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What You Should Know About Emergency Vets (Before You Need One)

Oh no … BLOOD! As Honey and I were walking down the sidewalk, I noticed her paw was leaving marks on the pavement. And our regular vet was hundreds of miles away. Though Honey’s injury was clearly not life-threatening, it still needed care sooner rather than later. And that meant it was time to find an emergency vet.

Honey the golden retriever looking lovingly at her veterinarian with the text What You Should Know About Emergency Vets (Before You Need One) |


While seeking care for Honey, I learned a lot about emergency vet care. Hopefully you’ll never need to know any of this. But if your pet gets ill or injured while you’re traveling, here are a few things you need to know.

Honey the golden retriever runs moments before hurting herself and needing an emergency vet.

I took this picture minutes before Honey hurt her paw. How did she hurt her nail on such soft grass?

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What Is An Emergency Vet?

When your pet gets hurts or sick at home, you’re likely to call your regular vet. Of course, these thing rarely happen during office hours, and local veterinarians usually aren’t staffed around the clock. Sometimes small vet practices work together to provide after-hours care or partner with larger emergency providers. Be sure to ask what your vet recommends in the event you need pet care in the middle of the night.

Getting help when you’re home is one thing, but if your pet gets injured while you’re traveling, you’ll need to find a nearby pet ER. Emergency medicine for pets is as sophisticated as the human medical system, but there are more types of emergency vet providers.

Here are some of the different ways emergency vets practice:

Full-service Veterinary Clinics

Some veterinarians provide a full range of routine care (wellness exams, vaccinations, minor surgeries, etc.) and also offer emergency care. Often, they are open only during normal business hours, but many have an on-call veterinarian who can meet patients after hours.

A full-service emergency provider can also provide follow-up care to your pet during their recovery.

Honey the golden retriever with a bandaged paw after her emergency vet visit.

It was an exciting morning. When we got home from the vet, Honey was glad to recuperate on the boat.

After-hours Veterinary Hospitals

Many emergency veterinary hospitals do not provide routine vet care – all their patients are urgent cases. These hospitals are generally open when regular veterinarians are closed for the day, and are often available 24-hours on weekends and holidays.

The care received here is triage. They stabilize and treat pets before referring them back to their regular veterinarian for follow-up care.

Honey the golden retriever shows the plastic bag on her bandaged foot.

Honey wore a “boot” made from a plastic bag to keep her bandage dry. She doesn’t look very happy, does she?

24-hour Emergency Vet Clinics

Some round-the-clock veterinary clinics provide routine services. Others have only specialists who treat the most severely injured and ill pets in consultation with their regular veterinarian.

A few decades ago, this kind of care was only provided in veterinarian teaching hospitals, but now there are 24-hour emergency veterinary clinics in every part of the country. Some large cities have several, and a few even have ambulance services to pick up injured or ill pets.

Honey injured her paw early on a weekend morning, so I searched for veterinarians in the Hampton Roads area on and found an office near the marina where Honey and I had been staying. Thanks to a pet-friendly cab driver, I didn’t have to carry Honey the three miles to the vet!

Honey the golden retriever walks the dock with a plastic bag on her bandaged paw.

Do you think Honey hated the “boot” so much because she felt unfashionable in the marina?


What Emergency Vets Need You To Know

Emergency veterinarians operate a little differently than your home veterinarian. Here are a few tips to keep you from being surprised:

Call First

Even vet offices open 24 hours prefer you call before you arrive. In a life-threatening emergency, it gives them time to prepare. If you need to stop bleeding or induce vomiting in your pet and time is of the essence, the emergency vet will walk you through it on the telephone.

Some vet offices even have special equipment to help move a large, injured dog from your car to their office without hurting them more. Calling first means they will be ready as soon as you drive up.

Be Prepared to Pay

Emergency veterinary care is not cheap.

In these special circumstances, the fees you’ll pay to have your pet evaluated and treated are higher than at your regular veterinarian. To avoid sticker shock, a member of the staff will usually talk to you immediately about the estimated costs, and will ask you to sign paperwork stating that you agree to pay for your pet’s care. They may even require a deposit before beginning treatment.

When the only thing you can think about is the well-being of your loved pet, it can feel hard to talk about money. Keep in mind that emergency veterinarians don’t have long-term relationships with their clients like regular vets. And sadly, some people take pets in for critical care just to abandon them rather than paying an expensive bill.

So, be prepared to have a difficult talk about money as your pet is being whisked in for evaluation.

Honey the golden retriever sits pretty at the vet office.

Healthy and whole once again, Honey visits her regular vet for her annual wellness appointment.

Sickest Pets See the Doctor First

Honey’s injury was simply a broken nail resulting from an earlier injury to her nail bed. Nail injuries bleed a lot, but I’ve never known a dog to die from one. So, while Honey was in some pain, her condition was not serious.

