What is Veterinary Critical Care?

February 28, 2020

What is Veterinary Critical Care?

If your pet has ever been seriously ill, you know that illness and disease do not follow a nine-to-five schedule. Pets sometimes need medical attention and treatment  in the middle of the night or on holidays, requiring around-the-clock intensive monitoring, and advanced expertise that your family veterinary hospital is not able to provide. Our veterinary critical care department is much like a human intensive care unit (ICU)—it is a separate area of our hospital specifically devoted to caring for extremely sick patients.   

Our critical care unit treats many pets who come into our emergency department with a variety of medical concerns, such as acute illnesses, seizures, toxicities or traumatic injuries, that require stabilization, hospitalization, and intensive care. After our emergency team stabilizes their illness or injury, these patients are often transferred to the critical care department for continued treatment and monitoring.

Our critical care department also cares for postoperative patients who have a higher complication risk due to systemic infections, cardiovascular instability, advanced age, concurrent illness, or debilitation. Pets with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes mellitus, cancer, or immune-mediated hemolytic anemia, who suddenly worsen occasionally require several days of critical care for stabilization before returning home for continued outpatient care. 

Our critical care department, which is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for pets who require continuous care, can provide many benefits to your critically ill pet.

Specialized Care for Pets

Our critical care department is staffed with highly skilled veterinarians and technicians who are trained to design and administer complex treatment plans for challenging medical cases, respond quickly in emergency situations, and provide compassionate care for the sickest patients. In addition, we are fortunate to have two board-certified veterinary criticalists, Drs. Geoff Heffner and Justin Mathis, lead our critical care team. A veterinary criticalist is a veterinarian who has received additional specialized training in the field of veterinary emergency and critical care. In addition to four years of veterinary school, a criticalist completes a one-year internship in small animal medicine and a three-year residency in a veterinary critical care unit to build an understanding of disease processes and master advanced technical skills and therapies, such as mechanical ventilation, cardiopulmonary bypass and hemodialysis. During this time, residents are exposed to a wide variety of challenging medical cases, while under the supervision of a board-certified critical care specialist. In addition to residency training, a veterinary criticalist must become certified by passing the American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care board examination at the end of their residency. By having two board-certified veterinary criticalists on staff, we can confidently treat the most challenging and complex medical cases. 

Advanced Diagnostic and Monitoring Equipment for Pets

Our critical care unit is equipped with the most advanced diagnostic and monitoring equipment to provide intensive care to sick pets. Our critical care team also collaborates with specialty departments throughout CASE to provide comprehensive diagnostics and disease monitoring to every patient, including:

  • Diagnostic imaging, including digital radiography, ultrasound, and computed tomography (CT) 
  • Endoscopy 
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG) monitoring, with consultation with board-certified veterinary cardiologists
  • Oxygen therapy, via nasal catheterization or an oxygen chamber
  • Blood gas monitoring 
  • Thromboelastography (blood clotting analysis)
  • Clinical pathology
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG) monitoring
  • Blood pressure monitoring
  • Ventilator support 
  • Blood transfusions
  • Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) treatment

Intensive Treatment and Monitoring for Pets

Critically ill pets often need around-the-clock intensive monitoring that only an experienced critical care team can provide. Our critical care department is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with veterinarians and veterinary technicians who are prepared to recognize and respond minute-by-minute and hour-by-hour  to your pet’s changing medical status. Patients who often require intensive monitoring include pets who are:

  • Receiving intravenous fluids, blood products, medications, or nutrition
  • Being monitored for seizure activity
  • Receiving oxygen therapy
  • Recovering from a complicated surgery
  • Being treated for a chronic medical condition that has suddenly worsened
  • Suffering from toxin exposure
  • Recovering from a traumatic injury

As in a human ICU, our critical care team is constantly nearby to monitor pets for complications, provide medications and pain control, and ensure every pet has the best care and chance of recovery. 

If your pet has a condition that requires 24-hour critical care, contact us to discuss how CASE’s critical care department can play an integral role in her recovery.