Tips to make an emergency clinic visit less stressful

low stress vet clinic images

No one ever wants to be the one taking their pet to the emergency clinic. During a recent relief shift at a local veterinary emergency clinic, I decided to compile some tips that could help decrease some of the stress, should you find your pet needing after-hours care.  We are fortunate in the Charleston area to have several great emergency facilities available for our pets after regular business hours.  The level of care you’ll find from these enthusiastic doctors and technicians working in a state-of-the-art 24-hour facility when your pet has a serious sudden illness can greatly exceed the care that I was able to provide after graduation while providing “on-call” care for a small animal practice in rural Georgia.  As excellent as that care is and the comfort you can take in knowing your pet is in the right place, seeing your pet sick and in the hospital can be stressful.  

Here are some tips to make your emergency clinic visit less stressful and more successful:

  1. If your pet has a chronic illness, grab his/her medications as you head out the door. 

    Unless your pet has been a direct transfer to the emergency clinic from your regular veterinary clinic or has been seen at the emergency/specialty center in the past, the emergency clinic is likely not going to have copies of your pet’s records from your regular veterinarian.  This includes any medications, any previous laboratory work, and any history of preventative care (vaccinations, heartworm testing, etc.).  I jump with joy when a client starts bringing out her pet’s pill vials from her purse during the exam, as I now know that I am not going to be prescribing any medication that could have a drug interaction with the pet’s usual medications.  Bonus points if you can keep a folder handy with recent laboratory results too, as this could possibly save you some money in diagnostics to be completed.  If laboratory work is determined to be needed to be repeated, those copies of past lab work can also serve as a vitally important baseline to help determine the severity of your pet’s current illness and aid in establishing a prognosis for further treatment.

  1.  Don’t give any medication before arrival without talking to the emergency clinic staff first, even if it is labeled “over the counter”.

    The biggest culprit is usually aspirin; owners seeing their pet in discomfort try to make their pet comfortable by administering an aspirin first and then decide later to take their pet to the emergency clinic when the pain still persists.  I have had a pet present for a mild lameness of minimal concern, only to have to hospitalize her for a potential ibuprofen toxicity secondary to the advil the owner gave the pet at home to to try to help with the limp.  The most frustrating aspect about these human pain medications is that they can have potentially harmful side effects when combined with medications that we would routinely use in the emergency clinic for pain treatment.  Therefore, my treatment options for making your pet comfortable become immediately limited, and I also have to worry about any adverse (especially gastrointestinal) side effects that an aspirin given at home may cause.

  1.  Please, please, please don’t lie!

    I understand that people don’t lie to be mean.  They know something happened at home (the pet ate something dangerous, someone accidentally stepped on the puppy, etc.) and they are embarrassed or afraid to let the veterinary staff know.  Your veterinary staff understands that accidents happen in the home.  Their main goal is to get your pet diagnosed and comfortable as quickly as possible, and the pets can’t talk to us to tell us what medication they got into and ate 30 minutes prior to when you found them sick at home.   Withholding information can be dangerous (and expensive!), because it can take me down the wrong track of accidentally misdiagnosing your pet.

  1.  Keep your pet’s preventative care with your regular veterinarian up to date.

    Over the past six months of emergency clinic shifts, I have treated dogs with deep bleeding wounds secondary to flea infestations, have had to euthanize dogs in congestive heart failure due to heartworm disease, and had to hospitalize lethargic and dehydrated puppies due to having a high burden of intestinal parasites.  All three of these diseases are caused by parasites and are able to be prevented by a variety of parasite preventatives sold by your regular veterinarian at a much cheaper price when administered prior to clinical signs starting.  Another disease commonly diagnosed in the emergency room is parvo virus.  This highly contagious virus can be deadly to puppies.  Treatment in the emergency clinic can be easily over $1,000.00, but the preventative vaccination can be started at your regular veterinarian for under $30.  Spending a little bit of money on preventative care can easily save you hundreds of dollars in the future.

  1.  Come prepared to pay the bill.

    This is always the most delicate subject when I speak with my clients in day practice about the benefits of sending their pet to the emergency clinic for overnight care.  Usually, I am asked if the visit will be “expensive”.  I suppose it all involves how you look at it.  Many clients today are demanding human grade diagnostics and care for their sick pet members.  Veterinary emergency clinics are able to provide something very comparable to human care at an absolute fraction of the cost.  So, a life-saving surgery that might cost my husband $50,000-$100,000 in hospital bills may only cost $3,500-$5,000 for your dog.  This is actually pretty amazing to me.  Still, we all understand that $3,500 can be difficult/impossible for some to acquire in a weekend.  Without the government assistance or health insurance agreements that human hospitals may receive, veterinary clinics must require funds up front at the time of service.  There really is no other way they can operate, pay their hard working staff, pay their overhead, and stay in business.  Acquiring pet insurance while your pet is healthy (before the emergency) is a great idea.  I tell clients you should either do that or (if you are a good planner with excellent self discipline) store a set amount each month in a bank account of some form to save for such an emergency.  If you are going out of town and having a pet sitter watch your pet, arrange an emergency plan with the sitter concerning who is permitted to make medical decisions and payments, should your pet become ill.

