The time when the unexpected happens to your pet is scary, stressful, and panic-inducing. While it can be hard to stay calm in these situations, one thing you can do ahead of time is to find an after-hours emergency vet before you have an emergency.
But if you need one now, here’s what to do:
- Call your regular veterinarian. If closed, there should be a message directing you on what to do.
- If you are near a university with a veterinary school, check the list of accredited veterinary schools or Google the name of the University then “Small Animal Veterinary Emergency Clinic.”
- Google “24-Hour Emergency Vet Near Me.” You may have to add your location.
If no emergency service is available, if you are unsure whether your dog needs emergency treatment, or if you need immediate advice, you can contact a service such as VetTriage for 24/7 video conferencing. The fee is less than an ER visit, and they can advise you if your dog can wait until regular hours or if it is in fact an emergency. If it is, they may be able to find a clinic near you.
If poisoning is a concern, you can call or message one of several pet poison helplines such as the Pet Poison Helpline.
A better plan is to find an emergency clinic before you need one. Veterinary emergency services can be one of several types:
- Your regular veterinarian may be on call for emergencies. This situation, once the norm, is quickly disappearing, and with good reason. Veterinarians have a life outside of work and need sleep, too. Multiple-vet practices may be able to rotate different vets to be on call. Understandably, veterinarians are more likely to offer this service to regular clients who don’t just call for emergencies.
- Area veterinary clinics may take turns being on call. Again, this means somebody loses a night of sleep, but it may be only once a week or less.
- Dedicated specialty and emergency clinics may be present in larger cities. These clinics often house several veterinary specialists, including an emergency service that operates only after hours; or they may offer a 24/7 emergency clinic. Such clinics are more likely to have advanced life-saving equipment for emergency situations.
- Universities with veterinary schools have emergency centers. Veterinary ERs are staffed by multiple veterinarians and veterinary students and have state-of-the-art facilities. They are open 24/7 and have veterinarians trained in emergency medicine, and other specialists on call or in the building. They are your top choice for serious or confusing situations.
Be aware that veterinarians and clinics may change their policies concerning after-hour emergencies, with fewer facilities currently available because of the nationwide veterinary shortage. Always call ahead, and have a stand-by option ready if needed.
Also be aware that an emergency visit will cost more than a regular office-hours visit, whether it’s with your own vet or at a vet school. You may wish to check ahead now to compare costs if that is a major concern. With the possible exception of your own veterinarian, no emergency clinic will treat your dog without payment upfront. Many clinics do offer financing through CareCredit. You can call ahead and find out if they offer this or other payment options. It’s also wise to make sure you have pet insurance to help cover these unexpected costs.
In many areas, you may have more than one option for an emergency vet. If this is the case, start by asking your veterinary clinic who they recommend. Most emergency clinics will send your veterinarian a report after the visit, and some of their clients have also shared their experiences. So your veterinarian has likely had a chance to compare experiences from many dog owners and clinics to offer a good recommendation.
Some clinics have met the stringent requirements for accreditation by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), and some boast veterinarians who have served a three-year residency to earn their Diplomate of American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care (DACVECC) title. These are both excellent credentials to look for, but many—in fact, most—great emergency clinics and veterinarians have neither.
Before considering an emergency vet ask about any specific concerns you may have about any possible injuries or infections your dog might get. For example:
- If snake bites are a possibility, ask if the emergency clinic stocks antivenom (antivenin). Antivenom is the only effective way to treat rattlesnake, copperhead, or water moccasin bites, but not all emergency clinics carry it. Also, ask about their snake bite protocol. If it doesn’t include antivenom and strong pain medications, but instead includes Benadryl, steroids, NSAIDs, or antibiotics, which are ineffective and potentially harmful, it’s better to drive farther to a clinic that uses antivenom. For coral snakes or venomous non-native species, you should go to veterinary school.
- If your dog’s breed is prone to bloat or Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV), which is a dangerous case of bloating, ask a local kennel club or breed club if they recommend a particular emergency clinic. Some tend to have better outcomes with this than others.
- If your dog’s breed is at risk for glaucoma, you may need to go directly to a veterinary school, which will often have a veterinary ophthalmologist on call. In other cases, the emergency clinic will be able to treat this until an ophthalmologist can take over during regular hours. Some ophthalmology clinics associated with emergency clinics may also have an ophthalmologist on call, but these eye emergencies should be taken care of immediately
- If you are planning a litter, ask about an emergency C-section. Specifically ask if they require the dam to be spayed as part of the surgery, which some clinics are requiring. If the answer isn’t acceptable, ask a local kennel club or breed club who their members recommend.
Always call the emergency clinic beforehand or when you’re on the way. This will enable them to have everything prepared for your dog’s emergency once you arrive and gives you an idea if there is a wait. Your emergency may not be as urgent as others that come before or even after you. Some emergency clinics have had to turn away patients because of the veterinary shortage. Instead, you may need to call other emergency clinics or go to the veterinary school ER.
Also, remember the practical considerations. Have your car ready: filled with enough fuel to get to a clinic, and otherwise ready to fit your dog in and go. Make transportation plans if you have no car and care plans for any young children. Be sure you’ll have help if you need to load a large incapacitated dog into your car.