Emergency and Critical Care
The Emergency and Critical Care Service at the Cornell University Hospital for Animals provides evaluation, medical care, and surgical treatment to severely injured or ill companion animals, as well as ongoing care for critically ill or injured animals 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Board-certified veterinary emergency and critical care specialists direct our companion animal emergency services. Our dedicated team includes highly skilled residents, interns, veterinary technicians, and staff, working together to deliver the highest possible standard of compassionate veterinary care to ill or injured animals. We work closely with local veterinarians from across the region to make sure your pet gets the best care possible before, during and after hospitalization.
The Emergency Service offers the most advanced medical and surgical treatments to stabilize your pet and diagnose its condition, and we collaborate with an extensive team of in-house veterinary specialists in anesthesiology, cardiology, radiology, internal medicine, surgery, neurology, exotics, nutrition, and dentistry to ensure your animal receives the most comprehensive care available.
The Critical Care Service excels in managing patients recovering from major surgery, illness, or trauma as well as those patients requiring positive pressure ventilation or other specialized care. These patients are hospitalized in a well-equipped intensive care unit, and their care is augmented by our ability to consult with a variety of on-site clinicians.
- Oxygen support
- Multimodal analgesia
- Component and whole blood transfusion
- Enteral and parenteral nutrition
- Intensive monitoring (central venous pressure, arterial pressure, electrocardiogram, oximetry, capnography, and cardiac output)
- Vasopressor and positive inotropic support
- Custom composition intravenous fluids
- Mechanical ventilation
Emergency Critical Care Emergent Conditions
Examples of Emergent Conditions, if your pet is experiencing a life-threatening emergency, please proceed immediately to the nearest emergency clinic.
- Unconsciousness or unresponsiveness
- Difficulty breathing
- Blue, purple, or pale gums
- Trauma (vehicular trauma, falls, wounds, etc.)
- Excessive bleeding
- Loss of balance
- Lethargy or weakness
- Difficulty urinating
- Unintended ingestion of a medication or toxic substance
- Seizure activity or active tremoring
- Non-weight bearing lameness
- Difficulty walking
- Hives or facial swelling
- Difficulty giving birth
- Severe or protracted vomiting
- Non-productive retching
- Severe diarrhea with blood (red or black and tarry)
- Bloated, distended or painful abdomen
What to Expect During Your Emergency Visit
Your emergency visit to the Cornell University Hospital for Animals begins when you pull up to front of the Companion Animal Hospital. Please park your vehicle in the patient parking in front of the hospital and check-in at the reception desk.
After you register, a veterinary student or LVT will perform a triage. During the triage you will be briefly interviewed about your pet’s condition. To further evaluate your pet’s stability, the student or LVT may also obtain baseline vital parameters. After this brief assessment the student or LVT may ask you to wait with your pet in the waiting room, or they may ask your permission to take your pet to the emergency treatment area where they will be further evaluated by one of our emergency clinicians. If stabilization is recommended, they will also ask your permission to perform basic diagnostic tests and institute the therapy deemed necessary to stabilize your pet. If your pet is taken to the emergency room you must wait in reception area. Space restrictions and the intense activity that may involve your pet as well as other patients being cared for in the emergency room preclude your ability to stay with your pet. Please remain in the reception area, so emergency personnel can find you when needed.
In turn, you will be escorted to an exam room where a veterinary student will obtain a full clinical history. If your pet is waiting with you, the student will also perform a complete physical exam. Subsequently, the student will leave to discuss your pet’s history and physical exam findings with the emergency clinician that is caring for your pet. Afterwards the emergency clinician will enter the exam room, review the history clarifying any questions, and perform their own physical exam. After this complete assessment the emergency clinician will discuss their findings, thought processes, and recommendations with you.
Throughout the emergency visit, please understand that there may be delays. The reasons for the delays may not be obvious to you, but always are related to how many critically ill and emergency animals our patient-care team is treating at the time. We will do our best to keep you informed about your animal’s status, what our patient caseload is, and what you might expect in terms of the length of time you may need to wait. Please be assured that your doctor’s priority is the care of your animal and the other emergency and critically ill patients in the hospital.
If your animal’s condition requires the opinion of a specialist and the specialist is not on-site at the time of your emergency visit, you may have to wait for the specialist on-call to come to the hospital, or your animal may have to stay overnight for a consultation the following day.
If your animal needs to be admitted to the hospital as an inpatient, your animal will be transferred to a specialty service within 24 to 48 hours and will be cared for by a different veterinarian. Every case is thoroughly reviewed upon transfer to ensure excellent patient care and an outstanding educational experience for our students.
