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All Posts in Category: General Emergencies

Pets, Snowstorms and Winter Emergencies

Nearly half of the U.S. has been buried under snow this year. In Charlottesville alone, we have had multiple school closures and heavy snowstorms. And during such storms, we constantly field calls about what to look for in terms of pet safety and what constitutes an emergency when driving conditions aren’t optimal (making the trip to the animal hospital more than a little challenging). Hopefully this post will clear up some of these types of questions.

Trauma is one of the last things people consider to be a potential problem for pets this time of year, but it actually seems to be very common. Hidden ice can be just as treacherous for pets as for humans, often resulting in broken bones and/or soft-tissue trauma. Making sure your pet is always on a leash when walking on potentially icy areas — and avoiding icy areas altogether — is very important. Foot pad trauma and serious lacerations from sharp ice are also common problems. We also see a number of toenail traumas (pulled out toenails) due to getting caught in ice cracks or thick snow areas. The easiest solution to many of these problems is to outfit your pet with winter pet boots this time of year. Most dogs do just fine with tolerating the boots, which provide padding, grip and pad protection.

If you live in a neighborhood with outdoor cats, it’s very important to check under your car hood, near your fan belt and along the base of your car tires for a cat who may be using your vehicle to stay warm. Cats will seek warm spots in which to brave the cold, but they’re often unlucky in the timing of their naps. The severe trauma that comes from engine damage, once the car is started, unfortunately is something many veterinarians see far too often.

Trust the old adage that if it’s too cold for you outside, it’s too cold for your pet to stay outside. If you can’t bring your pet into your house, consider a garage, basement, barn or heavily sheltered area with a heat source like an overhead heat lamp or heating pad. Many people assume that pets have thick fur coats and can adapt to frigid temps, but a domestic animal can get wet and hypothermic outside in a matter of minutes. If you suspect your pet has hypothermia, please SLOWLY start warming them up until you can seek veterinary help. One of the worst things you can do is warm an animal too quickly after being very cold for a long time — gradual warming might make the difference between life and death.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you might be aware that antifreeze is toxic to pets and can lead to acute kidney failure and death (see our previous blog post here). There are some pet-friendly — and kid-friendly — antifreeze products made from propylene glycol, and we highly support using these. It’s important to check your car regularly to make sure you don’t have any unwanted leaks. These kinds of toxins are another good reason to walk your dog on a leash this time of year, to prevent them from ingesting fluids from underneath other people’s cars.

There are also many sidewalk deicers that are toxic to dogs and can endanger your pet’s safety. The majority are calcium based, which can cause local irritation to the skin and, in large enough doses, vomiting and diarrhea. Some magnesium-based deicers can, in large enough doses, cause hypotension, heart arrhythmias and unsafe changes in phosphate blood levels — conditions that would all require immediate veterinary care. If you think your pet may have walked through a deicer, you can wash the product off with water and a mild dish soap such as Dawn. In the vast majority of cases, doing so will be sufficient to prevent any problems. There are pet-safe, urea-based deicers on the market that cause less skin irritation, but these products are harder to find. Rock salt on roads and sidewalks can also be very locally irritating to skin and, if large enough amounts are consumed, can cause vomiting, excess drinking or urinating, muscle tremors and seizures. If you have put down rock salt, make sure you wipe down your pet’s feet after coming inside — and again, consider placing boots on your pet’s feet. As a good rule of thumb, all outside pets should have their feet rinsed after walking on treated sidewalks.

This time of year, people are more likely to put down rat and mouse poisons, because — just like us — rodents want to be indoors where it’s warm. Make sure any such poisons are placed in areas where your pet would have absolutely no access to them, and in places where a rat wouldn’t be able to drag the poison out in the open (see our post on rat poison here).

Another common seasonal toxin is liquid potpourri. Make sure your potpourri is in an area where pets can’t knock it over and get it on their skin, in their mouth or in their eyes; the liquid can cause ulceration to all these areas.

Finally, when people are “trapped” inside during the wintertime, they are more prone to consume alcohol, coffee and chocolate. Make sure these are all kept out of reach of your pets (see our previous post on common toxic kitchen items here). Snack foods and other human treats are never good for your pets.

