German shepherd dog at the emergency vet

Emergency vet: Everything you need to know.

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What is an emergency vet?

By Dr. Liz Barton MA, VetMB, MRCVS Veterinarian

Updated on the

Whether you want to call an emergency vet for advice or know what to do if you can't afford a vet in an emergency, you'll find these and more questions answered here.

An emergency is when an animal is at risk of death, or if it's suffering and unable to go about normal life without immediate care.

It can include severe medical conditions or trauma.

What is considered a vet emergency?

An emergency vet is a 24-7 service set up to provide immediate care for sick and injured animals. This can be through your usual vet practice, or they may use an out-of-hours vet service provider. Some vets are trained as specialists in emergency and critical care and work in referral centres. In some cases, a vet may refer you to a specialist if your pet requires more advanced care.

When should you go to the emergency vet?

Conditions your pet may suffer from that require emergency care include difficulty breathing, bleeding, inability to get up, severe lameness (unable to put weight on a leg), bloating of the tummy, fitting (convulsions), fainting, severe vomiting or diarrhoea and suspected poisoning. Other problems, such as difficulty passing urine or faeces, injuries to the eye, and problems during pregnancy or birth may also need immediate treatment. If you are in doubt if your pet’s condition is an emergency it’s best to call a vet.

Are emergency vets more expensive?

Providing out-of-hours care for pets requires staffing during anti-social hours. In order to cover the cost of this provision, vet practices often understandably charge more for out-of-hours appointments for seeing your sick pet in an emergency.

Can you call an emergency vet for advice?

All vet practices are required to provide 24-hour care for their client’s pets. This may be outsourced to another nearby practice. If you call your vet on the usual number, it will either be diverted or give you the emergency number to dial. You should then be able to speak to a vet or vet nurse for advice about your pet.

What can I do if I can't afford a vet?

Telephone advice is free. If you are concerned about payment, your vet will be able to guide you regarding the specific practice policy surrounding the costs of emergency care. They can also advise about support and help in meeting veterinary costs. It is part of the veterinary code of conduct to preserve animal welfare, so rest assured that your pet will not have to continue to suffer.

Is there a vet helpline?

All vet practices will have 24-hour provision of veterinary care, so you should always be able to speak to a vet or vet nurse. Alternatively, online vet chat and video-consultation services are available. However, if your pet is suffering from an emergency condition, it is better to speak to a vet practice near you in case the animal needs immediate treatment.  

Can I get a vet prescription online?

Vets can write prescriptions for you to be able to purchase treatments from online pharmacies. However, to write the prescription a vet has to confirm the animal is ‘under their care’, and ensure that the treatment your pet is going to receive is appropriate and safe for your pet. This usually requires a clinical examination every few months, depending on the type of prescription and the medical condition being treated.

Can I talk to a vet online?

You can access veterinary advice via video calls or chat boxes online through a growing number of providers. Make sure you’re speaking to a vet or vet nurse who is a Member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (MRCVS), which means they have met the necessary standards and are licenced to practice in the UK and ROI.

Can I talk to a vet online for free?

There are many online vet service providers. Different providers may have offers that allow you to talk to a vet for different costs. Remember, you are accessing highly trained professionals for their expert advice – these services usually have to charge in order to run. However, you can normally call your local vet practice for free advice.

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