Emergency visits and traveling
We often go on vacations or trips requiring extra preparations for our pets. This preparation will help you when unexpected events occur. Here are a few things that can be done to make sure that you are not caught off guard, or if you are, it is less stressful.
When leaving your pet with someone while you go on a trip, make sure that person or facility has a copy of your vaccination records for each pet. Also, you should have a signed permission to treat form in case of emergency with an amount that cannot be exceeded without contacting you. Make sure your relationship is such that your pet sitter or boarding facility knows that they should get emergency care when necessary. Also, use your judgment when selecting someone who would be qualified at determining what is wrong.
When traveling with your pets, you should carry or have copies of veterinary records and a health certificate for your pets when necessary. Having copies of veterinary records is imperative even if you are traveling within the state. This because the importance of an up to date rabies shot cannot be emphasized enough. When traveling in state, if your pet gets sick and you have to make a veterinary visit, if you have the records it will make the visit less stressful and prevents unnecessary vaccinations if your regular veterinary office cannot be reached. Secondly, when traveling out of state, you are supposed to get a health certificate for all traveling animals. This is required when flying with a pet, but it is strongly encouraged when driving with that pet. If you do not get a health certificate, you should carry the veterinary records of most recent vaccinations with you. This will help if you are stopped by a police officer or other state official or if you have to make a veterinary visit.
Whether you are at home or traveling, emergencies can happen. You can do a few key things to help the process when an emergency occurs and during the process to decrease the stress. If you are not going to your regular hospital, take a copy of your most recent veterinary records that show proof of vaccinations, especially rabies. Some hospitals will not see patients that do not have proof of vaccinations or require rabies and other vaccinations before the visit. This is imperative in cases of animal-human bites with lack of rabies. Without vaccinations your pet may be quarantined or euthanized without your permission depending on the state or county policy. The veterinarian will have a policy or at least obey state laws for this situation.
The best advice if you are worried about your pet is to call your veterinarian or a veterinarian several hours before close of the business day. If your pet is sick, do not wait until the end of the business day to call about receiving care. You know how it is at the end of the workday. Think about whether you would want to stay an extra 2 or 3 hours if a customer just showed up right before close. This is rude and, often, you knew your pet was sick before 12pm on Saturday or 5 or 6pm on a weeknight. Therefore, expect that you may be told to go to the emergency clinic if you call or show up right before closing time. Unfortunately, when you do not have a relationship with that veterinary hospital, you are more likely be told to go to the emergency clinic than if they know you. Remember, most veterinary clinics or hospitals are small businesses that run on daily revenue. They are less likely to pay people to stay after hours if they don’t know you and can be assured that you will pay for services or agree to care if they do stay open for an extra hour.
If you have to go to a veterinary emergency clinic, expect to spend at least $350 to $500 dollars. Emergency clinics often have a minimum office visit fee that is often 2 to 3 times what a regular hospital charges. They will do more diagnostics than your regular vet and often cannot reach your regular veterinary hospital which makes having copies of all records important for after hours or holiday emergency visits.
Other tips for emergency visits to either an emergency clinic or a new vet hospital
Give a good history and answer all questions as best you can. Sometimes what seem to be insignificant changes or details are actually the key to figuring out what is wrong. Remember this veterinarian does not know your pet like your regular veterinarian does so don’t leave out any details and be as honest as possible.
Sometimes questions or subjects may be embarrassing to discuss. Even if you are embarrassed by your pet eating underwear, dirty diapers or drugs (prescription or recreational), the veterinarian will be less likely to judge you than you think. Even if he/she does seem shocked, it is irrelevant as you will likely never see him again after your pet is well. Plus, not being up front may result in delayed treatment and even death for your pet. I can tell stories of clients denying something and later changing their original answer several days later. In these situations the best treatment was delayed or not considered for a long period of time. The major consequences of this is a ravaging on your pocketbook and often worsening of your pets health due to delaying the best treatment. Furthermore, if you think that a lawsuit will solve the problem, you will find that an expert witness will likely find in the favor of the veterinarian as you were not upfront on the problem and this delayed or prevented appropriate care.
Some other things to consider with the visit are:
1. Always be upfront with the veterinarian about money.
If you can only spend $500, then tell the office that you will only authorize treatment for up to $500. This will give a good idea of what can be done and the veterinarian can prioritize testing and treatment options.
2. Get the prognosis compared with the cost.
During the initial exam, we can often tell how the patient is and get an idea of what needs to be done. The veterinarian will often try to give you an idea of whether the disease is treatable or an end of life situation, unless you spend huge amounts of money.
The thing that is most heartbreaking to me is when we can treat, but the owner refuses to spend a little bit of money, and the outcome is death without any treatment.
3. Ask for all of the treatment options.
Often the veterinarian will have a best way to handle treatment, which is usually more expensive. Sometimes there will be other options that can work, but you need to know how effective these are as well as the cost. The other option for the absolute best care is a referral if the office cannot handle the treatment.
4. Listen to what the veterinarian is saying.
In stressful or emergency situations, we often do not follow discussions as well as when we are relaxed. If you are having trouble following what the veterinarian is saying, ask for a moment to be alone and collect your thoughts about what is going on. Get the vet to write the main diagnostic and treatment points down, get an estimate and go over the main points again. Sometimes a decision to stabilize has to be done immediately. In this case, you have to make a decision to spend usually around $200 right then.
If the veterinarian tells you that you have to treat soon (ASAP) or death will result, this means that you cannot treat the patient at home. If you ask several times and you are still told hospitalization, then you need to understand that hospitalization is the only way. I have told this to clients and explained why. Some have still refused care and then called back trying to know what to do to treat at home. We have had to explain again, we told you this already, your pet has to stay in the hospital to treat this. You have to do this or your pet will not get better. Often you will be asked to sign a form stating that you decline treatment and that you understand what you are doing. This is because the office wants you to understand what you have agreed to. If you are not sure, ask directly about the outcome if you do not treat.
5. If you cannot treat or will not treat, consider euthanasia.
Finally, if you are not able to do what is best for the patient and you are not morally opposed to euthanasia, you should consider it as a final option. Unlike in human medicine, where patients can be forced to treat conditions or have less say in treatment, veterinary medicine gives you the option on how to proceed. Consider euthanasia if you are unable to spend the money and it is condition that will result in death. I point this out, because I would not want to die in a huge amount of pain with no treatment if another option were available to me.
S. Mason, DVM