If you happen to run out of dog food because you’re snowed in, there are many online recipes for bland, human-based pet food alternatives. Boiled chicken and rice is one of our favorites, but you can substitute pasta for rice, and hamburger or lean beef for chicken. Try to avoid raw meat and fatty or heavy foods like pork and fatty beef. You would need to transition your pet from bland dog food to human food (hopefully only for a day or two) and then transition back with very gentle meals. In these cases, multiple, smaller feedings will be much better for your pet than larger, heavier meals.

Remember, most cities and areas have an emergency vet office that will be open or at least available for calls during snowstorms. The Greenbrier Emergency office has beds for our on-duty staff, just in case, and we encourage you to give us a call if your regular vet is closed. Be safe, stay warm, and stay off the roads if at all possible — and think of the coming warm springtime weather!

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Skunks: P.U. — Stinky!

The skunk: an easily identifiable, cute, black-and-white animal (also known as polecats by some) with a nasty spray. Here at Greenbrier we receive numerous calls from clients about what to do when they find a skunk on their property, or when their pet (usually a dog) has been sprayed in the face.

Luckily the majority of skunk-sprayed animals will be fine, except for having a potent smell for days or even more than a week. After being sprayed, most pets will act as if they have been blinded and will have increased tear production and often a generalized red color to the eyes. Often a pet in this condition will paw at its face and nose. The best first step to treatment is rinsing the pet’s eyes with saline solution — the same solution used for contact lenses.

The next thing to do is attempt “de-skunk” the smell of your pet. Despite many rumors, tomato juice DOES NOT do the trick, and using this method will merely leave you with an animal that smells like both skunk and tomato juice. The best thing to use is a mixture of hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, and liquid soap or dish detergent, with the following recipe:

  • 1 quart of hydrogen peroxide
  • 1/4 cup baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon of liquid soap or dish detergent

Mix the three ingredients and apply liberally while washing your dog, then rinse with fresh water. You can repeat the washing several times and let the solution sit on the dog for 5-10 minutes each time. Unfortunately, the mixture is not stable once it is combined, so you will need to make a new solution each day you apply it. Be very careful to avoid getting the solution in your pet’s eyes, and try to keep your pet from drinking it (although drinking it will only upset his/her stomach, but likely will not do any real harm).

If you think there is any chance the skunk could have bitten your pet (especially if your pet killed the skunk), we recommend a rabies booster vaccine. Rabies is not spread through the spray, but generally only through saliva and blood. Your daytime vet can boost your pet’s rabies vaccine if you are concerned, as this is not generally an emergency.

Skunks are most active at night and move slowly. They are attracted to outside pet food bowls (just like raccoons and opossums), open garbage containers, and unsealed compost piles — so try to get rid of these kinds of attractions or protect/cover them, if possible. If you let your pet outside at night, use a leash if you suspect a skunk is on your property. Skunks usually try to give plenty of warning prior to spraying, so if you see one outside or startle one during a walk, you may have time to get away prior to being sprayed. Even baby skunks as young as 8 days can spray, so avoid the impulse to get too close, regardless of how cute they may seem. Skunks are active most of the year, but usually more so in the warmer months. While not true hibernators, they can go through a dormant stage for several weeks during cold weather.

A condition known as skunk toxic shock syndrome, which is VERY rare, occurs when some of the compounds in a skunk’s spray (thioacetates) destroy a pet’s healthy red blood cells. An animal experiencing this syndrome initially presents with weakness and pale gums and progresses to vomiting, diarrhea, seizures and anemia. While very rare, keep this syndrome in mind if your pet develops these symptoms hours or days after being sprayed, and have him/her examined by your regular veterinarian.

Hopefully this information will prove helpful if your animal is sprayed by a skunk, and it might even save you an unnecessary trip to the emergency room.

© 2013 Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital. All rights reserved.

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Cranial Cruciate Ligament (CCL) Rupture in Pets

One of the most common problems we see at Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital is lameness, and one of the most common causes is a cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) rupture.

