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What happens to animals in shock

BRUCE KAPLAN, D.V.M.

Pinellas Animal Foundation

Question: What do veterinarians mean when they say an animal could go into shock?

Answer: Shock is a very serious condition that can be life-threatening. Animals that are hit by cars and suffer loss of blood and/or other injuries, such as broken bones, may develop shock, whether they are conscious and alert or noticeably distressed. Shock can develop immediately or may take place hours after the initial accident.

Other causes of shock include overwhelming infections associated with pathogens (disease producing organisms) along with the toxins they produce, heat stroke, acute diarrhea or vomiting, and inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis).

The most common cause of shock is significant loss of blood. The blood pressure may drop (hypotension) to dangerous levels and the pumping strength of the heart (cardiac output) can be drastically reduced. In addition, the natural distribution of blood in the body may be radically changed. This, along with deficient heart action, affects blood circulation and is usually caused by abnormal expansion (dilation) of blood vessels in the outer regions of the animal's body. A subsequent loss of body heat can create a vicious cycle that deprives vital organs like the brain and heart of essential oxygen.

Your family veterinarian or an emergency clinic veterinarian prefers to treat shock in its early stages if possible. Depending upon the circumstances, the doctor may require hospitalization, use of oxygen supplementation, blood transfusions and/or intravenous fluid therapy, cortisone-like drugs, pain control medications, and various drugs to help strengthen the heart and support the affected blood vessels. _ Jamie L. Smith, D.V.M., Animal Emergency Clinic, St. Petersburg

Dr. Bruce Kaplan is a veterinarian editor/writer. Please send questions to Ask a Veterinarian, Pinellas Animal Foundation, P.O. Box 47771, St. Petersburg, FL 33743-7771. Because of the volume of mail, personal replies are not possible. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column.

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