Oh no … BLOOD! As Honey and I were walking down the sidewalk, I noticed her paw was leaving marks on the pavement. And our regular vet was hundreds of miles away. Though Honey’s injury was clearly not life-threatening, it still needed care sooner rather than later. And that meant it was time to find an emergency vet.

Emergency veterinarian holding a small brown dog

While seeking care for Honey, I learned a lot about emergency vet care. Hopefully you’ll never need to know any of this. But if your pet gets ill or injured while you’re traveling, here are a few things that will help.

What Is An Emergency?

First, you need to decide the seriousness of your pet’s condition. When your pet becomes sick in the middle of the night, it can be difficult to decide whether you should wait until your regular vet opens, or seek care right away. Knowing what to do is even harder when you’re traveling.

Calling an emergency veterinary hospital is one way to have a trained professional help you make that decision.

Most vets agree that certain conditions are too risky to wait before seeking treatment. These include:

  • repeated vomiting or diarrhea, especially if you see blood
  • seizures
  • avoiding food or water for a full day
  • injury in a traumatic accident or in an attack by another animal
  • swallowing a foreign body
  • difficulty breathing
  • abdominal bloating
  • high fever

Any item on that list can threaten your pet’s life, and you should take your pet to the veterinarian immediately.

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Honey the golden retriever runs moments before hurting herself and needing an emergency vet.
I took this picture minutes before Honey hurt her paw. How did she hurt her nail on such soft grass?

What Is An Emergency Vet?

When your pet gets hurts or sick at home, you’re likely to call your regular vet. However, these things never seem to happen during office hours! And local veterinarians aren’t usually staffed around the clock. Some small vet practices work together to provide after-hours care, while others partner with larger emergency providers. Be sure to ask your veterinarian what they recommend if you need pet care in the middle of the night.

Getting help when you’re home is one thing. But if your pet gets injured or sick while you’re traveling, you might need to find a nearby pet ER. Emergency medicine for pets is as sophisticated as the human medical system.

Here are some of the ways emergency vets practice:

Full-service Veterinary Clinics

Some veterinarians provide a full range of routine care (wellness exams, vaccinations, minor surgeries, etc.) as well as emergency care. Often, they are open only during normal business hours, but have on-call veterinarians who see patients after hours.

A full-service emergency provider can also provide follow-up care to your pet during their recovery.

24-hour Emergency Vet Clinics

Some round-the-clock emergency clinics provide routine services. Others only staff specialists who treat the most severely injured and ill pets in consultation with their regular veterinarian.

This kind of care was once only available at veterinarian teaching hospitals, but now there are 24-hour emergency veterinary clinics in every part of the country. Some large cities have several, and a few even have ambulance services to pick up injured or ill pets.

After-hours Veterinary Hospitals

There are some emergency veterinary hospitals that don’t provide any routine vet care – all their patients are urgent cases. These hospitals are generally open when regular veterinarians are closed for the day, and are often available 24-hours on weekends and holidays.

These facilities typically provide triage care. They stabilize and treat pets, then refer them back to their regular veterinarian for follow-up care.

Honey injured her paw early on a weekend morning, so I searched for veterinarians in the Hampton Roads area on GoPetFriendly.com and found an office near the marina where Honey and I had been staying. Thanks to a pet friendly cab driver, I didn’t have to carry Honey the three miles to the vet!

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Honey the golden retriever considers jumping off the sailboat onto the dock.
Honey’s not sure about the big jump off the boat at high tide. Is a big jump even scarier than being carried around with a hurt paw?

What Emergency Vets Need You To Know

Emergency veterinarians operate a little differently than regular veterinarians. Here are a few tips to keep you from being surprised:

Call First

Even vet offices that are open 24 hours prefer you call before you arrive. In a life-threatening emergency, it gives them time to prepare. If you need to stop bleeding or induce vomiting in your pet and time is of the essence, the emergency vet will walk you through it on the telephone.

Some vet offices even have special equipment to help move a large, injured dog from your car to their office without hurting them more. Calling first means they will be ready as soon as you drive up.

Honey the golden retriever sits pretty at the vet's office.
Healthy and whole once again, Honey visits her regular vet for her annual wellness appointment.

Sickest Pets See the Doctor First

Honey’s injury was simply a broken nail resulting from an earlier injury to her nail bed. Nail injuries bleed a lot, but I’ve never known a dog to die from one. So, while Honey was in some pain, her condition was not serious.

As a result, Honey and I waited while the busy staff focused on the sickest pups first. Like in a human trauma unit, emergency vets treat those who need immediate attention first.