The cranial cruciate ligament is found in the knee and prevents abnormal rotation of the joint, much like the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in humans. When the CCL ruptures, pets experience different degrees of lameness in the hind end. The injury typically isn’t acute, but rather stems from chronic degeneration that ultimately leads to lameness from a seemingly minor event (e.g., running in the yard or engaging in normal activity). Overweight pets; pets with abnormal conformation of the knee joint; and certain dog breeds, including Labradors and Rottweilers, are more predisposed to experiencing these kinds of injuries.

So what should you do if your pet is lame? Take him/her to your primary care veterinarian or Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital in Charlottesville, Virginia, to have the problem evaluated. On physical examination, the veterinarian may find “cranial drawer,” a term used to describe abnormal movement in the knee after a ligament rupture. Some pets have such strong musculature surrounding their knee that they may need to be sedated for the vet to be able to feel the abnormal movement. Next, the vet will likely recommend radiographs (x-rays) of the knee.

So what happens if your pet has been diagnosed with a CCL rupture? Most pets do best with surgery. Some smaller pets can recover with conservative therapy, which includes pain medication and strict exercise restriction for several months. Larger pets most often need surgery, and there are several different surgical options, depending on the pet’s size. Even with surgery, your pet will have to be exercise-restricted, but the recovery period is often shorter — and overall improvement often better — with surgery.

Now, when we talk about strict exercise restriction, we mean STRICT. No running, jumping, playing, chasing, being off-leash, jumping on the bed or roughhousing. As the rupture begins to heal and pets start to feel better, they will likely want to run and jump, and that type of exertion too early in the recovery process is one of the main reasons for surgical failure. What’s more, pets diagnosed with cruciate ruptures are more likely to rupture the cruciate in the other knee as well, and such a likelihood is increased if they are not exercise-restricted appropriately. So following a CCL rupture, keep your pet as calm as possible; sometimes it can be hard and seem like forever, but it will pay off in the end!

Another tip that will help with the recovery process is keeping your pet from licking at the surgical site — you may need an e-collar (a cone that goes around your pet’s head) to make that happen. Another cause of surgical failure is infection, so make sure your pet is taking all medications prescribed by your veterinarian.

One more important step in recovery for many of our patients is weight loss. Losing even just a few pounds will improve the recovery period and decrease the chance of having problems in the other knee. Weight-reduction plans as a preventive measure can reduce the risk of tearing the cruciate in the first place.

If your pet has been diagnosed with a cranial cruciate rupture and you have any questions, please call your primary care veterinarian, or give us a call here at Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital.

© 2011 Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital. All rights reserved.

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Food Bloat (Overeating) in Dogs

With the holiday season right around the corner, the thought of eating oversized, high-calorie meals is probably on a lot of people’s minds (for better or worse). But for most dogs, eating a large meal is probably on their mind all the time, holiday season or not. Yes, dogs love to get into food, beyond what’s given to them in their doggie dishes, and recently Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital has seen an above-average number of dogs that have done just that. From getting into the cat’s free feeder, to eating human party food left on a counter, to breaking into a cabinet where 8 pounds of dog food was stored, to entering a neighbor’s doggie door and gobbling up another pup’s food, we have seen quite a variety of overeaters lately. And while for people, apart from a bit of indigestion, eating a big feast might not seem that much of a problem, going on a food binge can become very serious very quickly for our canine counterparts.

When a dog has overeaten, many owners will notice their dogs acting restless and unable to lie down in a comfortable position. They may also start panting, drooling or even acting like they want to vomit (including frequent retching, with little to no food being brought up). The most telltale sign, however, is a distended abdomen that is hard to the touch. If you observe any of these symptoms, act quickly and bring your dog to your regular veterinarian during the day or Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital after hours. These symptoms can also be signs of an even more serious problem called GDV, in which the stomach can twist in your pet’s abdomen.

Overeating causes the pain receptors in a dog’s stomach to stretch, which in turn causes the discomfort they experience. The majority of ingested food is usually very dry in the stomach, so fluids from other parts of the body are often absorbed into the stomach, potentially causing your pet to become dehydrated quickly. The GI tract is also considered a shock organ, so any compromise to blood flow or fluid volumes is a serious concern.

