Last week, I met Bailey in rather funny circumstances that, nevertheless, could have had serious consequences had it not been for the intervention of his quick-thinking carer.

Bailey, is an 18-month-old Shih Tzu with a mind of his own, and his little accident happened during one of his baths. The Shih Tzu is a long-haired breed that needs frequent bathing to prevent its fur getting knotty and matted.

The problem with Bailey is that he does not like taking a bath, to the extent that he snarls and bites if anyone attempts to place him inside a bath. The only way Bailey will accept being washed is if he joins his carer while he takes a shower. The funny side of this turned unpleasant when, during his last shower, two of his toe-pads got trapped inside the shower drain cover. That day, I happened to be on emergency duty and it was quite a sight for me and other waiting emergencies to see Bailey coming in to the clinic with the shower drain cover attached to his toe pads like an oversized fashion accessory.

Bailey’s incident is a classic reminder of how beneficial timely response can be in an emergency situation. Within hours, his toe pads could have swollen to such an extent that the blood circulation would have severely compromised his delicate extremities.

The Veterinary Emergency Service has been running for many years now and is possibly unique in that it involves almost all vets in Malta, providing emergency services on a 24-hour basis. As vets, we get to see emergency situations that become critical due to long underlying causes, and we also get emergencies that happen due to an accident or something suddenly gone wrong.

Regular check-ups will go a long way towards reducing the possibility of emergencies arising from underlying disease that is not treated. As responsible pet owners, you should see your regular vet at least once every six months to examine your pet, discuss its body condition, required exercise for its lifestyle, regime, diet and feeding patterns, as well as planning and administering the recommended vaccination programmes according to your pet’s needs.

Depending on your pet’s age and condition, your vet may recommend blood tests for a more insightful check-up or as a screening test for prevailing diseases.

While such regular check-ups do prevent nasty surprises, emergencies can still occur. Indeed, while on emergency duty, I do come across cases that obviously do not suddenly occur on a Sunday afternoon or at 3am.

These cases usually find that the the dog or cat in question has not eaten for some three days, or there has been an unexplained change in weight or a sudden increase in drinking, all factors pointing to the vitalities of pets, since any variation may be a signal that something serious is amiss.

In an emergency situation, the best interests of your pet are best served in a clinic environment

In such cases, it is a good idea to speak to your vet and get timely advice rather than allowing the symptoms to escalate to the point where they become an emergency, possibly even life-threatening due to a failure to act promptly.

There are also emergency situations, such as what happened to Bailey, where things happen unexpectedly. The list is endless: play injuries, road traffic accidents, intoxications, sudden continuous vomiting or diarrohea, epileptic fits, collapse, severe respiratory problems, sunstroke and whelping difficulties.

These are all situations where you need to call an emergency vet if your vet is unavailable. If you do need the emergency vet on duty, you need to be in a position to help them work to the best of their capabilities. First and foremost, that might mean being prepared to transfer your pet to the clinic.

I often get requests to attend to emergencies at owners’ houses. This is sometimes doable. Often, it is not. If you think about it from the human aspect, when you’re faced with an emergency, you take the patient to a hospital where all life-saving medical equipment is available. Due to the anxiety of the moment, you may wish the vet to call at home. The fact is that in an emergency, the best interests of your pet are best served in a clinic environment where diagnostic equipment such as X-rays and blood analysis can be performed, where medication is available and where surgery can be performed if required. If you don’t have a car, many taxi firms nowadays accept animals, particularly when they know that it is an emergency.

Once you agree a time to meet at the clinic, it is important that you’re punctual since you might be compromising the vet’s availability in other emergencies. In fact, there are situations where the patient simply cannot be transported to the clinic due to the case.

Such a situation occurred a few years ago when I was called out to a residence to attend to a German Shepherd that had got its head firmly stuck between the metal bars of a gate. The dog had panicked and lunged about trying to free its head. We had to give him a heavy sedative and with careful manipulation, plenty of soapy water and willing hands we managed to pull him free. It was the same process with Bailey.

Within 30 minutes of Bailey getting his toe pads stuck in the drain hole, his quick-thinking carer had unscrewed the drain hole cover and rushed to the clinic. The metal cover was constricting the upper narrow part of the toe pads. The difficulty was in getting the cover over the fatter parts before the toes swelled up.

Bailey was sedated and, using an alternating mix of soapy water and delicate manipulation of the toes, he was quickly released from his encumbrance. Well done to his owner for acting so promptly. You might like to take note of the following emergency phone numbers to save to your contacts list:

• 52 50 2000 is the Malta Veterinary Association (24-hour service). This service provides you with the possibility of having your pet seen to and treated at any time of day or night by the roster vet on duty. Calls to this number cost €5.

• 7940 4030 is a veterinary emergency helpline intended to give immediate advice on how best to deal with your emergency.

Dr Martin Debattista is a veterinary surgeon.

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