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What to Expect in the Pet Emergency Room

By: Dr. Debra Primovic

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Accidents and emergencies happen to pets ALL the time. Most pet owners think it won't happen to them but statistically, emergencies are common and likely occur to you and your pet at some time in your pet's life.

What can you expect if you go to a pet emergency room?

There are animal emergency clinics that operate very similar to human emergency rooms. They are no appointments, they are walk in only and they triage. Although they don't have "appointments" it is best to call ahead. When you do, tell them your pet's symptoms and ask if there is anything you can do at home or before you arrive. Ensure you know the locations, their directions and cost for the visit.

The initial fee generally covers the visit and consultation with the doctor. All diagnostic tests and treatments are in addition to that fee. All emergency clinics that I know will give you an estimate for the cost of any additional tests or procedures in advance to allow you to make the decision on what you want to do.

Once you arrive at the clinic...this is how it generally works. You walk in to the emergency clinic and a receptionist checks you in (just as you would in a human ER). They then do vitals (temperature, pulse and respiration) and quickly evaluate your pet. This quick evaluation is part of their triage.

Emergency clinics practice triage. Triage is a way to quickly evaluate a patient to determine the severity of their problem to ensure that the most critical patients first. This helps to maximize survival to the pets that are sickest.

For example, on a visit to an animal emergency clinic there were 4 animals in the "waiting room". One was there for a broken toenail that had been bleeding, another was a dog that started vomiting a few hours before arrival, the third patient was a dog what was limping and the fourth animal that came in was a cat that couldn't urinate. I watched the receptionist check each patient in and realize that the cat had the most life-threatening problem. The cat was immediately taken to the back room to be examined. Cats with urinary obstruction are life-threatening emergencies.

The cat was examined and treated. The other three pets were important but not deemed as critical and therefore taken in the order they came in. After the cat was treated, the veterinarian on duty saw the torn nail dog first and then the dog that was vomiting. Then...another dog came in. It was a dog that had been it by a car that appeared to have a broken leg and was having trouble breathing. He was triaged to be the most critical and was seen next. Then back to the limping dog.

That is just a glimpse of what happens. Please be patient. Your pet will be seen. Your patience may actually save the life of a pet. I hope these tips help you know what to expect when you see your emergency veterinarian.

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