What is an Emergency Vet?

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Pet owners commonly wonder what is an emergency vet and what would happen if they had to take their pet to an emergency vet clinic. First, let’s look at what is an emergency vet?

An emergency vet is a veterinarian that focuses their work on veterinary emergencies. Some emergency vets work full time at an emergency clinic while, others do emergency work at their hospitals nights and weekends, and some work emergency shifts as a second job.

In addition to veterinarians that focus their work on emergencies, there are veterinarians that specialize in emergency and critical care. This means that after completing veterinary school, they continue training for 4 to 5 years to obtain this specialized degree. Veterinarians that are board-certified in emergency and critical care commonly have the initials DACVECC after their DVM (Doctor of Veterinary Medicine) degree. DACVECC means Diplomat of the American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care. For example, a veterinarian that is board certified in veterinary emergency and critical care would be John Smith, DVM, DACVECC.

How Do You See an Emergency Vet?

There are two common ways pet owners have their pets emergencies treated.

The first is that your family veterinarian takes calls and emergencies on weekends and nights. Occasionally a veterinarian may also do house calls however the most common practice is for dog and cat owners to take their pet to the veterinary hospital.

The second way pet owners have their pet’s emergencies treated is through a veterinary emergency hospital. Most large cities have one or several veterinary emergency clinics. Some emergency clinics operate just nights and weekends (basically they are open when the regular vet clinics close) and others are open 24/7/365. Some emergencies clinics are associated with specialty hospitals that offer expertise in cardiology, dermatology, surgery, internal medicine, oncology, avian and exotic, anesthesiology, radiology, critical care, rehabilitation, dentistry, and more.

What are Common Dogs and Cats Emergencies?

There are literally thousands of reasons dogs and cats can end up at emergency vet clinics. They can range from being hit by a car, lacerations, ingestion of toxins, as well as common problems such as itching, ear infections, coughing, vomiting, and diarrhea.

The most common reasons dogs present to emergency rooms are as follows:

The most common reasons cats present to emergency rooms are as follows:

What is the Best Way to See an Emergency Vet?

The best way to see an emergency vet will depend on you, your pets needs, and what services your family vet offers. In many cases, the least expensive way to have your pet treated is by your family veterinarian.

Some veterinary clinics do not provide emergency services and refer all their after-hour calls to a local emergency clinic, some see emergencies on an outpatient basis, and others provide 24/7 emergency care and have the staffing to support pets all night. Veterinary clinics that see emergencies on an outpatient basis may refer serious or life-threatening problems to a 24-hour facility that has an around-the-clock nursing staff to monitor and care for your dog or cat.

If your family vet is closed or your pet needs more intensive 24-hour care than your veterinarian can provide, the best option may be to go to an emergency vet clinic.

Do you wonder when you should go to or call the emergency vet? Go to: When Should You Call the Emergency Vet Hotline? This article identifies the most common emergency situations including a list of foods and toxins that should prompt a call.

How Do Emergency Vet Clinics Work?

An emergency vet clinic operates similarly to human emergency rooms and urgent care clinics. You don’t need an appointment and can go any hours they are open.

Emergency vet clinics practice triage. Triage is a method that identifies the most critical patients to ensure they receive attention and treatment the soonest in an effort to save the most lives. This means that a dog hit by a car that is having trouble breathing and bleeding will get priority over a dog that has been limping for two days. Learn more about the Day in the Life of an Emergency Veterinarian.

What Should You Expect from an Emergency Vet?

If your dog or cat is severely ill or injured, it is ideal to call ahead and let the veterinary staff know you are coming and provide any information you have about your pet’s condition. For example, if your dog is having trouble breathing, they will likely prepare by setting up an oxygen cage in advance. They may also organize an intravenous (IV) fluid set up that will allow them to quickly insert an IV and deliver life-saving fluid therapy and drug treatments.

When you arrive at an emergency vet clinic, a receptionist will ask about your pet’s problem and they or a technician will briefly assess your pet to determine how critical your pet is relative to the other animals at the hospital. The receptionist will generally give you information about the cost of the emergency room visit and ask you to fill out paperwork with your information, your pet’s information, and ask you to sign an authorization for the emergency vet to evaluate your pet.

