Every pet owner hopes that the time will never come when their pet needs emergency help. However, if your pet does need help urgently, a pet emergency hospital can save their lives. Here are a few tips for when to go to the emergency clinic, how to choose one, and what might happen when you get there.

When You Might Need to Go to a Pet Emergency Clinic

The AAHA Definition of a Pet Emergency

a large dog that seems sad

The AAHA (American Animal Hospital Association) is an accrediting body that regulates pet hospitals across the United States. Because animal hospitals are not regulated like those for humans, only about 60 percent of veterinary facilities in the U.S. are AAHA accredited.

Aside from their role as an accrediting body, the AAHA provides basic educational materials such as this list of definite emergencies that require an immediate trip to a pet emergency room. It includes:

  • When your pet is unconscious, having trouble breathing, or cannot stand.
  • If you notice gagging without vomiting or straining to urinate without production.
  • When you suspect your pet may have ingested something toxic.
  • If your pet is having a seizure (or just had one).
  • Any time your pet appears to be in extreme pain or distress.

Use Your Own Judgment

You know your pet better than anyone else. If something seems off with your pet, make a call to a local veterinary emergency clinic. You will be able to speak with trained staff who can tell you whether or not they think your pet is having an emergency.

However, it is also important to use your knowledge of your pet. If the vet thinks you can wait until morning, but you’re not so sure, take your pet in. Animals can hide their pain and suffering amazingly well– so much so that sometimes only the people who know them best can see important symptoms of potentially major problems.

How to Find a Good Pet Emergency Room

a cute but lethargic cat

#1. Location

Chances are, that if you need an emergency pet clinic, you won’t want to be driving for hours to get there. In some areas, these clinics are few and far between, and there isn’t any choice. Still, most people will be able to find a provider relatively near their home. If the emergency is already happening, the closest clinic that is open when necessary is probably the best bet.

#2. Check Ahead of Time

It’s best to figure out where you would take your pet in an emergency before you ever need to. This gives you time to look up your options, check reviews, and call and talk to a staff member. Some people like to visit the clinic in order to see what the facility is like and how people and their pets are treated.

Animal hospitals usually cater to dogs and cats, but some specialize in only one or the other. Cat-only hospitals are more common than dog-only facilities. This is probably because cats can be distressed by being around dogs. Still, the reverse is not usually true. If you have an exotic pet such as a rabbit or a bird, however, it is important to call ahead and ask if the clinic sees your type of pet.

What to Expect at the Pet Emergency Hospital

a dog being a patient at a vet clinic

1. The Triage Process

In many cases, if there are other animals waiting their turn, a veterinary technician or veterinarian will triage your animal. Pet emergency visits come in varying levels of seriousness, from animals who need to be seen right this second to those who can wait fifteen minutes or an hour.

If your pet is not considered critical, but another animal is, there may be a wait. Generally, pets that are having trouble breathing, are bleeding profusely, or appear to be in severe pain will jump to the head of the line.

2. Seeing the Veterinarian

Depending on the size of the clinic, you may be brought into a room by a technician, or you may simply meet the vet right away. Either way, they will want to know what made you bring your pet in when you started noticing the symptoms. Also, they will need anything else you might be able to tell them about your pet’s condition. A physical exam is usually carried out next so that the vet can determine the main cause of the problem.

Pet emergency visits often result in a number of tests being done because animals can’t tell us what is wrong. The veterinarian will tell you what kind of tests they recommend and what those test results will reveal. If the situation is urgent, they may recommend that you jump straight into treatment based on a diagnosis made using their education and experience.

3. The Financial Elephant in the Room

Pet emergency visits can be expensive. Most people wish that they could spend thousands of dollars on their beloved pets, but in reality, they can’t. Veterinarians know this, and most of them are extremely understanding when asked about costs and how to prioritize tests and treatments. Therefore, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask what how much the options you have been given will cost.

On the other hand, many clinics do not do billing and will require payment upfront. It’s a good idea to have funds set aside and easily available when you need them. Pet emergency visits do qualify for Care Credit. This is a special type of credit card that helps people pay for their own medical expenses as well as those of their pets, but your application would need to be accepted.

Wrapping It Up

Pet emergency visits are something that we would all like to avoid. However, knowing what you are going to do if something does happen can mean the difference between life and death for your beloved companion animal. It is well worth the time it takes to investigate your options, choose a clinic, and set up an emergency fund.

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