What to Do if Your Pet Has an Emergency

By: Christine New, DVM

TVMA Member
Dallas, Texas

Published July 2014

Similar to human emergencies, pet emergencies are often unpredictable and can be stressful. Prior preparation can help alleviate some stress and may result in quicker, more successful care.

How can a client find an emergency clinic in their area?

Owners should contact their family veterinarian prior to an emergency and determine if their veterinarian sees after-hours emergencies. In the event that the family veterinarian does not see emergencies at night or on the weekends, he or she can likely make a recommendation as to where you can take pets during an unforeseen situation. Store this number in your phone, on the fridge or in another place where it can be easily found. You can also search the internet or phone book for emergency veterinary clinics or call an area ER to ask if they are the closest facility. In an emergency, you should always take them to the closest facility.

Should a client call the clinic or just show up?

At the ER, the most ill or critically injured pets are given priority and examined first. Emergency clinics do not take appointments. It is extremely helpful to call first in order to alert the staff so they can prepare any necessary equipment and/or drugs and meet you at the door with a gurney if needed. However, it is not necessary to call before arrival.

What information should a client bring along to the emergency clinic?

  • Medical Records: If your pet is currently under care by your family veterinarian, bring the paperwork you have from their clinic, such as labwork and receipts. It is always a good idea to ask for a copy of your pet’s labwork and other veterinary paperwork. Place the paperwork in a folder individualized for your pet and keep it somewhere you can easily grab in an accident. Veterinarians at ERs do not have access to your veterinarian’s computer system and cannot look up records. If deemed necessary to properly evaluate and treat your pet, labwork may need to be repeated at the ER.
  • Medication List: Prepare a list of any current medications they take, either regularly or as needed, and remember to keep it updated. This list should include all medications dispensed by a veterinarian as well as any supplements or over-the-counter medications. It is also a good idea to keep this list with your pet’s medical records. When you arrive at the clinic, make your veterinarian aware of any medications you might have given since the emergency started as well as any drug allergies your pet may have.
  • If you suspect that your pet has ingested anything out of the ordinary and you can safely and quickly obtain the substance, bring it with you. Examples include items such as plants, human and pet medications and household cleaners.

Are costs for care significantly higher at an emergency clinic?

Costs for care typically are higher at an ER. This is in part due to the fact that many ERs will be equipped with diagnostics and drugs not typically found at your family veterinary clinic. Most tests completed in an ER will have results available within the hour, if not immediately, because these tests are performed on location and not sent to an outside laboratory.

It is customary for emergency clinics to require a prepayment or deposit at the time of hospitalization. Payment plans are not always accepted.

What is not found at an emergency clinic?

Most emergency clinics do not board animals, nor do they administer vaccines or perform health certificates. By state law, they will not be able to refill medications dispensed by your veterinarian without first examining your pet.

When should you take your pet to the ER?

The following list includes signs of medical emergencies. It is important to note that signs of an emergency issue are not limited to those on this list. If an animal ever shows signs that are concerning to you, call your veterinarian or an emergency clinic immediately.

Dr. Christine New practices veterinary medicine at the Hillside Veterinary Clinic in Dallas.