Intensive care

To save the life of your pet

What is Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care?

Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care is a veterinary specialty that could save your pet’s life! If your pet should become injured or suddenly develop an acute, life threatening disease, he or she will need prompt emergency care. In addition to requiring initial emergency treatment, many days may be needed for the disease process to run its course before recovery occurs. During this time, close monitoring and life support measures in the intensive care unit (ICU) may be needed. A vigilant team lead by a veterinarian who is specialty trained in emergency and critical care will improve the quality of care your pet receives during this crucial time, improving his or her chance for a good outcome.

What is a specialist in veterinary emergency and critical care? Does this involve additional training beyond their veterinary training?

A specialist in emergency and critical care is a specially trained veterinarian who is dedicated to treating life-threatening conditions. Yes, they do have additional training! They must first be a graduate of a recognized veterinary school, then receive a minimum (or equivalent) of 3 additional years of intense training in emergency, surgery and critical care through completion of an American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care (ACVECC)-approved training program. This intense program is referred to as a “residency” in emergency and critical care and focuses on the most up-to-date techniques for diagnosis and treatment of life-threatening disease processes in an emergency, and for the critical time while the animal is recovering. The emergency and critical care residency is supervised by mentors who have been through similar training programs and are themselves board-certified Diplomates of the American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care (DACVECC). Once the veterinarian has completed these years of specialty residency training, the individual must then pass a tough board -certification examination given by the ACVECC. Upon successful completion of the training and passing of the examination, the veterinarian is a Diplomate of the ACVECC, is termed a “specialist”, and is board-certified in veterinary emergency and critical care.

How do I know if a veterinarian is a specialist in emergency and critical care?

The veterinarian will be a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care (DACVECC). You can find out if the veterinarian is a Diplomate of the ACVECC by asking the veterinarian or looking for the ACVECC credential (DACVECC). The credential may be listed on stationery, or be on a displayed Diplomate Certificate issued by the ACVECC. You may also check with the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). You may also check our ACVECC web site where all ACVECC Diplomates are listed.

How can I find a specialist in veterinary emergency and critical care for my pet?

Diplomates of the ACVECC may work in an emergency practice, a referral practice with other veterinary specialists (surgeons, internists), in industry, or in an academic setting such as a University that has a Veterinary School where they treat sick pet animals and teach veterinary students. There are several ways for you to find an ACVECC Diplomate in your area. First, you may consult the ACVECC web site, where Diplomates are listed according to geographical location. Second, you may ask your veterinarian if the emergency practice in your area is led by a veterinarian that is an ACVECC Diplomate. Third, if your veterinarian refers your pet to a specialty practice for non-routine surgery, medical care or diagnostics, you can inquire whether there is an ICU with a life support team headed by a specialist in emergency and critical care, should your pet require intensive care and life support. A fourth way is to inquire at the Veterinary School in your area. You may ask if they have a fully staffed Emergency Room and Intensive Care Unit that is headed by an ACVECC Diplomate. If so, your critically injured or ill pet will be in the care of a fully-trained specialist. There are only 16 Diplomates of the ACVECC living in Canada.

How do I know if my pet needs a specialist veterinarian in Emergency and Critical Care?

First, ask your veterinarian. Any pet that is seriously ill might benefit from this type of care. Animals that have sustained trauma or bite wounds are an obvious example, but a number of other problems are commonly treated. The following is a sampling of the type of patients that routinely benefit from care by an ACVECC Diplomate:

  • Trauma patients, including those hit by cars, bite, bullet, knife or burn injuries
  • Any animal that is having trouble breathing
  • Animals that need a blood transfusion
  • Any patient that is in shock (signs of shock can include weakness, pale mucous membranes in their mouth, cold extremities, and an abnormal heart rate)
  • Animals that are having trouble urinating, or are not producing urine
  • Dogs and cats that need specialized nutritional support because they are unwilling or unable to eat on their own
  • Animals in which an abnormal heart rhythm is causing problems
  • Animals with life-threatening neurologic disease such as coma or severe seizures that are not responding to medications
  • Patients that have had surgery and are not recovering well from anesthesia or are having trouble in the first few post-operative days.

Adapted from the website of the ACVECC



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