Emergency Care, Critical Care or Hospice Care
Although the terms critical care and emergency care are often used interchangeably, in veterinary medicine there are some key differences between the two.
Emergency veterinary medicine focuses on helping animals suffering from acute illnesses or injuries that require urgent medical attention. While many pets receive emergency veterinary care and head home on the same day, others in need of more long-term veterinary attention may be sent to a pet ICU or critical care unit.
Critical care (or intensive care) involves the intensive ongoing care and monitoring of animals suffering from serious illnesses or injuries from which they can potentially recover. When in critical care pets receive a variety of treatments aimed at giving them their very best chance at survival.
Hospice care (or end-of-life care) supports pets in their final days, and ensures that they remain comfortable in their final stages of life.
Cases That Require Veterinary Critical Care
When seriously ill or injured pets arrive at the emergency clinic staff and emergency vets work to stabilize the pet's condition, next they will typically run a series of diagnostics to determine the overall condition of the pet and provide a diagnosis. At that point, a treatment plan is created.
Pets that arrive at emergency veterinary hospitals suffering from severe health conditions such as poisoning or multiple serious injuries sustained in a car accident may not be well enough to head home once stabilized. These dogs and cats will be transferred to an intensive care unit (ICU) for ongoing observation, treatment, and 24-hour care from trained veterinary professionals.
Other animals are transferred to critical care following complex surgeries, or if they are at high risk of complications following surgery such as very young pets, senior pets, or those with other health concerns.
Another example of pets that benefit from the intensive medical care provided in a veterinary critical care unit are those being cared for at home but suffering from chronic terminal illnesses such as cancer. If the pet's condition suddenly deteriorates hospitalization may be required.
Intensive Care Units
Not every veterinary clinic is equipped or staffed to handle critical care cases. Veterinary ICUs require specialized life-support technology and equipment, as well as a team of specially trained scheduled to work around the clock.
Temperature controlled, sterile, isolation areas are also a key component of veterinary ICUs since seriously ill animals need to be kept comfortable and away from other pets.
Some of the equipment you might find in a veterinary ICU includes:
- Critical care mechanical ventilators
- Multi-parameter monitors (ECG, blood pressure, pulse oximetry)
- Fluid pumps
- Oxygen cages
- Portable ultrasound
Types of Care Provided in a Veterinary ICU
Because pets in critical care face reduced odds of survival, staff working with these animals require specialized training in critical care. If your pet is in critical care they will be under the watchful eye of highly skilled professionals that may include veterinary specialists as well as experienced vets, technicians and veterinary assistants.
While in ICU you pets treatment may include:
- Regular blood pressure monitoring
- Intravenous fluid therapy
- Blood transfusion
- Medications to improve circulation, manage pain, or fight infection
- Oxygen support
- Mechanical ventilation
- Chest tube
- Nutritional support
Our team understands how stressful it can be if your pet requires critical care in a veterinary ICU, but our Santa Cruz critical care specialist wants you to know that we always have your pet's best interests at heart. We will do all we can to help your pet recover from whatever condition brought them into our care.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.