Emergency Surgery

There are times when a pet requires immediate surgical intervention to save their life. There are also times when timely surgery is indicated to ensure the best outcome for your pet and waiting until the morning or after the weekend poses risks.

Examples of emergency surgeries include gastric dilatation & volvulus (GDV), hemoabdomen (free blood in the abdominal cavity usually from a ruptured mass), pyometra (infection of the uterus in an unspayed female), C-section (surgery to safely deliver puppies or kittens that cannot be vaginally delivered), intestinal obstruction or perforation, or a herniated intervertebral disc leading to paralysis.

When a pet presents with symptoms consistent with any of the above, they will be triaged straight to our ICU treatment area by a nurse. You will most likely be asked to fill an emergency consent form which will allow our veterinarians to perform basic diagnostics and treatment to help stabilize your pet.

Below is some additional information about a few of the above emergency surgeries.

Gastric Dilatation Volvulus

This issue is also known as gastric torsion or bloat and is characterized by a stomach dilated with air and fluid which rotates or twists on itself. Common symptoms are a painful and distended abdomen, retching without producing any vomitus, and abnormal behavior such pacing or inability to get comfortable. On presentation we may request permission to perform a radiograph to diagnose or rule out this condition. At this point your pet will be started on IV fluids and pain medication. GDV is most common in large, deep chested breeds such as Great Danes, German Shepherds, and Standard poodles but can be seen in other breeds of dogs and even cats. GDV is an emergency condition and can be fatal if left untreated.

GDV is a condition that can be prevented with a prophylactic gastropexy during which a part of the stomach is attached to the inside of the abdominal wall. The procedure can be performed on your pet when under anesthesia for a spay or neuter. The procedure isn’t a guarantee that your pet will not bloat, but it does drastically decreases the chances.


The abdominal cavity is a space containing many different organs, such as the stomach, spleen, liver, intestines, and bladder. A hemoabdomen is diagnosed when there is free blood in this cavity. The most common cause of blood in the abdomen is a ruptured tumor on the spleen or liver. Trauma or blood clotting deficiencies (as seen with some rat poisons) can also lead to a hemoabdomen. Common symptoms include pale gums, poor circulation leading to weakness and collapse, and abnormally cool extremities. Other signs that pets may exhibit include, but are not limited to, increased respiratory rate or effort, pacing, or a swollen abdomen. Patients experiencing a hemoabdomen are generally in shock and require immediate treatment including an IV catheter and fluid therapy. They frequently require surgery to stop the bleeding and blood transfusions to replace the lost blood. Continued bleeding can lead to severe anemia (a low blood count) and eventual death if not treated.

Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD)

Between each of the back bones, or vertebrae, is a cartilage disc that helps to cushion the vertebrae from the forces of walking and jumping. These discs are called intervertebral discs. They can become herniated or “slipped” and put pressure on the nerves of the spinal cord leading to pain and potentially paralysis. Patients with a slipped disc may have decreased activity levels, act stiff in their neck or back, possess a hunched posture, whine, not want to go up or down stairs, or they may appear like they are walking with a drunken gait. They also can be completely normal one moment, then run off or jump off the bed, cry out suddenly, and have limited mobility in the back limbs. Slow or sudden progression of signs are both considered emergencies. A sudden onset in a patient that is completely unable to use their back legs is considered more critical, and these patients should be seen by a veterinarian immediately. A neurologic and orthopedic examination will be performed by the veterinarian and diagnostics, such as radiographs (x-rays), may also be performed. Pain medication will be given at the veterinarian’s discretion and more advanced imaging such as CT or MRI and surgeryare indicated in severely affected patients..

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