When Illness Strikes
We Can Be Your Guide


Emergency and critical care facilities may at times be overwhelmed by numbers of pets needing care.

Restricted usually means that the facility cannot care for any further patients at the time. This can change hourly as patients improve and are discharged.

Partially Restricted means that they may be able to manage patients with some categories of illness but not others. If an ICU is full, critical patients may need to be diverted to other facilities. For example, if a patient requires a ventilator to breathe – an ICU may only be able to manage one or two at any time. Sometimes a neurological service in an Emergency or Referral Centre may be overwhelmed and not able to accept patients that are paralyzed or partially paralyzed from a vertebral disc or injury and those specific patients may be directed to another facility able to diagnose and treat.

Triage is the assessment of the urgency of the medical condition. Like in human medicine, life threatening injury or illness patients are taken first for immediate treatment and stabilization. Then patients with serious but non-life-threatening illness or injury are taken next. And so on.

Critical consent is taken when the patient is in a critical or life- threatening state. The veterinarian will begin immediate treatment such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation while the team will get an intravenous access and address the most immediate and obvious problems. The veterinarian will not have time to come out and speak to an owner in those critical first moments. Critical consent is an authorization to permit life saving measures. It usually means there will be a signature for those steps and a basic monetary deposit. Someone from the team will get a history from you. Once the veterinarian has assessed the situation and if the immediate danger is less there will be a conversation about tentative diagnosis, diagnostic and treatment plan options and prognosis. Detailed diagnostic and treatment plans will be explained as a better idea of the medical issues becomes clear. This may involve assessments by specialists once the patient is out of immediate danger.

Similar to making the decision to go to a walk-in clinic because you have a problem that can’t wait for an appointment with your family doctor, Urgent Care Clinics are for pets that don’t need to go to the “hospital” (which would be like a 24 Hour Emergency Care Clinic), but do need immediate attention.

Some other things you may want to know about Emergency Care and Urgent Care:

  • Emergency Clinics can manage all manner of illness and injury but do not do any primary care such as vaccines or wellness checks.
  • Emergency clinics generally provide emergency surgical care. They will be able to hospitalize ill unstable or post surgical patients overnight.
  • Emergency Clinics will triage care so the most critical cases go first. Non urgent cases will be required to wait.
  • Urgent Care clinics may or may not have 24 hour care.
  • Urgent care clinics may or may not have the ability to perform surgery

Questions to ask regarding the Urgent Care Facility:

  • Describe your pet’s challenge and reception can relay questions to a veterinarian to determine if the patient can be managed at that facility.
  • Is surgical intervention or endoscopic intervention an option (in the case of esophageal foreign body)?
  • Is there an ultrasound machine available to do A fast (rapid abdominal ultrasound screening) or T fast (thoracic or chest rapid ultrasound screening)?
  • In cases of immediate trauma (hit by car) or prolonged seizuring, can the close by urgent care clinic do initial stabilization in a crisis before referring onwards?
  • If the pet requires it, can they remain overnight?
  • Is there a veterinarian present in clinic overnight? If not, what staff are present in clinic overnight?

During the pandemic, many clinics were doing a curbside service. This was designed to protect the clinic staff. Veterinary staff shortages were emerging prior to the pandemic and have become much worse with the increase in pets and pet owners. Clinics could not risk infection and shut down. Now many are returning to some normal patient exams. Clinics may limit numbers of owners in a room unless it is an end-of-life situation. Many clinics try very hard to allow visits but that may be in the form of face time or virtual visits. Clinic protocols vary with clinic and with location.

Call Poison Control. They will ask for a credit card. Inducing vomiting can be dangerous and is not always the best thing to do. Emergency Clinics do rely on Poison Control as well. Animal Poison Control | (888) 426-4435 | ASPCA

Yes, all clinics can sign a form if that is required. Some insurance companies have you fill out the form online and submit it yourself. If they have questions, they will contact the clinic for medical records. Other companies will ask for a veterinarian to fill out information. They may still request medical records.
Pre-approval for medical care can sometimes be done very quickly – that will vary with the company.
It is a good idea to have your policy number and a form ready to go with you to the clinic.

There are veterinarians who specialize in both palliative and end of life care. They are often mobile practices that can come to you. These veterinarians can assist you through the humane euthanasia process. In the event of an urgent need to euthanize it would be better to seek an emergency clinic who can help.
Euthanasia involves sedation and then intravenous administration of very strong drugs to rapidly allow the pet to lose consciousness and then stop the heart. The process is very quick and painless. Sometimes while the body is letting go there may be reflex movements or release of urine or bowels. The veterinary staff will help you choose aftercare options such as cremation with ashes being returned in an urn of your choice.

Costs for everything have increased and this is true for veterinary medicine. Costs for lifesaving care can be in the thousands as can any advanced surgery for orthopedics or neurology. Pet Insurance can take the financial worry out of the equation. Accidents do happen.
It is important to do your homework when considering pet insurance. Not all plans are the same. Please see the links page for pet insurance companies.