A visit to a veterinary emergency facility differs from a routine trip to your local veterinarian for many reasons; there are no scheduled appointments, wait times can be long, situations are emergent, and costs tend to be higher. Think of it as the veterinary medicine equivalent to a human emergency room. It can be a stressful and emotional time for pet owners (and pets alike), especially if you don't know what to expect. Here are some tips to help you during that stressful time if you decide to bring your pet to a veterinary emergency facility.
What is considered a medical emergency?
It can be hard to judge whether or not your pet is having a medical emergency. Some conditions are not emergencies and can wait to be seen by your veterinarian during regular working hours. The emergency veterinary facility will be happy to see your pet regardless of the condition, but with non-emergent causes you can expect longer wait times as well as a larger expense compared to what it would cost at your regular veterinarian. If your pet is not in critical condition, you can always call your veterinary emergency facility to see if they recommend bringing the animal in for treatment. Keep in mind, if your pet is experiencing any of the following true emergencies, they should be brought in immediately:
- Severe bleeding, or bleeding that doesn't stop within 5 minutes
- Choking, difficulty breathing, or nonstop coughing and gagging
- Bleeding from nose, mouth, rectum, coughing up blood, or blood in urine
- Inability to urinate or pass feces (stool), or obvious pain associated with urinating or passing stool
- Injuries to the eye(s)
- You suspect or know that your pet has eaten something toxic (such as antifreeze, xylitol, chocolate, rodent poison, etc.)
- Seizures and/or staggering
- Fractured bones, severe lameness or inability to move leg(s)
- Obvious signs of pain or extreme anxiety
- Heat stress or heatstroke
- Severe vomiting or diarrhea--more than 2 episodes in a 24-hour period, or either of these combined with any of the other problems listed here
- Refusal to eat or drink for 24 hours or more
Where does my pet go after they have been triaged?
Your veterinary emergency facility has staff that are trained specifically to hold and restrain animals so that procedures can be performed quickly and easily with minimal stress to your animal. This also makes it easier for the veterinarians to examine the patient. You may be wondering why you cannot follow your patient back to the treatment area. Well, interestingly enough, many animals are more cooperative and less anxious when they are not in the presence of their owners; it is for their safety, as well as your own.
Your veterinary emergency facility is filled with employees who are pet owners just like you--many of which have been sitting in the waiting room themselves at one point or another. They understand how stressful it can be to be away from your pet, waiting to hear from a doctor about your pet's condition. Please know that veterinary staff treat your pet like one of their own and your pet is in the best hands when you bring them to a veterinary emergency clinic.
Should I schedule an appointment?
Emergency facilities are open 24/7/365 and are prepared for truly emergent situations that need immediate care from the moment they walk through the doors. As most of these situations are unpredictable, making an appointment ahead of time is not expected or required. However, it can be beneficial to you and the hospital staff if you can call ahead to provide a "heads up" so that the hospital can be optimally prepared when you arrive.
These are not the only factors that play into wait time, however; behind the doors there are a variety of patients who are critically ill or undergoing emergent procedures that are being treated while your pet waits up front. Rest assured, that your pet will be seen and treated as soon as possible. Many veterinary emergency facilities have a wonderful front desk staff who are more than willing to update you on the emergency status within the hospital while your pet is waiting. Do not hesitate to ask them questions!
Why is the cost so high?
When your pet becomes injured, or suddenly develops an acute, life threatening disease, he or she will need prompt emergency care. In addition to the initial emergency treatment, many days of intensive care may be needed for recovery.
When you visit a veterinary emergency facility, you can be assured that they have the most advanced equipment to care for your pet's ailments as well as a group of dedicated support staff and highly trained specialists that are are able to diagnose and treat the most critical and life-threatening emergencies. They do this around the clock, 365 days a year, so operation of this type of facility comes at a price.
The benefit to this type of facility is that your pet gets premium, around the clock monitoring and care when they need it the most. Staff at a veterinary emergency facility are always willing to talk with you about the condition of your pet and work with you on the best course of treatment for the well-being of your pet and you, the pet owner!
How can I prepare for a pet emergency?
A veterinary emergency is not something people are usually prepared for. Much like in human medicine, treatment during an emergency is not inexpensive. We, as humans, are lucky to have insurance to help us, but this is not readily available for our furry friends; however, you can be prepared for a pet emergency with a little creative planning:
- Become familiar with your local veterinary emergency clinic. Know their hours, location, and all policies (including their financial policies).
- Keep your pet's veterinary records in an easily accessible place in case you need to rush out the door with them. It is always a good idea to keep a copy of your pet's current vaccine history in the vehicle as well, in case you are traveling with your pet.
- Make sure to have a leash and and/or a carrier ready for your pet in an easily accessible area to make transporting easy. Keep in mind that in a true emergency, your pet is going to be painful and typically more stressed than usual.
- Have a credit card with an available balance set aside for these types of emergencies or an untouched savings account.
- Look into pet insurance for your pet. You may have to provide the money initially, but you will be reimbursed a percentage later, reducing the long term cost
- Know what your financial limits are and be willing to consider euthanasia as a last option if the level of care you can afford will not permit a humane recovery and reasonable quality of life for your pet.
Written by Jocelyn Wichtel, DVM