It can be hard to wait a long time for a veterinarian to see your pet. But be grateful that your pet is stable enough that she can wait for the doctor.

Expect Higher Costs

Emergency veterinary care is not cheap.

Due to the specialized services they provide, the fees you’ll pay to have your pet evaluated and treated by an emergency vet are higher than they’d be at your regular veterinarian. To avoid any surprises, a member of the staff will usually talk to you immediately about the estimated costs. You’ll likely need to sign paperwork stating that you agree to pay for your pet’s care, and they might require a deposit before beginning treatment.

When your only concern is the well-being of your loved pet, it can feel hard to talk about money. Keep in mind that emergency vets care deeply about animals and want to help you and your pet. But they also need to make sure they can pay their staff and the rent. So, be prepared for a discussion about how the bill will be paid while your pet is being whisked in for evaluation.

Honey the golden retriever walks the dock with a plastic bag on her bandaged paw.
Do you think Honey hated the “boot” so much because she felt unfashionable in the marina?

Some Veterinarians Prefer to Treat Your Pet Without You Near

In most emergency clinics, pets are treated in a back room where the vet and technicians provide critical care. But will the vet allow you to stay with your pet when the major crisis is over?

After the veterinarian saw how far back Honey’s nail had broken, he wanted to take her into the back to cut it the rest of the way and bandage her paw. I replied that I preferred to stay with her, to which the doctor warned me that cutting the nail would hurt her. It was obvious the vet was worried that I would feel distressed by seeing Honey in pain. Or that I would be in the way.

I reassured the doctor that I knew Honey would yelp. I also understood she would need her technician to restrain Honey so she wouldn’t pull away. But I knew Honey would feel more relaxed with me at her side. The vet agreed, so I stroked Honey’s ears and spoke gently to her while the vet took care of the nail. And yes, she did cry once.

If you want to stay near your pet while they’re treated, try to anticipate the vet’s objections. If you can see the situation from their point of view, you’ll be more likely to convince them that your presence will help your pet.

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Honey the golden retriever loves her vet Dr Armao.
We’ve been lucky to find good vets since we’ve been cruising. But we return to New York every year for Honey’s annual wellness visit with Dr. Armao.

What You Can Do To Be Prepared

Any trip to the vet can be stressful, but the tension of emergency situations is even higher. Preparing in advance will allow you to focus all your attention on your pet when they need you most.

Medical Records

Unlike your regular vet, an emergency veterinarian won’t know your pet’s medical history or have access to her records. Luckily, Honey is a healthy pup and I didn’t have a long list of medications or conditions to remember! If your pet is healthy, it might be sufficient to create a note on your phone with the dates of her vaccinations and any medications and dosages.

For dogs with more chronic conditions, if your regular veterinarian allows you to access your pet’s records electronically, be sure to set up an account with a username and password prior to facing an emergency. You can then provide access to that account to the emergency vet. And, if you can’t access your pet’s records electronically, consider scanning your pet’s medical file to a USB drive and keeping it in her travel bag. It’s easy to pack, and will provide the emergency vet with all the information they’ll need to treat your pet.

Honey the golden retriever looking dejected with the plastic bag covering the bandage on her paw.
Honey wore a “boot” made from a plastic bag to keep her bandage dry. She doesn’t look very happy, does she?

First Aid Kit

Keep a well-stocked pet first aid kit handy. When you call the emergency vet prior to your arrival, they might ask to you perform some first aid to help stabilize your pet. You’ll want to have all the items you’ll need at your fingertips.

Locate Emergency Hospitals

When you’re traveling, it’s important to know where the emergency veterinary hospitals are located. When planning trips with your pets, take a minute to research the area’s veterinary hospitals and note their location and hours. If you’re using the GoPetFriendly.com Road Trip Planner, it’s easy to locate veterinarians along your route.

GoPetFriendly Road Trip Planner

Provide Your Vet’s Contact Information

Whenever your pet is treated by an emergency veterinarian, ask them to follow up with your regular vet. They should share any report and instructions for follow-up.

Acclimate Your Dog To Wearing A Muzzle

Some dogs, when they’re in pain, in an unfamiliar setting, and surrounded by strangers, can react and “defend” themselves. If it’s necessary to apply a muzzle for the safety of the staff, it will be less stressful for your pet if you train him to wearing it in advance.

Honey the golden retriever laying on the sofa with a bandaged paw.
It was an exciting morning. When we got home from the vet, Honey was glad to recuperate on the boat.