In an overeating situation, when your pet arrives at our Charlottesville vet hospital, baseline radiographs are taken to see the size of the stomach, and additional radiographs are usually taken at 12 hours and 24 hours after presentation. An IV catheter is placed, and your dog is started on IV fluids and pain medications. We also tape-measure your dog’s abdomen to monitor changes in size and walk them every hour to help increase blood flow to the GI tract. Your dog’s heart rate and pulse are also monitored every hour. Inducing your dog to vomit when their abdomen is distended is usually contraindicated, as it could potentially rupture the stomach. In addition, with the stomach so distended, it can be difficult for them to vomit.

In more severe cases, depending on how your pet is doing, he/she may be sedated to have the stomach lavaged (which is sort of like stomach pumping) to help remove food. If foreign material is suspected or the food cannot be removed with tubing, surgery may be warranted. Thankfully, with aggressive fluid therapy and support care, most dogs do well after 24 hours.

In any case, be sure to take appropriate measures to keep your dog from getting into unintended food sources, and take caution the next time your pet overeats — as a “food bloat” can be far more serious than it looks.

© 2011 Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital. All rights reserved.

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Laryngeal Paralysis or “Lar Par” in Dogs

The larynx, which is the opening through which outside air flows into a dog’s lungs, allows for vocalization and prevents food inhalation (aspiration) — both of which are important functions. Paralysis of the larynx, otherwise known as laryngeal paralysis or “lar par” for short, means that either one or both of the vocal folds does not fully open during breathing. The condition can occur in cats but is more common in dogs, and specifically in large-breed dogs. It can be hereditary in Bouviers, Huskies, Bull Terriers, Dalmatians and Rotweillers and is also commonly seen (but not necessarily hereditary) in Labs, Goldens, St. Bernards and Newfoundlands.

The first thing you might notice if your dog is suffering from lar par is a change in his or her bark, which might sound more hoarse, because the vocal folds are not moving as they once did. Due to the importance of panting, which is essentially moving air through the larynx, as a cooling function in dogs, you might also find that your dog has exercise intolerance and/or might breathe very noisily or heavily in warm weather. As well, when paralyzed, the larynx might not be able to protect the lungs from aspiration, so your dog may experience coughing, gagging and/or retching. In extreme situations, you may even notice respiratory distress or heat stroke. The clinical signs usually correlate with the degree of paralysis.

To diagnose laryngeal paralysis, your veterinarian will need to do a sedated exam and watch the larynx move as your dog breathes. Because the larynx is so deep in the throat, it is not possible to get a good look at it without sedation. A workup for lar par might also include blood work on thyroid levels, since up to 10 percent of dogs with lar par also have concurrent low thyroid. Chest x-rays may also be taken if your vet suspects aspiration pneumonia, which commonly happens with laryngeal paralysis.

The only treatment for laryngeal paralysis is a surgical procedure to tie back the laryngeal folds. This procedure, actually quite common with race horses, is called a “tie back” and is usually performed by a surgery specialist — so your primary vet may refer you to a specialty practice. The surgery can only be performed on a stable patient, so If your dog has a lar par complication such as pneumonia, he or she will likely be hospitalized until stable enough for anesthesia and surgery. The major risk of the surgery is an increased likelihood of aspiration pneumonia, since the folds will no no longer able to completely close and protect the lungs.

Lar par is a disease that can range in seriousness from minimal clinical signs to severe respiratory distress and even death. If you notice any of the hallmark signs, such as a change in bark, increased respiratory noise, or exercise or heat intolerance, please bring this to the attention of your veterinarian. It is very important to note that dogs with this condition can overheat easily, so they should be kept in an air-conditioned environment and have limited exercise until they can be examined and/or have surgery. The good news is that after tie back surgery, dogs usually do quite well.

© 2011 Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital. All rights reserved.

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Pet First Aid: Responding to Pet Emergencies at Home

Working in emergency medicine, we get numerous calls from people wondering what they can do with their pet in an emergency prior to coming in to the office. While the majority of treatments on your pet should be done by a veterinarian or a member of a veterinary staff, there are some things you can do to help your pet prior to transport.

