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Midnight Scare: What to Expect at a Pet's Emergency Visit

cullen HRDr. Alycia Cullen, a veterinarian at our TVV Decatur Emergency, informs clients on what to expect at their pet's ER visit and how to be prepared in the event of an emergency...

An emergency visit to the veterinarian can be fraught with stress and emotion. Chances are, if you are coming to see us in the middle of the night, you are very concerned about the well-being of your pet. First, you are trying to decide if you should come in...are the symptoms bad enough? Can they wait until the morning? Then, you have to decide how you are going to get here. Who will be there to greet you? Will your pet receive the same great care overnight that he or she always receives during the day? Here are a few facts about emergency care that may help you better prepare for a trip to the ER:

VV night imageEmergency care is unexpected. Here are some helpful tips:

  • With one doctor on staff and a small crew of (wonderful) technicians, things can get overwhelming if we are not able to stagger clients to best cater to everyone’s needs. We do our best to give you the most accurate time estimates we can, but, as we do not know when the next emergency will be, we are not able to estimate based on standard appointment times.  Of course, please be safe, and calling ahead is not required if your pet is in mortal danger and speed is of the essence. 
  • Be prepared to give us as much information as you can. When did the symptoms start? What was eaten? How much? What has been given at home? If we do not already have your medical records, what other medications and medical conditions does your pet have? We know that bringing your pet in is stressful and you may not know much, but the more you can tell us the better!
  • If your pet has ingested a possibly toxic substance, we recommend you contact Pet Poison Control Hotline (1-800-213-6680). There is a fee ($39) for the consultation, but they can let you know if a trip to the veterinarian is necessary. There are countless possible toxins out there; As they receive all poisoning data from all over the country, they can best advise your veterinarian on the latest treatments available. 

Emergency care is unpredictable. Each and every patient is important to us, and of course, they are your #1 (as they should be!). However, it is our responsibility to attend to every patient that walks through the door and treat them accordingly. Part of the uniqueness of emergency work is that, in the same 30 minutes we could have a pet which was - hit by a car, involved in a dog fight, ingested a toxin, and suffering from chronic diabetes - all walk through the door. Our job is to make sure we do everything we can when pets need us most. Here are some tips about the unpredictable nature of care that may help:

  • We know how stressful waiting with a sick or injured animal can be; most of us have experienced it ourselves. We must triage and make quick decisions about the state of your pet’s immediate health concerns.  When a critical patient comes in, we have to focus on their care because time may be short.
  • Unfortunately, this could mean that you are waiting to be seen for a while. As frustrating as this can be, take comfort in the fact that this is likely because your pet is the most stable. 
  • Remember, someday, that critical patient might be yours, and you will appreciate being seen as quickly as possible. 

Emergency care can be expensive. We pride ourselves in providing the same high quality care throughout the night as we do during the day.  This means, however, that we have to keep the practice lit, connected, and open, hire caring and skilled people willing to work all night, and provide many specialized services because of the unpredictable nature of emergencies. Furthermore, veterinarians do not benefit from insurance or the government support that hospitals do; the only source of funds we have to keep providing quality care is the money we make from the services we provide. This is a difficult fact, and we face difficult financial decisions daily. More frequently than we would like, emergencies are brought to us that we cannot treat for a primarily financial reason. Having to turn down a patient that we could have cared for is, hands down, the worst part of a veterinarian’s job. Here are some things you can do now to help later:

  • Have a fund for emergency pet care.  If you have some money set aside for the unexpected, you will be better off if the day ever comes when you need it.
  • Talk with your regular vet about the costs of emergency vet care so you can be prepared. We want to make sure you are not surprised by the costs when they happen.
  • Look into credit options such as Care Credit. This is a medical credit card that splits the cost of care over monthly payments. However, it does have a steep penalty if not paid within six months and can be difficult to be approved for if you have a difficult credit history. 
  • Look into pet insurance. There are many options out there. Just be sure to read what is covered and be aware that they do not pay for the veterinary care directly; they reimburse you later, so open credit or savings for initial payment would still be recommended.
  • Discuss certain scenarios with decision makers of the family ahead of time. Where would you go? How much could you spend? Some of these decisions are extremely difficult and are only made more difficult during an emotional time such as an emergency visit. 

If we knew when our pet would have an emergency, we would try to plan for the eventual visit or just stop it from happening in the first place. However, this is rarely possible, and you can be caught off guard. Help us help you by being as prepared as possible.
As we often like to say, we hope we never have to see you and your pet for an emergency...but, if the need should arise, we are always here for you whenever you need us.

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