It’s Sunday afternoon. I am on call and I have three pages to take care of all while working on a laceration repair. The people waiting for me to call them back but must wait until I finish my task at hand because I have an animal under anesthesia and I am the only one there monitoring it. When I call the answering service back, I find out that I now have 4 pages to call back, all with varying degrees of urgency and severity.

The first two emergencies I can easily do by myself, but the last one sounds more critical. When I call them back I explain I think the cat needs to go to an emergency hospital for testing and treatment. The owner is upset because our answering machine says we have a veterinarian available at all times. She believes I should be able to test and treat her pet because we offer on call services. After explaining what on call means, and that her cat requires more care than I can provide, she happily takes the number for our local emergency clinic. This happens on a daily basis.

As an on call veterinarian I find that both long term and new clients do not understand what my job entails. Some bang at the front door not realizing I’m not sitting there waiting for emergencies to randomly show up.  Some think I will be able to perform a full work up not realizing that I’m all by myself.

It begs the question, what does your veterinarian provide? Many people don’t ask and don’t really know.  There are several different types of clinics and knowing what kind you go to will help you in case of emergency.




General Practice/No “on call” or Emergencies:

These clinics typically have set hours from as early in the morning at 6 am to as late as 9pm. They do not take emergencies after hours, and do not have on call services in case of emergencies. Many of these practices will state on their after hours phone message where closest emergency clinic is located.

They might still keep pets overnight, with doctors or technicians checking in on patients, but typically do not provide 24-hour care. If they determine your pet needs to be monitored at an emergency clinic it is typically because the animal requires constant monitoring of its vital signs and activity to treat its ailment properly, instead of just being checked on once or twice at night. Most of these practices will have you transfer your critical pet to the emergency clinic for overnight care, and then provide care during the day.   Usually these practices are within minutes of emergency hospitals as well which allows them to easily transfer patients.

On-call practices:

These clinics have a doctor that is “on-call” after hours for questions and simple emergencies. Simple emergencies can be what the veterinarian is comfortable with, ranging from laceration repairs, simple vomiting or diarrhea cases, and occasionally simple assessments to see if the animal needs to go to an emergency clinic. Usually these doctors work alone or may call in a technician if they need extra help. They are not stationed at the clinic during their on call night but will take care of any patients in the clinic.

These clinicians may be on call for 48-72 hours straight without any backup. Most will not be able to run lab work, do 24 hour care, or major surgeries. If your pet has been sick for a while or needs a full work up, this isn’t the type of service you require. A single veterinarian without staff cannot provide the best care possible if your pet is in critical condition and pressuring these veterinarians to do so adds extra stress onto them and your pet. If your clinic has on call services and doctor determines your pet needs specialized care, take their advice and go to the local emergency clinic.  You wouldn’t want your seizing pet being left alone without someone monitoring it would you?

24 hour emergency clinic:

These clinics are fully staffed at all times. They will have a veterinarian on the premises seeing patients and taking care of hospitalized pets. They will also be trained in most major emergency surgeries or sometimes will have a second veterinarian on call for emergency surgeries. These clinics will triage patients to take care of more emergent cases, so if your pet is not critical you might have a little bit of a wait.

These clinics are the best for patients that need constant care like seizing pets, diabetics, post surgical monitoring, and critical medical cases. They will always have support staff on hand to monitor patients and take care of treatments while the veterinarian sees the emergencies. Because these clinics are fully staffed, the prices may be higher than your regular veterinarian. It is their job to help your pet, but you still must take responsibility for your pets’ emergency.

When researching a new clinic or even your current clinic you need to be aware of what they provide and what that means for your pet. This will help you be aware of the limitations of certain clinics versus fully staffed emergency hospitals. If you don’t ask, you won’t know.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the editorial team.

NicolePaumbo_FiorioABOUT THE AUTHOR 

Dr. Nicole Palumbo is a 2012 graduate from University of Illinois. She is originally from the south side of Chicago but chose to move to Northwest Pennsylvania for her first job out of veterinary school, where she currently is still employed. She works with small animals, exotics, and also volunteers her time at the local wildlife rescue, typically performing surgeries and exams on the many raptors that are admitted to the facility. With time she hopes to focus more time on wildlife medicine and also obtain specialization in feline medicine.