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Life and death in the animal ER

After a radiograph showed there were no more rocks in Snickers the Chihuahua's stomach, the indiscriminate eater was cleared to go home from the animal emergency room.

Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Southern Oregon Veterinary Specialty Center in Central Point treats dogs and cats from Roseburg to Northern California and from the coast to Klamath Falls.

Lisa Thomas, of Yreka, California, said it's a constant battle to stop 7-month-old Snickers from gobbling up anything within reach.

"He's one of those dogs, if he sees something on the floor I race for it, and he usually beats me," she said.

Snickers' troubles started days before his most recent visit to the emergency and specialty care animal hospital.

"He was moaning. He acted like he was choking on something," Thomas said.

Instead of performing surgery, staff members at the center decided to let Snickers try to pass the objects he had consumed on his own. After a few days of dampened spirits, the Chihuahua had a successful bowel movement that produced a rock and piece of fabric, likely from a felt-covered ball.

"He's a totally different dog now. He's back to his regular personality, which is very friendly, very wiggly and very happy," Thomas said as she prepared to leave the center with Snickers. "The people here are amazing from the moment you walk in the door to when you leave."

Diana Schropp, managing doctor of emergency and critical care at the center, said the growing population in the Rogue Valley and surrounding region keeps the center busy. It typically has two to four veterinary doctors plus support staff working on the weekends.

"Some days we have animals everywhere. It's usually crazy at night and on weekends," she said.

Schropp said veterinarians who work in emergency centers like the fast pace, the adrenaline rush and knowing they are helping pets and owners in life-or-death situations.

As in human emergency rooms, waits for care can be lengthy, especially if veterinarians are dealing with more urgent cases. Animals are triaged when they come in. Some are sent to exam rooms, while others are whisked straight to the emergency treatment area.

The most serious cases typically involve trauma. Animals get hit by cars, are attacked by dogs and even get stomped by deer.

Toxicity is another common and potentially lethal problem, with animals ingesting human medication, marijuana, rat poison, household products and foreign bodies.

"Especially this time of year, dogs and cats like to eat things that are left on the floor," Schropp said. "Presents, candy, food products are all over the place. A lot of dogs especially feel that if it's left low enough, it's theirs and they'll eat it."

A Welsh corgi was being cared for in the center's intensive care unit after eating marijuana.

"People get really concerned because the dog seems drunk and off balance. They think the dog is having a stroke, but it's THC," said Schropp, referring to tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical compound in cannabis that produces a high.

Some animals can go home right away after ingesting marijuana, while others need intravenous fluids, charcoal to absorb chemicals or a special infusion to pull THC from the system, she said.

Schropp said dogs have been consuming marijuana even before THC-laced edibles became more popular.

"They'll pick up a plant or get into compost trimmings, and they'll eat it. It's amazing, but they don't have any discretion," she said.

For some pet owners, a visit to the center can be heartbreaking.

Surrounded by caring veterinary technicians, a boxer mix in the emergency care area shivered beneath a blanket on a metal exam table, an oxygen mask around its nose. Staff members diagnosed the dog with severe internal bleeding.

Although such bleeding can be caused by an injury, it can also be a sign that a previously undiagnosed internal tumor has ruptured, Schropp said.

"In 85 to 90 percent of cases, the tumors are cancerous. They have usually already metastasized by then and the prognosis is poor. The owners are looking at emergency surgery and a large bill — and it's Christmas. It's always especially difficult around the holidays," she said.

Rather than put the boxer mix through more suffering, the owners decided to euthanize the dog.

Brody the hound also came to the center facing a life-or-death situation.

He was hit by a vehicle and suffered head injuries with lacerations, internal injuries, nerve damage, a broken tail and abrasions.

Although the broken tail might have seemed like the least of his worries, nerve damage from tail injuries often involves damage to the nerves in nearby body parts, including the bladder. Such injuries can be life-threatening, Schropp said.

"A few days ago, he wasn't even able to get up," she said as she observed Brody walking gingerly on the floor of the emergency treatment area, the top of his head lined with staples. "He's able to urinate on his own now. It's really good to see him up and smiling."

— Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.

Pam Brown, a veterinarian at Southern Oregon Veterinary Specialty Center in Central Point, treats Snickers Thursday at the clinic. [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]