Pet ICU - Critical Care for Dogs & Cats

Much like intensive care units for people, ICU for pets provides critically ill or injured dogs and cats with intensive - often life-saving - veterinary care. In today's post, our Boulder and Westminster veterinary specialists discuss the role of pet ICUs and when a pet may require critical care.

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.

Animals with serious illnesses or injuries that they may recover from require intensive ongoing care and monitoring, which is known as critical care (or intensive care). Pets receiving critical care are subjected to a range of therapies designed to increase their chances of 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 who are admitted to emergency veterinary hospitals with serious medical conditions, such as poisoning or multiple serious injuries from a car accident, might not recover enough to go home after being stabilized. These canines and felines will be moved to an intensive care unit (ICU) where they will receive round-the-clock veterinary care in addition to ongoing observation and treatment.

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 all veterinary practices have the resources or personnel to handle critical care cases. Specialized life-support technology, equipment, and a staff of specially trained personnel who are available around-the-clock are needed in veterinary intensive care units.

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
  • Defibrillator
  • 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 have a lower chance of survival, the people who work with them need specialized training in critical care. If your pet is in critical care, they will be under the supervision of highly skilled professionals such as veterinary specialists, 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
  • Dialysis
  • ECG
  • Chest tube
  • Catheterization
  • Nutritional support

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.

Our veterinarians has extensive experience providing life-saving care for pets. Contact Boulder and Northside Emergency Pet Clinics today to learn more about veterinary critical care at our Boulder and Westminster animal hospital.