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What to Expect When You Take Your Pet to The Emergency Vet

Lindsay Tigar  |  May 22, 2023

Take a deep breath. Even though it’s always good to hope for the best, it’s smart to be prepared for the worst. Here’s what you need to know. 

It’s every pet parent’s worst nightmare: Your beloved little buddy has an accident or eats something toxic and must be rushed to your local emergency veterinarian clinic. In the heat of the moment, the last thing you want to (or even have time to) consider is how much treatment may cost to heal your pet. However, finances are an essential consideration — especially since these services often come at a high price, sometimes thousands. That’s why planning ahead for these unforeseen surprises is important. We checked in with veterinarians for their best tips on how to prepare for the experience — before you’re in the thick of an emergency. 

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The Top Questions to Ask Your Veterinarian 

When you arrive at the clinic, your first priority will be getting your dog or cat in to see the doctor ASAP. And while you may be eager for them to start their work, take a quick pause to ask these questions to ensure you’re on the same financial page: 

How much is diagnosis and treatment going to cost? Remember, you’re not a ‘bad’ pet parent for wanting to understand the details of this anticipated bill, since the expense is a valid concern in emergencies, says Casey Robinson, the IndeVets Area Medical Director. However, what a pet needs has nothing to do with what an owner can afford

“A veterinarian’s ultimate recommendations will not change when discussing a pet’s treatment plan with owners that have financial constraints,” Dr. Robinson explains. “However, discussing a budget with the veterinarian can help the vet prioritize their diagnostic approach and treatment recommendations for the best possible outcome.”

What should I do if my pet is not getting better? Unlike the veterinarian you take your pet to for annual wellness checks, the interaction with an emergency veterinarian is limited, and emotions are high during these moments. Because of this, Dr. Robinson says it might be difficult for a pet owner to take in all the information offered during a stressful visit. 

Because of this, he recommends asking the veterinarian what next steps to take if your pet does not improve after their visit, when you can expect to see a full recovery, and when/if a follow-up treatment is needed. 

How to Budget For a Pet Emergency

According to Dr. Natalie Lang, medical director of the Veterinary Emergency Group in Houston, emergency fees at an emergency facility are consistent regardless of the time or day of the week that care is needed. She estimates the average emergency condition can range from around $500 to $2,000. “But if surgery or hospitalization is needed, then fees typically start anywhere around $2,500 up to $10,000 depending on the condition and how long the pet needs to stay in the hospital,” she says. 

Since these estimates can range based on your zip code, Dr. Robinson offers another way to think about it: Typically, the cost of a visit and physical exam will be 2- 3 times higher at an emergency vet vs. your family vet. 

What to Know About Pet Insurance 

One of the best ways to get out ahead of unexpected emergency vet costs is with pet insurance. While pet insurance isn’t exactly the same as human medical insurance, the benefit in emergency situations is the same: it can save you an incredible amount of money.  Dr. Robinson explains with pet insurance, the pet parent would pay the hospital bill upfront at the time of service, and would then submit those invoices to their pet insurance company to be reimbursed. 

“Pet insurance is a great option for any pet,” he explains. “Before pursuing a policy, a pet parent should know exactly what is covered and what is not covered, as not all conditions qualify for reimbursement.” Examples of things that might not be covered would be pre-existing conditions or genetic abnormalities. 

If you’re shopping for pet insurance and not sure where to start check out HealthyPaws. It’s the pet insurance that saved HerMoney CEO Jean Chatzky a ton of money, and they offer reimbursement up to 90% on vet bills with no caps on per-incident, annual, or lifetime payouts. (Plus, we love their 24/7 customer support since there’s no way to predict when those emergencies will arise.) 

Decide How Much You Can Spend 

If you don’t have pet insurance and you prefer to save on your own, Dr. Robinson recommends deciding how much you can spend on pet emergencies before you’re ever faced with a difficult in-the-moment decision. This will help you decide exactly how much you should save each month so you can have a nest egg set aside, just in case. With any luck, you’ll never have to use it, but you need it to be there just in case. The last thing you want to happen following a traumatic experience is a giant credit card bill coming through the door, with 20% interest now tacked onto your emergency. 

“Because of the nature of emergencies, hospital teams may need to go over treatment plan costs quickly to get needed treatment started, and this can be jarring to pet parents who are emotionally stressed,” he says. “This is a good reason to know your pet budget before an emergency happens.” 

Another way to be prepared mentally and financially is by having regular conversations with your veterinarian about any common emergencies that your pet may be more likely to experience based on their breed or size, he adds.

Be Honest With Your Vet — And Listen To Their Guidance 

At the emergency hospital, a pet will be triaged and assessed before your vet discusses their recommendations, Dr. Lang explains. A treatment plan will be presented which outlines any diagnostics or treatments indicated for the pet based on that initial exam. 

“In these settings, the doctor recommends only what they feel is necessary for the pet’s best interest,” she continues. “Often, the monetary aspect limits what a pet parent can pursue. These are critical conversations to have with your veterinarian. If there are financial limitations, being open and vulnerable about budgetary needs will help your vet determine the most important items.”

A good vet will always “make recommendations in the best interest of the patient and advocate for the best care possible based on what your pet needs,” Dr. Robins says. “This may include x-rays, bloodwork, ultrasound, and sometimes even hospitalization or surgery. Your emergency veterinarian has extensive training, and is the best person to prioritize a treatment plan when the cost is a concern.”

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