Preparing to Transport Your Pet
The most important thing to remember is that you should never do anything to assist your pet that will cause harm to yourself. Even the most gentle pet, when in pain, may try to bite and/or scratch you. The most frequent occurrence of this situation is after a pet is hit by a car — we often see clients who have been bitten by their pets while trying to tend to them and transport them. For dogs, placing a large blanket or towel over the head, with room for them to breathe, can help prevent injury to yourself. You can also use a towel with cats, and it’s a great idea to put on sturdy work gloves and a long-sleeved shirt prior to picking them up.

With an animal that has been hit by a car, it’s also helpful to slide the animal gently onto a board, blanket or sturdy piece of cardboard — this will help protect against possible trauma to their spinal cord or neck. It’s also important, especially in patients that are having trouble breathing, to keep your pet sitting up on their sternum (chest) — that will help them aerate both sides of their lungs and breathe more easily. You can place thick towels on either side of them to help keep them propped up in this position.

Getting Bleeding Under Control
When it comes to pet injuries, a bleeding pet typically leads to a frantic owner, so it’s important to stay calm and focus on helping your pet. To be prepared for such an event, having a first aid kit on hand for your pet — including gauze and materials needed to make a bandage — is a very good idea. One important initial word of advice is that if there is foreign material sticking out of the wound, do not try to remove it yourself. The foreign object could be pressing up against a blood vessel or penetrating an organ, and removing it could cause more harm than good. This includes foreign material sticking out of the eye.

For penetrating wounds (such as bites) and wounds that are bleeding heavily, apply firm pressure and place a firm pressure bandage over the wound. If the bleeding is on a limb, you can also try to raise that limb above the level of your pet’s heart to help slow the bleeding. For nose bleeding, apply ice to the bridge of the nose to slow it down, and try to keep your pet laying on their sternum (chest), as we discussed above.

One of the most common bleeding problems we see on an emergency basis is a bleeding toenail, which includes a toenail that has broken or has pulled out. This kind of injury can bleed profusely and run all over a floor or rug (I refer to this as “crime scene bleeding”). To help bring the bleeding under control at home, you can place the bleeding toe in some corn starch, a bar of soap or a stick of underarm deodorant containing zinc.

Dealing with Toxicities
Toxicities are also a common emergency we deal with here at Greenbrier Emergency. With so many different substances toxic to pets — and many substances you might otherwise not think of as toxic — always call a veterinarian if you suspect that your pet has gotten into something. In this kind of situation, many people consider trying to make their pet vomit to remove the toxic substance. But with some household products and medications, inducing vomiting in a pet can cause more harm than good. Your pet, if poisoned, may not be able to swallow correctly and end up inhaling some of its vomit, creating a whole new problem known as aspiration pneumonia. Also, some products can cause more irritation to the esophagus and mouth on the way back up than on the way down.

Because so many common plants are toxic to pets, I usually recommend that people keep a list of the types of plants they have in and around their house. Telling your vet, “they got into a big green one,” doesn’t help us pinpoint the exact toxic agent and resolve the problem.

For other common toxic household substances like rat poison, try to keep them stored in a place that is inaccessible to your pet. And if you smoke, don’t throw your used filters outside — nicotine is a toxic agent to pets, and any remaining tobacco, eaten by your pet in large enough quantities, can cause serious problems.

Call Ahead!
If you ever do have an emergency situation with your pet, if possible, please call a veterinarian or Greenbrier Emergency to let them know you’re on your way. That will help them get set up and be prepared to handle your pet’s specific problem and treat them as quickly and effectively as possible.

© 2010 Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital. All rights reserved.

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Oh no!! My pet had a seizure!!

Seizures can have a number of causes, including toxins, low blood sugar, low calcium, kidney or liver problems, blood clots to the brain or “strokes,” infectious diseases, inflammation of or around the brain, cancer, epilepsy, and trauma. In pets that are predisposed to having seizures, stress and different medications can also cause seizures. In addition, stopping certain medications can cause seizures.

Both cats and dogs, along with our exotics, can have seizures. Seizures can be focal (isolated) or generalized. Although cats can experience either type of seizure, they more often have focal seizures, which may include symptoms such as facial twitching, dilated pupils and running into objects abnormally. Sometimes cats’ seizures can be so focal that they go unnoticed for periods of time.