As a result, Honey was the last patient seen as the busy staff focused on the sickest pups first. Like in a human trauma unit, emergency vets treat those who need immediate attention first.

It can be hard to wait a long time for a veterinarian to see your pet. But be grateful that your pet is stable enough that she can wait for the doctor.

Some Veterinarians Prefer to Treat Your Pet Without You Near

In most emergency clinics, pets are rushed into a back room where the vet and technicians provide critical care. But will the vet allow you to stay with your pet when the major crisis is over?

After the veterinarian saw how far back Honey’s nail had broken, he wanted to take her into the back to cut it the rest of the way and bandage her paw. I replied that I preferred to stay with her, to which the doctor warned me that cutting the nail would hurt her. It was obvious the vet was worried that I would feel distressed by seeing Honey in pain. Or that I would be in the way.

I reassured the doctor that I knew Honey would yelp. I also understood he would need his technician to restrain her so she wouldn’t pull away. But I knew Honey would feel more relaxed with me at her side. He agreed and I stroked Honey’s ears and spoke gently to her while the vet worked on her nail. Yes, she cried once. But I know she was more relaxed with me nearby.

If an emergency vet wants to separate you from your pet, try to anticipate their objections. If you can see the situation from her point of view, you’ll be more likely to convince them that your presence will help your pet.

Honey the golden retriever loves her vet Dr Armao.

We’ve been lucky to find good vets since we’ve been cruising. But we return to New York every year for Honey’s annual wellness visit with Dr. Armao.

Have Medical Records Handy

Some veterinarians allow clients to access their animal’s records electronically. Before you’re facing an emergency, see if your vet offers this service . You may be able to set up a login name and password to give you instant access to your pet’s medical history at any time.

Honey’s regular veterinarian does not give access to her records electronically, so I keep a paper file of all her information handy. I had it with me when the vet treated Honey’s paw.

Luckily, Honey is a healthy pup and I didn’t have a long list of medications or conditions to remember. If your pet has chronic conditions, create a file on your phone to share with a vet in an emergency. And don’t forget to ask the emergency vet to forward their records to your regular veterinarian!


What Is An Emergency?

When your pet becomes sick in the middle of the night, it can be difficult to decide whether you should wait until your regular vet opens, or seek care right away. It’s even harder to know what to do when you’re traveling.

A call to an emergency veterinary hospital is one way to have a trained professional help you make that decision.

Most vets agree that certain conditions are too risky to wait before seeking treatment. These include:

  • repeated vomiting or diarrhea, especially if you see blood
  • seizures
  • avoiding food or water for a full day
  • injury in a traumatic accident or in an attack by another animal
  • swallowing a foreign body
  • difficulty breathing
  • abdominal bloating
  • high fever

Any item on this list can threaten your pet’s life, and you should take your pet to the veterinarian immediately.

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One of my greatest fears is that Honey will get injured or sick while we’re anchored away from shore or underway. Living on a boat and not owning a car, routine medical care is challenging enough without the stress of an actual emergency. So, I’m actually relieved to have this minor emergency behind me. I learned a lot about what to do in a serious emergency to get Honey the care she needs.

Honey the golden retriever considers jumping off the sailboat onto the dock.

Honey’s not sure about the big jump off the boat at high tide.

If you’re planning a trip with your pet, think about emergencies as well as fun. While you’re reserving a pet friendly hotel room or campsite, look for local veterinarians. Save their number on your phone, and have a plan for what you’d do if your pet got sick or inured.

Hopefully you’ll never need an emergency vet while traveling. But if you do, planning ahead will make an emergency less stressful.


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  • ER RVT says:

    As an ER/ICU Vet Tech, thank you for sharing this. Especially for understanding that we are not trying to rob people. We lose an insane amount of money, and we take a lot of abuse for not providing services regardless of payment. I work 12 hour days, 6 days a week. I have a family to support. All the equipment that saves lives cost a ridiculous amount of money. Unlike human medicine, insurance is not the norm. We offer Care Credit, but we don’t own them, and we can’t guarantee approval. None of us want to turn anyone away, and we do try to do what’s in our power. I work in a large hospital and none of us have the authority to waive fees. But we are yelled at, called horrible names, accused of being heartless, stalked, and even assaulted because people believe that because we work with pets we don’t deserve to be paid for our work and are cruel and unreasonable because financial situations are not equal and we can’t price for that inequality. It’s one of the greatest stressors in an industry with the highest rate of suicide. Our doctors and techs also have some of the highest student loan debt and make so much less than people seem to think (after 20 years I make about 32k/year before taxes. Our ER docs don’t even make twice that. Trust me, we are not in this for money. )

    • Amy at says:

      Thank you for sharing your experience. When animals are involved it’s aways an emotional situation and I’m sorry you’re on the receiving end of people’s frustration, guilt, and concern for their pets. It’s a difficult job and one that puts you in the impossible position of having to turn some people away so that you can remain in business to serve others. I don’t envy you, and I very much appreciate your service.