I have been asked by some why I continue to relinquish a valuable weekend to go in to work these emergency clinic shifts that can run into the late evening.  The answer is that I love it!  The doctors and technical staff that I have the pleasure to work with there are so skilled and passionate about their jobs that I believe experience alongside them make me a better practitioner while at my day job.  I hope you never need to go to the emergency clinic with your pet, but should you, I hope the advice in this blog help make your visit a little a smoother.

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Janette Blackwood, DVM at Charleston Harbor Veterinarians

Janette Blackwood, DVM

My mission: Time for a change…

By: Dr. Christa Kahuda

Charleston Harbor Vets | Tucker

Years ago I set out to become a veterinarian because I love animals (obviously – otherwise I made a very bad decision) AND, just as importantly, I enjoy people – especially teaching people!  Yet more often than not I find animals cower in fear, pace, and pant when they come to see me and their families dread the visit just as much.  There is so much good that is done during a veterinary visit – there must be a way to make it better for everyone.  We need to change the accepted standard.  When Dr. Blackwood and I set out to create our own practice we took a step back and noted the many triggers and frustrations for our patients and their owners.  We made it our goal to find solutions…To make it easier and more comfortable to be the best pet owner you can be.  To tailor our practice to you.

Here are some of the things we noticed about the typical vet clinic and how we’ve set out to change them:

  1.  It feels like a cold hospital:  The typical medical grade floors, seating, and décor are largely removed.  You will find you feel you are walking into a friend’s living room when you enter CHV.  Get comfortable and relax in our home-like atmosphere with a cup of coffee and a snack for you and your pet.
  2. The waiting room is stressful:  How often do you hope that you are the sole visitor in the waiting room because otherwise your dog will completely embarrass you with his unruly behavior?  Do you hope you can find a quiet corner to hide your cat’s carrier?  Believe it or not, the veterinary team struggles with the waiting room just as much!  The receptionists dislike clients staring at them, the doctor winces whenever a dog fight almost breaks out, and the nurses hate trying to be heard over the phones, conversations, and barking.   The solution:  ELIMINATE the waiting room!  You may walk into the clinic, be greeted by a team member – and escorted immediately into a private room.
  3. The exam room is uncomfortable:  In many cases once you escape the waiting room you end up  in a tiny, hot room with uncomfortable seating, harsh lighting and unsettling pictures of heartworms and fleas.  Check out the changes we’ve made:
    • larger than average exam rooms
    • outdoor windows in every room
    • dutch doors:  you will no longer be captive inside a closed room wondering if you were forgotten!  Our doors allow you to let your pet off leash or out of the carrier separated from other pets while still allowing you connection with the hospital staff
    • free WiFi
    • comfortable seating and décor for you and your pet
  4. The unseen treatment areas are distressing:  It is sometimes worrisome to allow your pet to be taken to the back treatment area for diagnostics.  We will make it our goal to do most procedures in the exam room.  If your pet is taken to the special procedures area – you will find you can watch each step of the process through large windows.  You will even be able to catch glimpses of the OR and dental surgeries.
  5. The laboratory testing is concealed and results are confusing:   Diagnostics on the microscope will be able to be viewed in the exam room and either Dr. Blackwood or myself will explain our findings directly and clearly.  Your pet’s blood work will largely be run in-house with results that day – and often during the visit.  You will be able to ask questions and make informed decisions while meeting with your doctor without waiting days for results.
  6. The pet is in new and scary situations:  Encouragement and positive support with healthy treats and a calm quiet environment will help to relax your pet.  Team members trained in low-stress techniques, limited use of metal exam tables, a designated feline room, comfortable resting areas, and other small alterations in standard procedures will go a long way to a better experience for all.
  7. Lack of communication:   We can email, text, phone, facetime, Skype, facebook, or even meet in person – with the many ways to communicate we promise to connect with you on your level.  Part of the connection form lets you tell us how to reach you – and provides you with various methods of contact for us.  We want you to have all the information you need so that as a team we can keep your pet healthy and comfortable.
  8. Healthcare is expensive:  The advances in medicine for both humans and our pets have made costs increase.  While we cannot magically make the costs go away, we will work hard to be open-minded and flexible with our medical recommendations to keep your pet healthy.

So, those are a few of the ways we want to change what a visit to the vet looks like and hopefully if even a little bit of that resonates with you we’re on the right track.  I imagine we’ll have all sorts of new ideas to implement over the years and we can’t wait to get started by meeting you and your pets very soon!

Dr. CK