may be.