Kitten on examination table at the hospital, looking at a stethoscope.

What to Expect at the Veterinary Emergency Hospital

We have all had something unexpected happen to a beloved pet, and it can be difficult to navigate the emergency treatment process, especially when concerned for your pet’s health.

We are going to walk you through what to expect when you arrive at an emergency hospital and how to be prepared.

The Arrival and Triage Process for Your Pet

A veterinary technician listening to a dog’s heart and lungs.

Here are some tips and tricks to ease you through processing at the ER:

Here are normal vital parameters for cats and dogs:

Vital parameters Cat Dog
Temperature 100.5 – 102.5 F 100.5 – 102.5 F
Heart Rate 160 – 220 beats per minute 60 – 140 beats per minute
Pulse Rate 160 – 220 beats per minute 60 – 140 beats per minute
Respiratory Rate 24 – 42 breaths per minute 10 – 30 breaths per minute
Systolic blood pressure 100-160 mmHg 100 – 160 mmHg
Diastolic blood pressure 50 – 80 mmHg 50 – 80 mmHg

The body temperature is taken with a rectal thermometer, as this provides the most accurate reading in both dogs and cats. The technician will listen to the lungs with a stethoscope and will get a heart rate and respiratory rate. At the same time, they will feel for femoral pulses and the quality of the pulse, as this provides some indication of the patient’s blood pressure.

Examination of the Mucus Membrane

The technician will also look inside your pet’s mouth to check the color and texture of their mucus membranes (gums). If they feel dry or tacky, this could indicate that the patient is dehydrated.

Here’s what each color indicates about your pet’s health:

Classifying the Emergency

Following the battery of preliminary examinations, your veterinary technician will classify the emergency as one of the following categories:

Class Treatment Time Conditional of Animal
Class 1 – Critical Treatment within seconds No heartbeat, not breathing, or difficult breathing
Class 2 – Urgent Treatments within minutes Open fractures, profuse bleeding, in extreme pain
Class 3 – Stable Treatments within hours Vomiting for 12 hours, diarrhea for 24 hours, bloody stool
Class 4 – Completely Stable Treatment within 24 hours Broken toenail, itchy skin, diarrhea less the 12 hours

Why is there such a long wait?

When a pet comes in with difficulty breathing or is profusely bleeding, this pet must be treated immediately. On the other hand, if your pet has been triaged with a broken toenail (class 4 triage), then graver emergencies (classes 1, 2, 3 triages) will be treated first. Pets are not seen by the veterinarian in the order that they arrive at the hospital. There is not an appointment schedule like at your regular veterinarian clinic. So, please be patient and trust that the emergency staff is working hard to provide each and every pet with the highest standards of medical care. There is also a national shortage of emergency veterinarians in the United States. On occasion, there might only be one or two emergency veterinarians on staff and they are working hard to provide the best possible care to all the pets in the hospital.

Once it is your pet’s turn to be seen by a veterinarian, they will come in and examine your pet and discuss your pet’s history with you. The veterinarian will make recommendations for your pet including blood work, radiographs, and/or an ultrasound. The technician will make an estimate for you to review including recommendations for treatment in the hospital. They will then type up discharge instructions and go over what will happen if and when your pet is hospitalized.

Do not hesitate to follow up if you have any additional questions after you leave the hospital. Understanding forthcoming treatment measures is the best way to avoid panic and confusion following a pet emergency.