Five Emergencies Every Veterinary Receptionist Should Be Ready For

We never know when an emergency is going to happen. You can be surrounded by people dropping off or picking up their pets, while the phone is ringing and in runs a crying person holding their injured animal. How you greet and react can turn a crisis into a calm and productive situation. At the same time, mishandling and emergency can intensify the situations, and is some cases put the health of an animal at risk. The best way to handle these kinds of emergencies in veterinary medicine is to be prepared. Knowing how to control an emergency situation will make you stand out as a veterinary receptionist and open opportunities for added responsibilities. To help you be prepared we have created a list of five of the most common emergencies and how you should proceed to treat the patient and their owners.

  1. Allergic reactions- Dogs and cats can have allergic reactions to a number of stimuli. Some of the most common allergic reactions that are seen in a veterinary hospital are vaccine reactions, bee or insect sting, and contact dermatitis. At first sight, many of the animals presented for allergic reactions may not look like emergencies. However, it only takes a matter of minutes for a swollen nose or injection site to turn into anaphylactic shock. As soon as an allergic reaction walks in the door alert a tech or nurse to examine and assess the situation. If they are not available take the pet to the back. A quick okay from a vet tech is easier to manage than a dog collapsing from being unable to breathe.
  2. Hit by car- An animal that has been hit by a car can have a variety of injuries. They may suffer from mild abrasions, cuts and bleeding. On the other end of the spectrum, they may have broken bones, internal bleeding, or a concussion. All of which require immediate attention. If the pet is able to walk into the hospital and appears to be doing well, call a tech to do a brief assessment and work the patient into the schedule. Obvious major injuries should be treated in the back right away. These injuries can be very painful, make sure to be cautious and use a muzzle, as needed.
  3. Open mouth breathing in cats- While dogs spend their days panting with their tongues hanging from their mouths, cats do not. A cat who has open mouth breathing or is panting is an emergency. You should politely, but abruptly stop communication you may be having with others and respond to the client. Carefully and quickly take the cat to the back and alert the team that oxygen is necessary. Cats who can’t breathe will become volatile. It’s recommended that you keep a stack of towels at the front desk. Use them to wrap the cat in as you carry to avoid bites and scratches.
  4. Toxicity- Animals love to eat anything and everything they can get their lips on. Toxicity in these found “treats” vary greatly from nothing to worry about to can cause acute death. Due to the wide range of treatments and outcomes from toxic exposure, it is always best to have a tech bring the pet to the back. While the team is evaluating the patient you should be getting more information. If the client can, have them bring in the box or container that the item came from. Find out how long it has been since the pet has eaten the item. Ask if the owner has noticed any changes in the pet, vomiting, diarrhoea, seizures, or any other neurological symptoms.
  5. Seizures- The hard part of triaging a seizure patient is that they may need emergency treatment and they may not. If the animal is actively seizing, then it is an emergency and should be brought to the back for treatment. If the pet has a history of epilepsy and has had a break out seizure, follow your hospital’s policy. If this is the first seizure and the pet has not been exposed to any toxins, they may not need to be treated as an emergency. Since the causes and frequencies of seizures is so diverse, it’s best to reference your hospital’s policy to manage these types of emergencies.

Being ready for an emergency is one of the best skills you can have as a vet receptionist. If you can control the environment, help the pet get treatment, and calm the pet owner you will find any emergency is manageable. One of the best things you can do is practice with your team, run through scenarios. Before you know you and your team will be emergency experts.