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Exclusive: Behind the Scenes at an Animal Emergency Hospital

The facility in Plano, Texas, has the equipment to handle most things seen in a human ER; one night shift reveals just how much that's needed.

Arden Moore  |  Jun 23rd 2016


Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the May/June 2016 issue of Catster print magazine. Click here to subscribe to Catster magazine.

At 8 p.m. on a Saturday, I waded through the crowded lobby at the Emergency Animal Hospital of Collin County in Plano, Texas. The lobby was occupied by people holding leashes, mindlessly tapping empty pet carriers, and speaking in hushed tones.

Dr. Mike LoSasso checks out a cat at the clinic. (Photo by Arden Moore)

Dr. Mike LoSasso checks out a cat at the clinic. (Photo by Arden Moore)

In the corner sat a young woman cradling an orange tabby named Sunshine wrapped in a blanket and lacking the energy common for a typical five-week-old kitten. Sunshine was quiet and still.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with him,” said Ashley Grando, of McKinney. “He is very sick and even fell asleep in his water bowl at home. My regular veterinarian gave me medicine to give him, but he isn’t getting better. They ran tests on him tonight, and I’m waiting for the results.”

We nodded in that way pet parents do when we are fighting fear and helplessness. I wished her well, gently touched the top of Sunshine’s head, and headed for the door marked “staff only” that opens into the treatment area.

Inside, I quickly noticed how noisy it was and how fast staff members scurried. They spoke quickly and loudly to one another in a special, abbreviated medical code. Some tapped data into computers while others took vitals of the sick pets every five to 10 minutes. The best way to describe the scene: controlled chaos.

EROrangeKitty-01

Sunshine waits to see a vet. Photo by Arden Moore

“Basically, we can handle most of the things handled in a human ER — we have the equipment to do that,” said Dr. Dean Severidt, chief medical officer.

I spotted a veterinarian and two technicians huddled around a sweet shepherd mix on the floor. He came in with blood all over his front legs after somehow yanking out a front nail; The kept his paw elevated above his heart and used sodium nitrate to stop the oozing blood.

Then I glanced at the back wall and noticed a black-and-white kitten inside an oxygen tank. His breathing was labored. His name was April. His owner, Randolph Wheatley, of Allen, Texas, adopted what he thought was a female kitten a month earlier from a shelter. But the initial examination inside the ER treatment room by Dr. Mike LoSasso confirmed that April was a male neutered kitten about five months old.

I watched as LoSasso did a physical exam that included taking three X-rays. He scrutinized the images, shook his head, and headed to discuss the results with Randolph, waiting in an exam room.

“April’s heart is beating normally, but there is fluid outside his chest putting pressure on his lungs,” LoSasso began. “I suspect he has a viral disease called feline infectious peritonitis. This is a viral disease and unfortunately, not a treatable problem.”

This cat who arrived in the night waits to be assessed by a vet. (Photo by Arden Moore)

This cat who arrived in the night waits to be assessed by a vet. (Photo by Arden Moore)

Randolph sighed and dropped his head.

“April was so active up until a few days ago,” he said. “I have another adult cat at home. Could April give FIP to my other cat?”

LoSasso replied, “Yes. Transmission of FIP can occur through a bite. I am happy to sedate him to pull fluids to help him breathe better and to determine if it is indeed FIP. But even if it is not FIP, this fluid will come back. This is an awfully young kitten to have this significant of a problem.”

The conversation continued until Randolph acknowledged that his kitten would never get better or enjoy a full life. Back inside the treatment center, LoSasso gently stroked April before honoring his owner’s request to euthanize him.

“It is never easy, but he made the ultimate act of kindness for April,” LoSasso said.

When I finally looked up at the clock, it was 2 a.m. Five hours had never seemed to go by so fast, but the pace inside the ER treatment is swift.

On this night, dogs outnumbered cats by a wide margin. It turns out that is common.

“We have nights here where we do not have a single cat and other nights when we get many,” LoSasso said. “Part of the reason is because cats are much better at hiding their problems and, due to their sedentary nature, it can be difficult for owners to pick up early warning signs. And, cats are more nimble than dogs and seem to have more situational awareness than dogs do. Dogs are more trusting of their environments and cats are much more wary.”

Red alert

Here is a rundown of conditions that warrant immediate veterinary attention:

• Arterial bleeding
• Cat has difficulty breathing
• Massive trauma to the head, abdomen, or chest
• Broken leg or fractured ribs
• Deep cuts, bites, and puncture wounds
• Snake bites
• Shock
• Poisoning
• Cat is unconscious
• Seizure episode
• Cat is unable to walk

About the author: Arden Moore is a pet-behavior consultant, author, and master pet first-aid instructor who often teaches hands-on classes with her cool cat, Casey, and very tolerant dog, Chipper. Each week, she hosts the Oh Behave Show on Pet Life Radio. Follow Arden on Facebook and on Twitter. For Catster print magazine, she promises to give advice about healthy eating habits for your feline. Email your questions to arden@fourleggedlife.com