If you would like to visit your pet during their hospitalization, this can be arranged with the doctor caring for your pet. For safety reasons, all visitors must be accompanied when in the clinical areas of the hospital. Please remain in the public areas of the hospital unless escorted by your doctor, student or LVT.
If your veterinarian arranged for your pet to visit our Emergency Service, or if you provide us with the contact information for your veterinarian, the Cornell University Hospital for Animals doctors will do their best to keep your veterinarian informed of your animal’s progress and our diagnosis. Discharge statements outlining diagnosis and treatment are faxed to your veterinarian unless you instruct us not to do this.
Barn cat brain surgery highlights hospital’s emergency mettle
When a Good Samaritan brought a cat hit by a car to the Cornell University Hospital for Animals, no one knew the cat was one of our own. Bleeding and shocky from a powerful blow, the cat began a journey through some of the most advanced emergency techniques and intensive care the Hospital has to offer.
“We had no idea who he was but we had to act fast,” said Dr. Jenefer Stillion, resident in the Emergency and Critical Care service (ECC). “He had severe head trauma and a ruptured lung leaking air into his chest cavity, making it difficult to breathe. We stabilized him and tapped his chest periodically to remove the air leaking around the lungs.”
The next morning they discovered the cat was Cooper, the Large Animal Hospital’s resident barn cat. “When we learned this cat was found on Route 366 near our hospital, we asked Large Animal staff if they were missing any barn cats. They came over and quickly identified him,” Stillion said.
Cooper was worsening; air continued leaking into his chest and he was growing less responsive, indicating a significant ongoing brain injury. The ECC doctors eased his breathing with a chest tube and took a CT scan of his head. “We found an upper jaw fracture, blood in his nasal passages, evidence of a skull fracture, and several areas where he was bleeding into his brain,” said Dr. Gretchen Schoeffler, ECC specialist.
“With injuries that bad the only way to relieve increasing intracranial pressure and stop ongoing damage is intensive surgery to the skull,” said Schoeffler.
Brain surgery is no light task, but neurosurgeon Dr. Curtis Dewey from Clinical Sciences was up to the challenge. On Friday evening, February 11th, he performed a successful craniotomy, removing part of Cooper’s skull. The ECC team and Intensive Care Unit technicians are managing Cooper through recovery.
“He’s shown improvement every day. It’s amazing how cats can recover,” said Stillion, with Cooper purring happily in her lap. “He responds to bright lights and sounds, and purrs or chirps when he’s handled. He can even walk around a little. It will take time to know if he’ll return to normal kitty life, but his chances are strong. With months of therapy, many head trauma survivors make full recoveries.”
Survival is unusual for animals with trauma as bad as Cooper’s. “Many owners decide not to operate on cases with head injuries this severe,” said Schoeffler. “It’s invasive and requires a big commitment to helping an animal through recovery. Knowing we have the resources to do that, we decided to go forward.”
“We need to care for our own,” said Hospital Director Dr. Bill Horne, who made that call. “This cat is a pet of the hospital, and it is our obligation to care for him.”
Back in the barn, the Large Animal staff feel Cooper’s absence. “He was a useful mouser and a good friend,” said Wendy English, Client Service Manager for CUHA, whom Cooper greeted every morning.
Stillion recalled a story in which Cooper befriended a recovering horse that had to be walked every day. “Cooper would run ahead and wait, the horse would walk toward him. They would sniff, and Cooper would run ahead again, encouraging the horse to follow.”
Cooper won’t be returning to the barn while on the mend, but in the meantime he has found a good home. Large animal surgery technician Katie Howard agreed to take Cooper as a foster kitty. He spends evenings with her and returns to the Intensive Care Unit during the day for nursing care.
American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care
A specialty organization that promotes the practice of veterinary emergency and critical care medicine, fosters training programs and encourages research in this important field.
Academy of Veterinary Emergency & Critical Care Technicians
Academy of Veterinary Emergency & Critical Care Technicians (AVECCT) is the first organization to be recognized by the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America as a veterinary technician specialty. Veterinary Technicians who successfully meet the credential requirements and pass the AVECCT examination are designated as Veterinary Technician Specialists (VTS).
ASPCA Poison Control
Your best resource for any animal poison-related emergency, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. If you think that your pet may have ingested a potentially poisonous substance, call (888) 426-4435. A $65 consultation fee may be applied to your credit card.