Dogs can also have both generalized and focal seizures. Generalized seizures often involve severe muscle contractions, loss of consciousness and repeated jaw clamping. They may salivate, urinate and defecate as well. After the seizure subsides, your pet may be disoriented, start pacing, seem confused, be blind, or display other abnormal behaviors (e.g., aggression, fear, etc.). This period can last for anywhere from minutes to hours.

Seizure frequency is widely varied. Some pets have one seizure and never have another. Some have seizures more frequently (e.g., once every 6 months), but their seizures don’t significantly impact their quality of life. Others have more frequent episodes that do affect quality of life and therefore require medication. And still others have such severe seizures that medical management is ineffective.

So what should you do if your pet has a seizure? Bring him/her in to a veterinarian immediately. Your veterinarian can administer medications to help stop the seizures and will also likely recommend blood work to rule out potential causes of the seizure. Your veterinarian may also prescribe medications to help prevent further seizures, depending on their severity. Not all pets require long-term medical therapy, however.

Seizures that repeat more than once during a 24-hour period, seizures that happen one after another, and seizures that last more than 4 minutes are medical emergencies that need to be seen immediately. If your pet is having a seizure, do not place anything — especially your fingers — in his/her mouth! During a seizure, a pet does not know what is going on and can bite without intending to. They will not swallow their tongue. Keep them away from stairs and other places where they can injure themselves. If your pet has had seizures previously, keep a seizure log of what time the seizure started, how long it lasted, whether there was anything different about the environment (stress and thunderstorms can actually precipitate seizures), whether it was a focal or generalized seizure, and any medications given.

© 2010 Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital. All rights reserved.

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Help! My Dog is Having a Seizure!

What is a seizure, and what causes a seizure?
A seizure is any sudden and uncontrolled movement of an animal’s body caused by abnormal brain activity. If you’ve ever seen your pet have a seizure, it can be very frightening. Seizures may be very severe, affecting the entire body, or more mild, affecting only a portion of your pet. During a seizure, your pet may or may not seem conscious or responsive, and could possibly urinate or have a bowel movement.

Seizures have a number of causes, including epilepsy, toxins, low blood sugar and brain tumors. If your pet has recently had or is currently having a seizure, we recommend that you bring your pet into Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital immediately. Our veterinarians can use diagnostic tools to help determine the cause of the seizure and treat the problem.

Diagnosis and treatment at the clinic
When you arrive at the clinic, your pet will be examined immediately, and a thorough neurological exam will be performed. If your pet is actively seizuring, an injection of valium or a muscle relaxer will likely be administered. Once your pet is stable, bloodwork will be recommended to help rule out metabolic disease and any possible toxins.

Some pets that have had a seizure get to go home that same day or night, but we may recommend that your pet stay with us for a longer period of time to monitor for additional seizures. We may also recommend inserting an IV catheter, so that we have access to a vein, should your pet start experiencing another seizure.

Depending on the results of the physical exam, neurological exam and bloodwork, your pet will be treated accordingly. If more advanced imaging diagnostic tools (e.g., CT scan or MRI) are needed, we may refer you to a specialty veterinary practice for further diagnosis.

What to do if your pet has a seizure
If you’re at home and your pet is having a seizure, and you are unsure whether or not to bring your pet in, please call Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital as soon as possible. If your animal is having a seizure, also be aware of the following recommendations:

  • Protect your pet during and after the seizure. Remove your pet from heights, and keep it away from water.
  • Remove other pets from the area. Sometimes, pets may act aggressively soon after the seizure has ended.
  • Keep your hands away from your pet’s mouth, as your pet may unintentionally bite you during a seizure. Pets do not swallow their tongues during a seizure.
  • Try to determine the length of the seizure, if possible.
  • If the seizure lasts longer than 3 minutes, call Greenbrier or your family veterinarian immediately.
  • If your pet has more than two seizures in a 24-hour period, seek veterinary attention immediately.

Above all, don’t panic! Call us here at Greenbrier, and our doctors and staff will be here to help you and your pet!

© 2010 Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital. All rights reserved.

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