A medical emergency is a pet parent’s worst nightmare. Whether your pet suffers an unexpected injury or develops a sudden illness, having some harm come to your pet is a frightening experience. Unfortunately, some of these circumstances happen at the worst times possible --- usually at night or on the weekends or holidays, when your regular veterinarian clinic is closed. Your only option is to take your pet to the nearest emergency facility, a place with veterinarians you may not know well or at all. If you need to take your pet to an emergency vet visit, here’s what vets would like you to know.

Pug wears cone after surgery.

What qualifies as a pet emergency?

Some pet parents wonder what constitutes an emergency when it comes to their pet’s health and behavior. Generally, the following conditions qualify as emergencies:

  • High fever
  • Difficulty breathing, excessive panting, choking
  • Frequent 
  • Seizures
  • Inability to pass feces or urine or pain/straining during elimination
  • Abdominal swelling or bloat
  • Unconsciousness
  • Repeated vomiting or diarrhea, especially with blood
  • Traumatic injury (animal attack, car accident, etc.)
  • Swallowing a foreign object
  • Heat stress or heat stroke
  • Suspicion that the pet has ingested a poison
  • Refusal to eat or drink for 24 hours
  • Severe bleeding; bleeding that doesn’t stop within five minutes
  • Bleeding from the mouth, nose, rectum, blood in urine, coughing up blood
  • Eye injuries
  • Broken or fractured bones; the inability for the pet to move its legs

If you are unsure whether your pet’s situation is an emergency or not, contact the nearest emergency clinic and speak with the veterinarian or veterinarian technician on duty to ask their opinion.

What kind of emergency facilities are available to my pet?

Depending on your location, there may be various emergency services and clinics available for you and your pet. Here are some of the facilities that may be options for you in case of an emergency.

Full-service Veterinary Clinic

Some veterinary clinics which usually provide routine medical care also staff for emergency hours. While these clinics operate during regular working hours, they may have on-call veterinarians who can receive patients for emergency care after hours. A full-service veterinary clinic’s benefit is the ease of follow-up care during a pet’s recovery process. 

After-hours Veterinary Hospital

The after-hours veterinary hospital exists only to provide services for urgent emergencies outside of regular working hours. These clinics do not see pets for routine care, but only for serious situations in the evening or on weekends or holidays. Often, an after-hours facility acts as a triage center; they stabilize a sick or injured pet so that the pet’s regular veterinarian can provide follow-up care.

24-Hour Emergency Veterinary Clinics

As the name indicates, 24-hour emergency veterinary facilities are clinics open at all hours of the day. Some of these clinics offer primary care services, but most of them focus on helping severely injured and ill pets. These clinics hire veterinarians who specialize in various pet illnesses and trauma and work is completed in consultation with the pet’s regular veterinarian.

Dog undergoing emergency surgery.

Here’s what emergency vets want pet parents to know.

What happens if you do think your pet needs to go to an emergency facility? Emergency veterinarians recommend that you know the following information before an emergency occurs.

1. Call first. Give the vet facility a heads-up that you are bringing your pet in for treatment so they can best prepare for your pet’s arrival.

2.  Have a pet emergency kit on hand. Before your pet’s arrival, the vet technicians may ask you to help stabilize your pet at home before transporting her to the clinic. Having a fully-stocked first aid kit at home can make a significant difference in addressing your pet’s emergency.

3. Be patient. It is incredibly difficult to have to wait when you get to an emergency clinic, but because any pet with any condition can come through the door at any time, the sickest and most critical pets are seen by vets first. 

4. Be prepared to complete paperwork. If possible, have your pet’s medical records and regular veterinary contact information ready to give to the emergency clinic staff.

5. Understand that you may not be welcome at your pet’s side during the assessment. Emergencies are often rife with anxiety, fear and high emotions. Some veterinarians may not want a stressed and upset owner in the emergency room potentially making the situation more complicated for the vets trying to stabilize your pet. As hard as it can be, respect the veterinarian’s emergency protocol so they can focus on what’s most important: your pet’s health.

6. Be calm and compassionate. Remember that the vets and technicians who are doing their best to help your pet have been working on pets with a various emergencies their whole shift: dog bites attacks, pets hit by cars, pets suffering seizures, doabetic crashes, and heart failures, amongst others. Have compassion and be calm in your interactions with the staff, who are doing everything they can to help all the pets who come through the doors.

7. Know the potential financial costs. An emergency visit is going to cost much more than a regular vet visit. The clinic staff will discuss your pet’s medical issue and provide an estimate for treatment and if needed, further hospitalization. Don’t hesitate to ask for a breakdown of the estimate or to ask questions about the cost of any procedures or medications. 

Know your financial capabilities, so you are prepared for the high price of an emergency visit. The average cost of an emergency clinic visit ranges from $250 - $8000, and even more in extreme cases. Due to the overhead at an emergency facility, veterinarians are unlikely to provide payment plans for bills or negotiate treatment prices. 

Questions you should ask the emergency vet.

Although it can be challenging to think clearly during a pet emergency, you should ask a core set of questions to the veterinarian about your pet’s current and future health status:

  • How critical is my pet’s condition? 
  • Can I safely wait to take my dog or cat to her regular vet? 
  • If I take my cat or dog home, what should I watch for? 
  • What symptoms would indicate that I need to bring her back to the emergency clinic?
  • What symptoms can my regular veterinarian care for?

Don’t leave the clinic without clear answers to your questions and a firm understanding of what care your pet needs next.

Does pet insurance cover emergency visits? 

Pet insurance can help you cover emergency vet care costs. The bill for a visit and any additional blood work, x-rays, treatment, hospitalization and medications adds up quickly. By nature, a pet insurance policy is meant for emergencies, accidents or other unexpected illnesses.

Check your policy to see what coverage your provider offers in emergencies. If you don’t have a pet insurance policy for your pet, get a free pet insurance quote. With pet insurance, you will be better prepared for the time, effort, anxiety and cost that is part of a sudden pet accident and a trip to an emergency clinic.
 

References:

  1. American Veterinary Medical Association. (2021). 13 Animal emergencies that require immediate veterinary consultation and/or care. Retrieved from https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/13-animal-emergencies-require-immediate-veterinary-consultation-andor-care
  2. Vets Now Team Member. (2020). What to expect when you visit your nearest emergency vet. Retrieved from https://www.vets-now.com/2017/02/emergency-vet-visit/
  3. Walansky, A. (2020). How Much Does The Vet Cost? A Regular & Emergency Vet Visit Price Guide. Retrieved from https://pawp.com/how-much-does-the-vet-cost-vet-price-guide/