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When you live with dogs medical emergencies can and do occur. Last week, Corey had an health crisis that required me to put my “emergency plan” into action.  It worked pretty well so I thought I’d share it with you.



Friday morning I gave Corey some medication and followed by a treat as a reward. Rather than swallow it, Corey choked on the treat. I knew instantly that it had gone into her airway.

1. Confine other dogs.  As soon as Corey gagged, the other dogs came running.  The puppy was licking Corey’s face and the other two dogs were milling around nervously. I quickly locked them away. Their behavior is normal for dogs but not helpful.  Dog fights are not unusual at times like this.  A sick dog may be frightened or in pain so may lash out. The healthy dogs may be confused by the sick dog’s behavior so may attack. It’s best to separate them to keep the situation as calm as possible.

2. Prioritize problems.  Years ago, I was taught the following priorities for human medical emergencies that I also use them for my dogs:

a. start the breathing

b. stop the bleeding

c. treat for shock, and in the case of dogs, bloat

If they cannot breathe, I cannot stop the bleeding, or they are showing signs of shock (pale gums, shallow breathing, withdrawing) or bloat, we head immediately to the vet.

3.  Think about how your dog’s history might affect the situation.  While I was observing Corey, my mind was thinking about her health and temperament.  She’s a 12 ½-year old golden retriever so she is a senior citizen.  Two years ago, she had major heart surgery to remove the sac around her heart.  She’d bounced back easily but I knew her heart was not normal.  As I watched her struggle with the cookie, I was debating about the risk of pneumonia or a heart attack.  However since she is a friendly, stable dog, I wasn’t worried about her becoming aggressive due to fear, pain or handling.

4. Assess the situation.  Since Corey was able to breathe, I watched her for 15 minutes.  She was getting air but her breathing was ragged.  She began shivering.  I could hear her stomach churning.  Suddenly, I saw her stomach expanding.  Within minutes we were in the van on the way to my vet. Why did I leave then, not earlier?

a. Breathing.  Since Corey could breathe, I was willing to wait to see if she could cough up the treat.

b. Pain.  Dogs rarely whine or cry from pain.  Instead they shiver just like they are cold.  Corey’s shivering showed she was in pain but I was still hopeful she could cough up the treat, which would fix the situation.

c. Bloat.  When Corey’s stomach began to expand, I feared she was on her way to bloat from pain and fear.  Bloat (gastric dilatation) is when the dog’s stomach fills with air and on occasion twists (gastric volvulus).  Bloat is a dire emergency for any dog.  If this is happening to your dog, do not pass “Go,” do not collect $200.  Go directly to your vet (or a closer one if your dog is showing severe signs).

5. Call the vet sooner rather than later.  I have my vet’s phone number memorized but also have it in my cell phone in case I forget in moments of crisis.  I had already called to let them know what was happening.  Once Corey’s stomach started blowing up, I let them know we were on the way.  Between the two calls, they knew what was going on so were ready for us.

Otterkill Animal Hospital

Corey’s regular veterinarian

6. Know where to go and how to get there.  You can’t call 911 for dogs so it’s up to you to know where to go during emergencies.  We ended up at the emergency clinic on Saturday so I was grateful I had done some prior planning.  Prior to Corey’s emergency, I had:

a. discussed emergency options with my vet at an earlier visit

b. Googled the clinic he recommended, looking for information and reviews

c. driven by when I was out doing errands.

d. called to get some key information

e. put their phone number and address in my cell phone

Vet Specialty Center of the Hudson Valley logo

My Emergency Clinic

Thus, when Corey and I headed to the emergency clinic on Saturday, I knew:

a. how to get there
b. how long it would take
c. they had veterinarians and technicians on 24/7
d. they accepted my credit card for payment but they needed a large deposit before any treatment

7.  Have accident and injury pet insurance.  Years ago another Corey crisis inspired me to get pet insurance for accidents and injuries.  Although I save money for my dogs’ routine care, I know how fast emergency vet bills can pile up.  Within 15 minutes, I was looking at a $1200 vet bill for a tiny little cookie.  Knowing that Pets Best would pay over $800 of that made it much easier for me to approve Corey’s treatment plan.

