What to Do When Your Vet Can’t Fit You In (and You Can’t Wait ‘Till Monday)

In communities all over North America, we are experiencing a boom in pet ownership. Unfortunately, we are simultaneously facing a global shortage of veterinarians. More and more often, pet owners are reporting that it’s difficult to get veterinary care when and where they need it.

People often wait days to see their vet. They wait hours in emergency hospitals. And they endure long waiting lists when they move to a new community or adopt a new pet. Complaints about these barriers dominate the veterinary news. Various measures are being explored to increase the number of appointments available. Unfortunately, it is predicted that the veterinary shortage will continue for several years. So, what can you do when your vet isn't available when your pet needs help?

Get Solutions from Your Regular Vet

Pet health emergencies are stressful. When you discover that your regular vet can’t see you, the disappointment and frustration can be overwhelming. Your reflex may be to hang up immediately and start looking for other options. But before moving on, see what resources your veterinarian can offer you. Telephone triage can give you insights into the true urgency of the situation. Sometimes, your pet will really need to see a vet in short order. But in many situations, home-care advice, a prescription refill, or an appointment with a credentialed veterinary technician may be exactly what your pet needs. These measures can often make the wait for the vet a safe and comfortable one. If interim measures won’t do for your pet, your vet may be able to refer you to other caregivers in your area.

Contact a Nearby Practice

Veterinary scheduling can be unpredictable. On a day when your veterinarian’s office is overwhelmed, a clinic across town may be experiencing a lull. Try calling a few veterinarians who practice in your area. Newer clinics, house-call practitioners, and rural hospitals may have different traffic patterns than your regular vet. Try these options to see if they have room to see your pet on short notice. You won’t have to change vets forever, and you may be able to find a solution that works for your immediate needs.

Find an Emergency Clinic

Veterinary emergency clinics have become more common over the past 20 years. These hospitals are usually open around the clock, on holidays, or outside of regular business hours. They’re fully equipped to provide emergency and intensive care for animals. Emergency clinics have replaced the “on-call” model for many regular vets. They offer pet owners better access to well-rested, action-ready veterinarians at night, on weekends, and during holidays.

Just like human emergency departments, veterinary emergency clinics see the most urgent and life-threatening cases first. This means that if your pet is having difficulty breathing, they’re likely to be seen very quickly. If they have diarrhea or an ear infection, you should prepare for a lengthy wait. Try to adopt a positive mindset: The longer you wait in a veterinary ER, the better your pet’s prognosis is likely to be!

Try Telemedicine

Telemedicine is an excellent alternative to a long appointment wait. It allows you to connect by phone, video chat, or text with a veterinarian, credentialed veterinary technician, or a veterinary specialist. Depending on your local regulations, telemedicine professionals can provide you with triage information, health advice, diagnostic insights, and even prescriptions on a virtual platform.

Not every medical condition can be diagnosed and treated via telemedicine. Still, your telemedicine provider will be able to counsel you about the urgency of your pet’s illness. And they can even suggest home-care measures or direct you to local resources for in-person veterinary care.

Be Prepared in Advance

In a crisis, the first steps that you take at home can have a significant impact on your pet’s recovery. Make sure that you have a well-stocked pet first-aid kit in your house. Include pet-specific items like a leash, muzzle, cone collar, nail clippers, and styptic powder. Consider taking a pet first-aid course, so that you can remain cool and tactical in an emergency.

Keep a list of emergency contacts programmed into your phone. Include your veterinarian, your local veterinary emergency hospital, animal poison control, and a trusted pet sitter.

Finally, make sure that you always have a good stock of your pet’s essential supplies. Set up automatic refills or reminders for food, medication, and parasite prevention.

Don’t Wait to Call

Your regular veterinarian probably operates out of a general practice hospital. Many of these clinics are closed overnight and have limited hours on weekends. This means that Mondays are often the busiest day of the week for urgent cases. If you notice that something is wrong with your pet mid-week, it’s best to notify your vet as soon as possible. Many people want to monitor their pets at home in hopes that they’ll recover with time. Unfortunately, this can often lead to challenges if the pet doesn’t improve. Worried family members must then try to find an appointment late in the evening, or over the weekend.

Be Kind

Please remember: if your veterinarian can’t see you when you need them, it does not mean that they don’t care. They may be in the middle of a surgery that can’t be interrupted. They could be treating a pet in a life-threatening situation. They’re probably stretching themselves to meet the needs of too many pets during this veterinary shortage. Perhaps they need to commit time to vital rest and family responsibilities.

Please be kind. Veterinarians are humans with their own limitations and wellness needs. While many vets would like to save pets around-the-clock, we know that this is unrealistic. The profession is slowly learning that over-commitment leads to mistakes, quality erosion, and professional burnout.

Trust that serious issues will be prioritized. Be patient and open to seeking alternate care arrangements in your community. This is the best way to maintain a positive and rewarding relationship with your veterinary team.