emergency veterinarian examining dog
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Emergency Vet Near Me Is Full Now What

I lived every pet parent’s worst nightmare. The emergency vet near me was at capacity and could not see my dog during a medical emergency. Even now, my hands are shaking as I type this. I did not panic and instead, my spouse and I went into full-on mommy mode. 

Our Cocker Spaniel, a 13-years-young boy named Dexter had recently received a clean bill of health at his thrice-yearly veterinarian appointment. His bloodwork was pristine, all levels were in check, and a recent echocardiogram from a board-certified veterinary cardiologist was normal. 

Dexter went from playing, wagging, eating lunch, and showing no signs of illness to just the opposite in a heartbeat. He “stopped” wanting to do anything, literally at the moment. His gums were pale, he began breathing heavily, he drank large volumes of water, and he simply lay down in place on our couch. 

Internally panicking but externally acting on getting him help, no one could see us. Read that again: No one could see us. 

The pandemic has also created long wait times. My dog needed emergency care, every minute mattered, and there was no veterinarian available to see him within three hours of my home. 

When we called for help instead of randomly driving around, some of the responses from vet hospitals included:

  • “There’s a 10-hour wait.”
  • “I’m sorry, we are not taking any emergencies right now.”
  • “We can get you in, but it would have to be at 8 p.m. this evening”

We opted for the latter. We saw a veterinarian with after-hours emergency services at 8 p.m. that evening (it was around 1 p.m. when this all started.) Sadly, they were not equipped to deal with an internal bleeding tumor as evidenced by aspirate and x-ray. 

closeup of cocker spaniel Dexter
I will love and miss you forever, Dexter.

What We Did When Our Emergency Veterinarian Closed 

Whether your emergency vet is full or they are closed, none of that matters to a dog in need of urgent medical care. This article isn’t about what constitutes an emergency, but what to do in a true emergency and it seems everyone is closed or full.

Because I lived through this horrible situation, I can tell you our story, what my research uncovered, and what other dedicated pet parents would do in this situation. 

After Dexter’s 8 p.m. appointment merited grim news, the on-call veterinarian asked his two veterinary technicians to call around to try and find someone to take us. He didn’t feel my dog’s immune disease (IMT) had returned. Rather, my dog had a huge bleeding tumor and he may require a transfusion(s). 

They managed to find a facility three hours from our home in New Jersey. The vet alerted them we were coming, sent them the results of the tests, and discharged Dexter with an active IV line. We were told he could crash and die in the car ride on the way there. 

Keep in mind, that we had no idea what was going on and this is November in northeastern Pennsylvania, so it’s cold and dark outside. We traveled at 9:30 to the hospital in New Jersey and arrived right around midnight.

We carried Dexter in, alerted them we were there, and a staff member came out with a cart and wheeled Dexter away. We were visibly distraught, worried, sick to our stomachs, and sat in a room full of other pet parents with similar looks on their faces. 

More about our journey shortly. 

The Emergency Vet Near Me Is Full: What To Do 

During the pandemic, many things changed. Some emergency veterinary clinics and hospitals are cutting back on their hours. They may say 24/7 or are open outside of your regular veterinarian’s hours, but this may have changed since COVID-19.

In some cases, when an animal emergency facility is short-staffed or overwhelmed with clients in need, they will close the facility to incoming patients. In some cases, the facility may actually close temporarily until they have enough veterinarians and staff to assist. Remember, if staff gets sick or is diagnosed with COVID, there can be a shortage or temporary closures.

I suggest you check the emergency hospital’s website and/or social media accounts or call them each week to see what their hours are. Sometimes, they change each day. Here are other things to do if your dog has an emergency and you can’t find an open facility:

  1. Talk to your dog’s regular veterinarian and ask what to do after hours. Ask your veterinarian what to do if the after-hours facility is closed. They will likely have the names and information of where they refer their clients after hours. 
  2. Ask your veterinarian if they do any after-hours or emergency care dedicated time. Some veterinarians have expanded their hours and offerings. 
  3. Call your vet’s phone number after hours and listen to any recorded messages, as they will likely instruct you where to go in an emergency. 
  4. Have the number(s) of Poison Control/Pet Poison Helpline in your phone in the event of an ingestion emergency. Many times, they can walk you through and advise you what to do next.
  5. Consider veterinary telehealth which enables pet parents to talk to a veterinarian over the phone, via text, or via video chat in real-time to get actual advice on the next steps for your dog. This does not replace veterinary visits, but they might be able to point you in the right direction. (Note: Telehealth cannot prescribe, treat, or diagnose, but they can give guidance, support, and general advice.) 
  6. Ask people in your town, community, and area where they take their dogs in an emergency. I discovered an emergency practice about an hour from me that I never heard of until a local dog mom shared that information. 
  7. Google the following terms for your area and outside your area. In most cases, if you can’t find an emergency clinic open nearby, you’ll need to drive to one, especially to save your dog’s life and get him the help he needs: 
    1. Emergency vet (veterinarian) near me
    2. Closest emergency veterinarian
    3. Emergency veterinarians within (put miles here)
  8. Find out which veterinary universities and hospitals are within driving distance. For example, Cornell has an emergency and critical care service in New York. It’s a few-hour drive, but we’d do it if we had to. 
  9. Use one of the emergency vet locator websites such as EmergencyVet247.co or VetLocator.com.
  10. Consider which states you would drive if an emergency strikes and you need to act. Look up the same information in those states. More to follow on that. 
  11. If transportation is an issue for you, ask local friends, neighbors, and family members if they can assist you in a time of emergency. Make sure you know who is “on call” for you. Write their names and numbers into your DogMinder, and plug them all into your phone. 

I’m a diligent dog mom, visit the veterinarian regularly, and keep my dog in shape physically and mentally. Emergencies happen. Accidents happen. It’s better to be prepared for them and never use the information than to panic when no one can see your dog in his most critical moments.

prize holiday dog photo contest prize

Where To Keep Emergency Information For Your Dog

Dog mom Terry Walker took matters into her own hands and shared the fruits of her labor with fellow dog parents in her neighborhood.

“First, my primary veterinarian is VCA (Veterinary Centers of America), and although they don’t have extended hours, other VCA locations in the area do,” Walker says. “I’m not suggesting everybody use VCA, but determine if your veterinarian has other associated vets and perhaps even select a primary that does if you are looking to change.”

Walker also asked her dog’s physical therapist and other friends with dogs who they would go to in an emergency. She ended up with a list of 10 locations. Though she lives in Massachusetts, she has friends in Connecticut and Rhode Island. She learned of emergency vets in three states within 50 miles of her home. 

“I researched each one and created a spreadsheet that includes distance in minutes and miles from her home, phone number, address, and general comments about the COVID rules,” she shares. “I then put each veterinary practice in my phone number with the address so I could start calling and hop in the car ready to go.” 

She printed the spreadsheet, stored it on all her computer and mobile devices, and always has it handy. She shared that list with neighbors, too.

I keep all of my dog’s emergency information and the information noted above in the DogMinder, the health and wellness journal I created for under $10 for dog moms and dog dads. You can get it on Amazon. 

Why Is There A Veterinary Emergency Crisis?

I asked my friend Sharon Loehr-Daley why there is such a shortage of veterinarians and emergency facilities of late. Daley spent decades working as a veterinary nurse. At the tender age of 50, she decided to become a veterinarian. This dynamic woman graduates next year. 

“Veterinarians here in North Carolina are inundated with emergencies,” she reports. “Many emergency hospitals have even closed down, which started during COVID.” 

She says many employees quit because childcare services closed. Curbside appointments were very hard on technicians.

“Many people didn’t want to wear masks or do the curbside visits, and some became increasingly abusive to workers.”

Sadly, Loehr-Daley knows many vets and vet techs who have walked away from the field. Sadly, it’s a hardship for pet parents. 

A recent piece in The Atlantic called “The Great Veterinary Shortage” outlines the crisis and its effects. In the article, one veterinarian told the reporter, “Emergency care cannot be guaranteed for your pets right now.”

Unfortunately, there aren’t enough people to care for all the sick pets. The vets and vet techs the writer interviewed didn’t see things changing in the short term. Millions of people brought pets into their lives during the pandemic. More Americans are still welcoming pets into their homes. 

The number of people entering the veterinary profession has not been keeping pace. According to a recent study by Mars Veterinary Health, “By 2030, the U.S. will need nearly 41,000 additional veterinarians and nearly 133,000 credentialed vet techs.” 

Emergency Veterinarians When Time Matters

If it seems impossible to get a timely veterinarian appointment right now or to get an emergency vet to see your dog, you aren’t alone. 

It’s up to you, the pet parent, to be your dog’s advocate. Plan ahead and have the necessary information in place should a critical emergency pop up. 