Thankfully, Corey is resting comfortably and should recover from her Cookie Caper within a week.

What is in your emergency plan for your dogs?

This summer I have logged over 7,300 miles in the van with my dogs (and another 7,000 miles without the dogs) so travel is on my mind.  Many people have emailed me about how easily my dogs travel so I thought I would share some of the things I do to make sure trips with my buddies are safe and fun.  Whether you want to go near or far, these suggestions should help you.  I will post Part 2 later this week.

1)      I teach my dogs to love the car.  I start taking my puppies on car trips before they are 8 weeks old with short trips to fun places (NOT just the vet office for shots), usually with or to visit dog friends.  We work up to longer and longer trips, till my dogs ride calmly for upwards of eight hours at a time.

If you travel a lot, teach your dog to love the car by starting with slow, short trips on straight roads, perhaps just up and down your driveway or neighborhood street.   I find the biggest mistakes people make when teaching their dog to enjoy the car are:

a) Only taking their puppy or young dog in the car when going to the vet.
b) Driving too far or too fast in the first few trips.
c) Confining the puppy in the back of the car, away from people, too soon.

The Dogs are Ready for Our Trip

The Dogs are Ready for Our Trip

2)      My dogs always travel with restraint.  After their very first trip home, my dogs always travel in crates or with doggie seat belts, for their safety and mine.  I start my pups out in small crates on the front passenger seat where I can comfort, praise and reward them during the trip.  Only once they are calm during these early trips, do I move them further from me and confine them with seat belts or a larger crate in the back of the car.  No matter their age, my dogs have water to drink, bones to chew on, and toys to play with if they get bored while traveling.

SampleEmergencyDog Info

Emergency Dog Information For Traveling

3)      I keep emergency information and rabies certificates in the van.  Although I do not like thinking about car accidents, they happen.  I keep emergency information for my dogs on their crates and in the glove compartment just in case I am injured in an accident.  The emergency information includes a description and photos of each dog, medical information, and contacts, including my vet, with phone numbers.  I also carry copies of their rabies certificates stapled to the emergency information sheet.  Here is a .pdf copy of my form.  (You will need Adobe Acrobat or Adobe Reader to complete and print the form.)

4)      My dogs wear ID.  Although my dogs rarely wear collars at home, they always wear them while we are on the road.  Each dog’s collar is embroidered or printed with a contact phone number, their microchip number, and the word “Reward.”  (I use Reward to encourage whoever finds my dogs to return rather than keep them.)  I get embroidered collars from:

a) AKC Companion Animal Recovery–reflective collars printed with your dog’s microchip number, the CAR toll-free number and your dog’s name or “Reward”

b) Orvis–nylon and leather collars and harnesses that can be personalized

c) Cabela’s–nylon and leather collars that can be personalized

5)     We find places to exercise nearly every day.  Although I am tired at the end of a long day’s drive, my dogs are usually not.  Most highway rest areas have pet potty spots for quick visits but few offer places for dogs to relax or run (though I found some great rest areas on I-80 in Nebraska).  So how can you find places to exercise your dogs?  Here are three options:

Dog Park in Nebraska

Tessa and Glee Make Friends at a Dog Park in Nebraska

a) I often ask when I check into my hotel to see if the front desk clerk knows of local parks or trails. Many know the area well and can be quite helpful.

b)  Most GPSs have a “Park” feature that not only enables you to find parks but gets you there, too! State and national forests are often good best for open space and trails the dogs can enjoy.

c) Google “dog park” and the town you are near.  Many dog parks post their rules, photos and reviews on line, which makes it easy to determine if they are worth a stop.

Stay tuned for an update on Tessa and Part 2 later this week, including what to pack for your dog and how to avoid hotel room dangers while traveling.