One of my greatest fears is that Honey will get injured or sick while we’re anchored away from shore or underway. Living on a boat and not owning a car, routine medical care is challenging enough without the stress of an actual emergency. So, I’m actually relieved to have this minor emergency behind me. I learned a lot about what to do in a serious emergency to get Honey the care she needs.

If you’re planning a trip with your pet, think about emergencies as well as fun. While you’re reserving a pet friendly hotel room or campsite, look for local veterinarians. Save their number on your phone, and have a plan for what you’d do if your pet got sick or inured.

Hopefully you’ll never need an emergency vet while traveling. But if you do, planning ahead will make an emergency less stressful.

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  • I am looking around for answers relating to if there is anything at all I can do, as I am at a loss and have been extremely upset, as I have recently lost my Son-Shyne of my life, Lucky.
    A while back Lucky and I were riding my scooter. He had his very own custom made dog carrier I had made for him, which replaced my trunk. He absolutely loved going on scooter rides.
    Him and I wound up in a very serious accident, when we were hit by another driver who was not paying any attention and was completely at fault.
    This accident landed me with very serious in injuries and in a COMA for some time.
    Lucky was in this accident with me, although, he didn’t wind up unconscious and was able to walk around. He was worried about me and was very softly licking my cheek, trying to wake me up, as I laid unconscious in the street at the scene.
    My family was contacted and notified of my accident, my condition and notified that Lucky was with me and needed to be picked up, as I was being taken to the hospital via AMR Paramedics because of the seriousness of my injuries.
    My sister headed to the scene immediately to pick up Lucky and was notified that it appeared that Lucky may have sustained an injury himself and to have him seen at the Pet Emergency Clinic. My sister was notified where a Pet Emergency Clinic was located and made sure Lucky was examined.
    In his examination, the veterinarian determined that Lucky’s neck was injured. The Veterinarian prescribed some antiinflammatories and pain relief medications to Lucky and sent him on his way home. Since I was impatient Lucky went to stay with my folks and sister who followed through with giving him his medication and making him feel back to normal again (for the most part).
    A couple months later I was released from the hospital and was reaquainted with my Son-Shyne again. He was so excited when he saw me walk in that front door that he couldn’t control his bladder. I was still on my road to healing and was also going to stay with my folks for a while during my healing. I was still sleeping quite a bit upon first being released but Lucky stayed by my side the entire time. My sister & folks had to come and pick him up to make sure he went outside to relieve himself and eat/drink something, or he would not have left my side at all, so they did just that.
    As my healing continued on, I started asking questions about Lucky, to be sure he was okay because I noticed that he just wasn’t moving around the way he used to but not to the point where he really appeared to be in pain or anything of that nature. Lucky was only 4 years old and was still quite active. He was also a Federally Registered Service Animal, as I was diagnosed with Arnold Chiari and Spina Bifida. Lucky knew when I was going to have an episode before it happened and he actually trained me how he knew beforehand if I was going to have another episode and would have me sit down, before my legs would just give out on me. Since he was not only my best friend, my Service animal and my Son-Shyne of my life, I was concerned about his health.
    My sister notified me that Lucky was examined at the Pet Emergency clinic the day of the accident. I felt relieved knowing this. I figured he received adequate care as necessary. He also still had some of his medications left he was still taking on an as needed basis by this time. I trusted he received all the care he needed and was fully examined. A few months down the road out of nowhere, Lucky started showing signs of being in lots of pain. Not just a little pain but enough that he was whining at night, so I decided to take him into the regular Veterinarian to have him looked over again. I informed the Veterinarian of the accident we were in and told him Lucky was seen at the Pet Emergency the day of the accident. The normal Veterinarian contacted the Pet Emergency where Lucky was seen to request the medical records from his visit and his medical Records were faxed over to the Veterinarian. Once the Veterinarian received those medical records via fax he came into the exam room Lucky and I were in to inform me that upon review of the Pet Emergency records for Lucky’s visit, he did see that Lucky did sustain a neck injury and was prescribed to the correct medication for a typical neck strain, although, he noticed there was not ANY X-Rays taken of Lucky whatsoever. This really angered and upset my Veterinarian. My Veterinarian verified with me again what type of accident we were in and I told him a scooter accident. I stated me and Lucky were on our usual scooter ride, when we were hit my a car.
    My Veterinarian was angry because from what he believed was when a pet is involved in an accident, like the one Lucky and I were in, X-Rays should have been performed straight away but they weren’t. So my Veterinarian opted to take X-Rays of Lucky then and there, after a bit of sedation. Lucky had his X-Rays done and what was discovered was extremely disturbing to me. I almost lost control of myself. I learned that Lucky sustained a slipped disc. in his neck, which since it had gone so long without proper treatment, it developed into IVDD. I now knew what was causing Lucky soo much pain.