  • I remember when I took my pet to a nearby emergency animal hospital after experiencing seizures because of heat exhaustion. The weather here is unbearable even for us but it really shocked me when Yip experienced convulsions because we really pampered him during those times like giving him enough water and letting him stay in the AC’ed room. As of today, he is not experiencing any seizures anymore.

    • Amy at says:

      Hi Orven! Thanks so much for your note, and I’m so glad to hear that Yip has recovered. The heat can be unexpectedly dangerous. Thankfully you were able to find a good vet to help your boy. All the best to you!

  • Kimberly Morales says:

    Hi! I’m very sorry about what has happened to our loved ones.But we have to hold on!NO Matter WHAT!!! In the future I want to be a ER Vet,but don’t worry I’ll be the Nice one and the one that will love pets exotic or not, I will not care about the money I just want to save animals and all so well.But that will be about 4 or 5 years later since I’m in 8th grade……Don’t Lose hope ..yet. :)

  • Maureen says:

    My senior dig was I’ll. She didn’t owe for three days , I’m camping but have been here for the winter so I fit ahold of the vet I’ve been seeing I have 3 rescues. When I called and told them it was urgent she said hold on then got back on the phone and said she can she u next Tuesday mind u it’s Tuesday when I called I was urate. I said she’s dying . She needs to be seen they said Tuesday was there onlyopening
    Well as u can figure out after my girl had a hard time I held her fur 3 days and comforted her as she was having heart attracks after another . I held her close and rubbed her chest and prayed. She passed in my arms with her cheek on mine and her paws on my shoulders…… ……..This Is my vet. Not anymore. I am so disturbed by the behavior there I will spread the word about her and mind u this isn’t the first time !!!!! My beautiful girl Julie is in heaven now and I know she is still with me but KARMA to that terrible vet!

    • Maureen says:

      I apologize for all the miss spelling. I’m just still upset been only a few days since she’s been gone sorry

    • jessica valencia says:

      my heart hurts for u and Julie. know she is in heaven now and there is no more pain or suffering. I’m not sure why but I’m unable to see where and what the name of the vet that did that to u and julie. anyway u could email me,well only if u feel up to it. I know u are in so much pain from your loss. my name is jessica I’m so sorry for your loss and thank u for your time. [email protected]

    • Amy at says:

      I’m so very sorry for your loss, Maureen. I know you’re heartbroken, and I hope that in time you can find some peace.

  • Sabrina Blackstone says:

    My pupper’s name is Honey as well! She is a golden retriever mix.

  • Ann Disalvo says:

    Vets should treat the animal instead of worrying about when they get payed

    • Amy at says:

      I understand what you’re saying, Ann, but vets are people, too. They have to pay their bills just like everyone else. It’s sad when treatment decisions become financial decisions and that’s why we’ve always had pet insurance for our dogs. It’s an additional cost of pet ownership, but it takes some of the financial pressure off in difficult situations. Thanks for your comment and waggin’ trails to you!

      • Key says:

        I understand vets are people to but your main priority should be the pet when their hurting but it seems vets only care when you have money.

        • Amy at says:

          Hi Key. That hasn’t been my experience. The vets I’ve met have been very compassionate and have found ways to try to work with people of limited means who want to give their pets the best possible care. Actually, the veterinary profession has a very high incidence of suicide, which reflects the high emotional toll and pressure vets experience. Understanding and compassion work both ways.

      • Dan says:

        I guess us poor people just need to let our pets die.

        • Amy at says:

          I don’t think anyone is saying that, Dan. There are organizations that help those who can’t afford medical care for their pets, and often vet offices have applications for emergency fund credit cards. You’re saving money each month so that you’re prepared. And that’s part of being a responsible pet owner – finding a way to get our pets the care they need.

    • Susan says:

      Set up a fund for your pet’s care. Put money into it every month. Buy insurance for your pet. Get your pet spayed/neutered. Don’t let them wander. Keep medical records. Educate yourself as a pet owner. Before you acquire a pet understand the responsibility you are taking on. Good pet ownership comes with a cost.

      • Dan victori says:

        We do put away money away but it isn’t enough to cover an emergency. Insurance doesn’t help when the vet wants their money upfront. You may find it hard to comprehend, but there are millions of pet owners who can’t afford a vet. Please don’t tell me not to have a dog if you can’t afford one.

    • Ruby byers says:

      Yes vats should thank about the pet. First

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