What Is Involved in Animal Critical Care?

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  • Written By: Angela Colley
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 08 August 2019
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Animal critical care delivers crucial veterinary services often during an emergency or after regular business hours. Typically, pets receive critical care after they become suddenly ill or experience a serious accident and need immediate medical attention. To obtain this care, pet owners often take their animals to a critical care hospital. These hospitals have veterinarians on staff who have completed specialized training in animal critical care. A specialist may conduct tests, perform surgery, or prescribe medications for the animal.

Pets usually receive animal critical care attention in emergency situations. For example, a dog may become suddenly ill and display signs of distress such as shaking, trouble breathing, vomiting or bleeding. In this case, an animal critical care specialist would be needed. Other common reasons to seek critical care include accidents, such as when an animal is hit by a car, and fights, which can lead to severe wounds or broken limbs.

In many cases, pet owners use animal critical care services after regular business hours or on weekends and holidays when their regular veterinarian is closed. Occasionally, the pet is referred to an animal critical care treatment facility by its regular veterinarian. Typically a veterinarian refers an animal to these facilities if he or she is not equipped to diagnose or treat a critical illness or injury.


To treat patients in need of animal critical care, a veterinarian receives several years of specialized training and must pass an examination. First, the veterinarian completes veterinary school from a recognized institution. After graduation, he or she completes three years of training in critical care through a program approved by the American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care (ACVECC). To become certified, the veterinarian must pass an examination given by the ACVECC.

Certified animal critical care veterinarians use a variety of medications and medical equipment to treat animals in need of critical care. Generally, the veterinarian starts by diagnosing the problem, which often involves taking blood samples, performing x-rays or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and conducting a full examination of the animal. After diagnosis the veterinarian treats the animal.

Treatment of a pet needing critical care can be either short term or long term. For example, an animal involved in an accident may simply need surgery to repair a broken bone. An animal with a serious illness may need several or even regular visits with the veterinarian. In these cases, the animal care specialist may refer the animal to a regular veterinarian after the initial diagnosis.


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