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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.

 

Emergency veterinarian holding a small brown dog

 

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 that will help.

What Is An Emergency?

First, you need to decide the seriousness of your pet’s condition. 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. Knowing what to do is even harder when you’re traveling.

Calling 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 that list can threaten your pet’s life, and you should take your pet to the veterinarian immediately.

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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?

What Is An Emergency Vet?

When your pet gets hurts or sick at home, you’re likely to call your regular vet. However, these things never seem to happen during office hours! And local veterinarians aren’t usually staffed around the clock. Some small vet practices work together to provide after-hours care, while others partner with larger emergency providers. Be sure to ask your veterinarian what they recommend if 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 or sick while you’re traveling, you might need to find a nearby pet ER. Emergency medicine for pets is as sophisticated as the human medical system.

Here are some of the ways emergency vets practice:

Full-service Veterinary Clinics

Some veterinarians provide a full range of routine care (wellness exams, vaccinations, minor surgeries, etc.) as well as emergency care. Often, they are open only during normal business hours, but have on-call veterinarians who see patients after hours.

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

 

24-hour Emergency Vet Clinics

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

This kind of care was once only available at 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.

After-hours Veterinary Hospitals

There are some emergency veterinary hospitals that don’t provide any 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.

These facilities typically provide triage care. They stabilize and treat pets, then refer them back to their regular veterinarian for follow-up care.

Honey injured her paw early on a weekend morning, so I searched for veterinarians in the Hampton Roads area on GoPetFriendly.com 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!

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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. Is a big jump even scarier than being carried around with a hurt paw?

What Emergency Vets Need You To Know

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

Call First

Even vet offices that are 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.

Honey the golden retriever sits pretty at the vet's 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 and I waited while 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.

Expect Higher Costs

Emergency veterinary care is not cheap.

Due to the specialized services they provide, the fees you’ll pay to have your pet evaluated and treated by an emergency vet are higher than they’d be at your regular veterinarian. To avoid any surprises, a member of the staff will usually talk to you immediately about the estimated costs. You’ll likely need to sign paperwork stating that you agree to pay for your pet’s care, and they might require a deposit before beginning treatment.

When your only concern is the well-being of your loved pet, it can feel hard to talk about money. Keep in mind that emergency vets care deeply about animals and want to help you and your pet. But they also need to make sure they can pay their staff and the rent. So, be prepared for a discussion about how the bill will be paid while your pet is being whisked in for evaluation.

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?

 

Some Veterinarians Prefer to Treat Your Pet Without You Near

In most emergency clinics, pets are treated in 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 she would need her technician to restrain Honey so she wouldn’t pull away. But I knew Honey would feel more relaxed with me at her side. The vet agreed, so I stroked Honey’s ears and spoke gently to her while the vet took care of the nail. And yes, she did cry once.

If you want to stay near your pet while they’re treated, try to anticipate the vet’s objections. If you can see the situation from their point of view, you’ll be more likely to convince them that your presence will help your pet.

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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.

What You Can Do To Be Prepared

Any trip to the vet can be stressful, but the tension of emergency situations is even higher. Preparing in advance will allow you to focus all your attention on your pet when they need you most.

Medical Records

Unlike your regular vet, an emergency veterinarian won’t know your pet’s medical history or have access to her records. Luckily, Honey is a healthy pup and I didn’t have a long list of medications or conditions to remember! If your pet is healthy, it might be sufficient to create a note on your phone with the dates of her vaccinations and any medications and dosages.

For dogs with more chronic conditions, if your regular veterinarian allows you to access your pet’s records electronically, be sure to set up an account with a username and password prior to facing an emergency. You can then provide access to that account to the emergency vet. And, if you can’t access your pet’s records electronically, consider scanning your pet’s medical file to a USB drive and keeping it in her travel bag. It’s easy to pack, and will provide the emergency vet with all the information they’ll need to treat your pet.

Honey the golden retriever looking dejected with the plastic bag covering the bandage on her paw.

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

 

First Aid Kit

Keep a well-stocked pet first aid kit handy. When you call the emergency vet prior to your arrival, they might ask to you perform some first aid to help stabilize your pet. You’ll want to have all the items you’ll need at your fingertips.

Locate Emergency Hospitals

When you’re traveling, it’s important to know where the emergency veterinary hospitals are located. When planning trips with your pets, take a minute to research the area’s veterinary hospitals and note their location and hours. If you’re using the GoPetFriendly.com Road Trip Planner, it’s easy to locate veterinarians along your route.

GoPetFriendly Road Trip Planner

Provide Your Vet’s Contact Information

Whenever your pet is treated by an emergency veterinarian, ask them to follow up with your regular vet. They should share any report and instructions for follow-up.

Acclimate Your Dog To Wearing A Muzzle

Some dogs, when they’re in pain, in an unfamiliar setting, and surrounded by strangers, can react and “defend” themselves. If it’s necessary to apply a muzzle for the safety of the staff, it will be less stressful for your pet if you train him to wearing it in advance.

Honey the golden retriever laying on the sofa with a bandaged paw.

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

 

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.

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 GoPetFriendly.com 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.

  • 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 GoPetFriendly.com 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.

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