If your pet has an emergency, there's no time to waste.
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cat getting emergency pet service at a veterinary hospital, with vet using a stethoscope
Credit: vadimguzhva / Getty

It's what pet parents dread: Your fur baby is sick or injured and needs to see a veterinarian right away. If this happens during normal business hours, then you can call your regular veterinarian for advice. But what if your pet needs a vet on the weekend or (worse!) in the middle of the night? Fortunately, there are emergency vet services for these situations.

You might already know of some emergency vets near you in case you find yourself in a 911 situation. It's important to have a plan for your pet in case there's an after-hours emergency. It's also helpful to understand what emergency vet hospitals do and the difference between 24/7 emergency vets and after-hours emergency vets. Here's what you need to know.

What Does an Emergency Vet Service Do?

Emergency veterinary services provide veterinary care to pets after a sudden injury or illness. There are many situations that call for immediate veterinary attention.

"One of the best things about emergency medicine is that there is no such thing as a 'normal day' in the ER—just about anything and everything may present as an emergency," says Adam Lancaster, DVM, DACVECC, who specializes in emergency and critical care at BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital. Lancaster says some common emergencies he treats include:

  • Gastrointestinal issues including vomiting, diarrhea, and changes in appetite 
  • Signs of lower urinary tract disease in cats, such as straining to urinate, urinating frequently, or inability to urinate
  • Limping dogs and bite wounds

Emergency vet services see pets in order of urgency, not arrival time. There will be times when you have to wait and other times when your pet will see a vet right away. It's a lot like human emergency departments.

Types of Emergency Vet Services

Emergency vet services come in different forms. Some general practices even offer their own urgent care and emergency services via extended hours or on an on-call basis. This is great for continuity of care—your pet will be seen by a vet who knows your pet's history and has access to your records.

After-Hours Vets

Some emergency vets operate on nights and weekends only; they cover the times when many general practice veterinary offices are closed. After-hours vets provide care, then transfer the pet to a general vet or specialist if needed.

24/7 Vets

Other emergency vet facilities operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. They typically provide hospitalization with intensive care and can keep pets for longer periods of time.

Like BluePearl, some 24/7 emergency vet facilities also offer specialty services. This can be helpful if you know your pet has a complex issue that may require specialized care, like a neurological or orthopedic problem.

How to Choose the Right Service

So, which type of emergency service do you need? Lancaster breaks it down.

"If your pet is sick and you are in need of emergency care, you may want to consider the hours the facility is open (24/7 versus nights and weekends) and whether specialty care is available in addition to ER," he says. "However, in a truly life-threatening emergency where time is of the essence, the closest place is the best place. This way, your pet can be stabilized quickly and, if additional care is required beyond what is available at that facility, they can refer you to another hospital once stable."

There are even cases when you might want to seek out a specialist like Lancaster, who is certified by the American College of Veterinary Emergency & Critical Care (ACVECC). "An ACVECC specialist has received additional training in emergency and critical care, typically having completed a rotating internship and three-year residency program in Emergency and Critical Care," he explains. "Through this experience, they have developed advanced skills and are experts in life-saving care. If your pet has a life-threatening emergency or requires advanced care such as mechanical ventilation, dialysis, or post-cardiac arrest care, you may want to seek out a hospital with one or more DACVECCs."

How Much Does an Emergency Vet Service Cost?

Here's one thing you can count on: Emergency vet services cost more than routine vet services. The average cost for an examination by an emergency vet is $100–$150, roughly double the cost of exam fees at most general practitioners. The cost of procedures will be higher as well. Of course, these prices vary depending on the area and the type of facility. 

Lancaster says there are good reasons for the higher prices. "Like regular human hospitals, most veterinary emergency services are open outside of regular hours or 24/7, and hospitals must be staffed during these times," he says. "Caseloads are often unpredictable, and hospitals still need to be staffed in case patients need to be seen."

But it's not just about the hours and staffing. "Additionally, most ER and specialty hospitals have advanced diagnostics available or the ability to perform diagnostics after hours, when other laboratories are closed," Lancaster continues. "All of this leads to increased operational costs, and therefore increased costs to the consumer."

Some pet insurance and health membership plans also cover emergency services. If you're concerned about being able to pay for an urgent or emergency visit, it can be a good idea to look into the types of pet insurance that might help.

Where to Find an Emergency Vet Service Near You

It's a good idea to locate emergency vet facilities in your area before your pet has an emergency. Keep a list on your phone or posted on the fridge so you can access it quickly. You don't want to be frantically Googling "emergency vet near me" if the worst happens.

A simple web search can provide a list of emergency vets in your area, but your general practice vet can also provide recommendations. Take some time to check out their websites to see the services they provide. Map out the locations to determine how long it will take to get there. Include all of this info on your list—this way, you'll know how to act fast when your fur baby needs you most.