Critical patients may be taken to the treatment room for immediate evaluation by skilled technicians and the emergency vet. They will evaluate your pet to determine the immediate diagnostic and treatment needs then talk to you with their recommendations. At this time it is likely you will be separated from your pet. This will allow your vet to focus on your pet solely without you being a distraction. Once this evaluation is completed, they will talk to you with their recommendations and provide an estimate for the cost of care. This will be an opportunity for you to discuss the problem, tests, all treatment options, and the prognosis.

How Much does an Emergency Vet Cost?

Emergency care through a 24/7 veterinary hospital is generally more expensive than regular office calls. For example, an office call at a veterinary clinic in the Midwest can range from $45 to $65 on average versus a visit to an Emergency Clinic can range from $100 to $200 for the visit. This cost covers the examination by the veterinarian at which time they will provide recommendations and an estimate for any diagnostic tests or treatments that they recommend. Simple outpatient visits can run $300 to $400 and any pet that is admitted to the hospital can range from $800 to $10,000 depending on the underlying problem and the diagnostic tests and treatments needed.

If you admit your pet to a veterinary emergency clinic, they will ask you to sign the estimate and place a deposit. Deposits are generally cash, check, or credit card payments. The deposit is most often either the full low end of the estimate or half of the high end. If your pet has an estimate for tests and treatment of $1000 to $1500, depending on the clinic’s policy, you will be asked to leave anywhere from $750 to $1000. The balance is generally due when you pick up your pet. Most emergency vet clinics do not have payment plans. The rules for payments will vary at different hospitals.

Another payment option for emergency vet care is care credit. Care credit is a line of credit that can be used for medical expenses. Many pet owners carry them for their own dental work and other medical care costs. Care Credit can also be used for veterinary care at many hospitals. For more details, you may Google “Care Credit”. You can apply online or on the phone and get an answer quickly as to if you are denied, accepted, and your credit limit. Ask your emergency vet if they accept Care Credit.

Pet insurance is a great way to get help paying for emergency vet bills. If you have pet insurance, you will be reimbursed to the full extent of your policy. For example, if you have a pet insurance policy that has a $500 deductible and 90% coverage, this means that you are responsible for the first $500 and 10% of the bill after that. So if your pet has severe vomiting and is admitted to the hospital for blood work, x-ray’s and fluid therapy, your bill over the course of 2 to 3 days could be anywhere from $2,200 to $5,000.00. This will vary with your location and specific clinic. Using the pet insurance policy example above, if your bill was $3,000, you would pay the deductible of $500 and another $250 which is 10% of the balance. The pet insurance company would pay 90% of the bill after the deductible, which in this case would be 90% of $2,500 which is $2,250. So your bill would be $750 and the pet insurance company would pay $2,250.

The best time to get pet insurance is before your pet becomes sick. Having pet insurance can really help you pay for unexpected emergency vet visits. Get a free quote here.

Communication with the Emergency Vet

If your pet is hospitalized, you can call the veterinary clinic anytime to check on your pet. If there are several people in your family worried about your dog or cat, they will ask that one representative call for updates and that person disperses the information to your family. This allows the veterinary care team to provide the care your pet needs. The veterinarian will call you if there is ever a change in your pet’s condition. If your pet’s condition deteriorates, they will call you to discuss causes and options.

As part of the normal procedures, if your dog or cat is hospitalized, even for something very minor, they will ask your preference for “code status”. This question addresses your wishes for CPR or if there is a change in your pet’s condition. They will generally call you first, but they will ask your preference so it is clear in the event they can’t get in contact with you.

If your pet is sick or you have questions, call your veterinary or local emergency vet clinic. They and their team can help guide you regarding the next best step to help your pet.

Additional Articles that May Be of Interest Emergency Vet Situations

A Day in the Life of an Emergency Veterinarian
The # 1 Dog Emergency Seen in Emergency Rooms
When Should You Call the Emergency Vet Hotline?
What’s the #1 Cat Emergency Seen in Emergency Rooms? 
Not Eating: Third Most common Dog ER Visit & What You Should Know
Diarrhea is the 2nd Most Common Dog ER Visit – What You Should Know
How Much Should You Expect For Dog Vet Costs?
What is Pet Insurance?
How Does Pet Insurance Work?
Questions To Ask When Choosing A New Vet

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