What to expect if your pet needs to visit an out of hours vet
Increasingly out of hours veterinary care is provided by a dedicated team of vets and nurses that only work at night, weekends and bank holidays. These out of hours providers (such as Vets Now) partner your regular vet to provide a dedicated emergency and out of hours service during their well-earned time off. Because the vets and nurses are dedicated to out of hours care, they sleep during the day so they are alert and effective when you need them - whether it's four in the morning or on Christmas day. The teams are made up of fully qualified and experienced vets and nurses and because they’re dedicated to working with emergencies and critical care cases, they are particularly skilled at dealing with accidents and emergencies. The team will normally cover the out of hours for a number of veterinary practices in the area (not just your regular practice) and will be based in a veterinary hospital or clinic in a central location.
In an emergency
You should call your regular practice first - usually you will hear an answer phone message giving you details of their nearest out of hours provider.
When calling, have a pen and paper ready to write down any instructions or directions. The vet or nurse will be able to give you advice over the phone, but it will often be necessary for you to take your pet to the veterinary clinic where the personnel, equipment and drugs are available to provide the best care and immediate treatment for your pet. Occasionally house visits can be arranged, but it can take a bit of time to organise as there is often only one vet and nurse on duty. They would need to arrange cover to look after the in-house patients and are quite limited in the level of treatment they can provide away from the clinic.
At the clinic
When you arrive at the out of hours veterinary clinic, you may have to wait before the vet sees you and your pet. Emergency work is by its nature unpredictable and it is difficult to schedule appointments. Emergency vets will always see and treat the sickest pet first. It is important to call the clinic ahead of time to let them know when to expect you and to give them enough information for them to ascertain what kind of emergency it is. This is especially important for the very sick pets, since the veterinary team can prepare some of the emergency treatments to save time when you arrive, and can meet you at the door to assist if your pet is unable to walk.
If there is going to be any significant delay before your pet is going to be seen by the vet, a qualified veterinary nurse will perform a triage assessment to ensure there will be no risk to your pet from the delay. If the nurse has any concerns, she may admit your pet to the treatment area to provide first aid such as oxygen therapy and pain relief. You will be asked to wait in the waiting room in this situation.
If you have any concerns about your pet while waiting to the see the veterinary surgeon, speak to the receptionist or nurse – don’t sit and worry that things are deteriorating.
Once the veterinary surgeon has examined your pet, she will discuss with you any tests that may need to be run and any treatment that needs to be given. You will also be given an estimate of costs at this stage.
If your pet has an intravenous injection, blood sample, intravenous catheters or a scan, they will need to have some fur clipped.
Costs and payment
Payment will be requested at the time of your pet’s consultation. If you have pet insurance, all or some of the cost may be reimbursed by your policy - but cover varies considerably so you should check what is covered and what excesses apply.
Out of hours fees can be somewhat higher than daytime fees. This is due to the increased costs of providing a dedicated team, trained and skilled in dealing with accidents and emergencies, working every night of the week, weekends and bank holidays. The clinics also have lots of specialist (expensive) equipment to provide your pet with the best care in an emergency. This may be from multiple areas, and in the case of scans or surgery may
be extensive. This is to help prevent bacterial contamination and infection.
Questions you should ask
Do not be afraid to ask questions if there is anything you are not clear about. You may have to make difficult decisions on behalf of your pet and it is important you have all the information available on your pet's condition and possible treatment options, so keep asking questions until it makes sense.
For most cases needing further treatment, your pet will be transferred back to your regular daytime practice once they reopen (normally the following morning). Ideally you should transfer your pet as it gives you the opportunity to speak to both the emergency vet at discharge and your regular day time vet about on-going treatment or further tests that may be needed.
For some cases it may be possible to organise an ambulance or taxi transfer for your pet, in which case the duty staff will telephone you before discharge to discuss on-going treatment. . Pets will not be discharged until they are deemed stable to travel and for some critically unwell pets this may mean they stay at the emergency clinic for some days before they are fit to travel. In this case, they will be looked after by the out of hours team at night, and the daytime practice staff during the day. Upon transfer or discharge, you will be provided with a full clinical history for your pet, detailing results of all tests performed and treatments given. This clinical history will also be faxed or emailed to your daytime practice so they have all the information they need to continue treating your pet.