    The Veterinarian further explained to me what IVDD was and that’s when I became very upset. This was when I realized that the way he was slipping when he attempted to was wasn’t just pain, it was infact neurological issues taking affect. My Veterinarian stated that the condition Lucky was in required specialty care and most likely surgical repair. Surgical repairs he himself was not a trained professional to perform. About as much as our Veterinarian could do was prescribe him with stronger medication and antiinflammatories. He also provided me with a short list of trained professionals who are capable of treating Dogs with IVDD, although, he also made sure I was fully aware that there was still no guarantee that Lucky would make it through any treatment, being as his injury had gone untreated for so long as it was. He then told me to keep Lucky as comfortable I could and give him his medications as scheduled and sent us on our way home. Lucky was still a bit sedated and did receive some needed pain medication and anti-inflammatory medication during his near full day long visit, so he was very tired and slept on the way home. I carried him inside when we got home and laid down close to him in bed, loving him when we got home.
    The following day I started calling the contact numbers I was provided by the Veterinarian to inquire on Lucky getting adequate treatment. However, due to the timing of everything and the current COVID Pandemic State of Emergency we were in, I didn’t have any luck getting into contact with any of them. I also performed an internet search for Veterinarians who are experienced with IVDD treatment and procedures. Again, I couldn’t get through to ANY of them. All of the professionals I tried to reach out to were out of State as well because there wasn’t any experienced IVDD Veterinarians near me or in my State that I could find. Although, I was more than willing to take him wherever we would need to go for treatment because he meant so much to me. About a week had gone by and Lucky’s health just continued to plummet. He reached s point where he was just lethargic and couldn’t even walk anymore. I couldn’t stand to see him suffering the way he was. He couldn’t even lie down and sleep without crying in pain. I knew what I had to do then, even though it was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life. I just couldn’t stand to see him suffer the way he was anymore. It was just too much to bare for me.
    I spent one last night loving on Lucky and making sure he knew how much I loved him… Making sure he knew he was momma’s everything! The next day I called my father and asked if he could give Lucky and me a ride to the Veterinarian’s Office one last time. My father knew why and came right away to help me. We arrived at the vet and they inserted his IV. I asked them if they could had anything at all they could give him for just 10 more minutes with him feeling pain free. They gave him that medication. Lucky just laid in my arms while I loved on him and told him how much I loved him. After about 10 had gone by the veterinarian arrived with the euthanizing medication. She walked up to the chair I was sitting with Lucky in my lap and asked if I was ready. I just started crying and said “yes, I just can’t see him suffer anymore. As she inserted his euthauthanization medication into his IV, Lucky looked up at me, raised himself one last time to give me one last kiss on the cheek. It was as if he already knew himself that was going to be his final goodbye. After his kiss he just slowly sank into my arm and fell completely limp. I just lost it then and there.
    I just have not been the same since. I know that had Lucky received proper treatment and was X-Rayed in the Pet Emergency that night, he could have been saved. My whole family loved and adored Lucky and would have spared no expense having his injuries properly treated…. But here we are now today. I’m now without my Service Animal, my companion, my Best Friend, the Son-Shyne of my life…. My Whoobie! Rest In Paradise without anymore pain, momma loves you and I will be with you again I promise you.

    I am now wanting to know if there were any Veterinary medicine Laws that were violated by this Pet Emergency Clinic. They knew Lucky was in a scooter accident and was visibly injured but failed to perform any X-Rays on him whatsoever. Had they performed X-Rays on him, he could have been treated for his slipped disc, neck injury and it would not have gone untreated and transitioned into IVDD.

    • Quinn, I’m so very sorry for your loss, and for the traumatic ordeal you’ve been through. I wish there was more I could do to help, but I’m not familiar with the laws regarding the treatment of animals. If you wish to pursue this, my best advice is to contact an attorney, tell her what happened, and see if she believes you have a case.

      I will also say that I’ve been in involved in a legal battle of my own, and it is not only time consuming and expensive, but emotionally draining. A lawyer will be able to tell you what you might recover if you win your case, but they can’t quantify the angst and energy you’ll expend in the process. I know the pain of losing a dear, dear dog. And I can imagine how you must feel knowing that Lucky’s death might have been avoided. But I also believe Lucky would want you to take care of yourself. Try to keep that in mind as you decide how to move forward. Wishing you the best.

  • Category: Travel Tips / Tagged with: Health and Safety