Right now, as of this writing, University of Pennsylvania emergencies at Ryan Hospital notes the following status:

emergency vet instructions at hospital

Emergency appointments are prioritized and triaged when you arrive. My dog, Dexter, was stabilized right away, but we had no idea what was going on. They took him on a cart to the back and after four hours, a vet tech came out to see us.

She explained Dexter likely had a bleeding tumor and the extent of it would not be known until an abdominal ultrasound could be performed. We begged them to let us stay in the lobby with our masks on. Neither of us slept.

The next day around noon, the ultrasound revealed the grim news. A likely inoperable tumor, our options were few, and Dexter passed away a short time later. To say I remain crushed is an understatement. I wrote about my dog’s journey with hemangiosarcoma.

Emergency Numbers Every Pet Parent Should Have 

Plug these numbers into your phone and DogMinder. Keep a printed list if possible, too, and hang them up on the refrigerator, etc, at home:

  1. ASPCA Poison Control (comes with a fee): 888-426-4435
  2. Pet Poison Helpline (comes with a fee): 855-764-7661
  3. Your veterinarian
  4. Your local emergency vet facilities
  5. Emergency vet facilities you’d be willing to drive to
  6. Emergency vet facilities in any area you will be driving through and vacationing in with your dog
  7. Local animal control in case your dog goes missing
  8. Pet-friendly hotels in your area and outside your area in the event of an emergency evacuation (flood, storms, earthquake, tornado, fire, etc.) 

Keep your DogMinder in a secure location so that when you have to race off to an emergency vet, you can pop it in your purse or car at a moment’s notice.

Finally, know the route to the emergency facilities or have an up-to-date GPS in your vehicle or phone so you don’t panic when an emergency strikes.

Never second guess yourself when it comes to your dog. Pale gums, for example, can mean your dog has internal bleeding, as mine did. 

Bonus Veterinary Emergency Tip

Cocker Spaniel mom Joyce Whitehead shares this tip which has ensured her dogs always have a backup veterinarian just in case her regular vet isn’t available.

“I registered my dogs with several veterinarians in the area,” Whitehead shares. “I have one main vet that I use more regularly but others on occasion when my regular vet isn’t available.”

She says at the moment she has her dogs registered with five different veterinarians just in case. Two of them are an hour away and one is local. The only tricky aspect of juggling all the vets is making sure everyone has the vaccination records.

“I think variety has taught me a lot about what I like and dislike about certain practices,” she reports. “The good thing is if one place won’t take me, I’m pretty sure I can get an appointment with another.”

Always ask your veterinarian(s) what their regular business hours are and what to do after hours in the event of an emergency.

My emergency vet is full what do I do

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9 Comments

  1. My sweet 12-year-old terrier mix rescue dog was not sick. Never had a bad physical exam, I’d had for only 6 years suddenly collapsed (2/25/22), struggled to breathe. Took her to her vet. She had enlarged heart, lungs full of fluids. Her vet sent me to emergency (Saturday). They said she’d be there on O2, given meds to help her heart and remove lung fluid until Monday a.m.
    The emergency vet later called to tell me they’d see if she could breathe on her own by Sunday morning. He said she could not, recommended euthanasia which we did.
    I will never know if I did the right thing. I had recently moved, knew no one. I wish I had demanded he keep her on O2 until Monday as they’d originally promised and then I could take her to her normal vet.
    I did not fight for her, I will hate myself forever. Unforgivable.

  2. I need to add Lucy was 6 when I adopted her. Not that this impacts anything as I only had her for 6 years.

    1. I know this heartache all too well. My very deepest condolences. May your memories of her sustain you until you meet again.

  3. This is exactly what Sherm died from last Sunday. He was 16 (a month shy) and we were managing his kidney disease and thought it had to be that even though labs showed a very stable senior a month ago. He collapsed was un-responsive w pale gums. He was bleeding from a ruptured splenic tumor we didn’t even know he had. We are heart broken. The story is much more involved but I don’t have the stomach to relive it even here… so many hugs. The vet shortage is a nightmare

    1. Oh gosh, Christy. I know the pain you are in, and that makes me even more sad. My heart is with you.

      1. Thank you so much – I keep thinking – how could I not know my dog that gets ultrasounds more than any other dog I’ve lived with – had a splenic tumor that one day would rupture and he would die…? It all super sucks – and learning this happened to sweet Dexter and then all these other people that went through this too. We’ll never know if it was malignant, I just hope sweet Sherman who was clearly asymptomatic didn’t suffer :(. So many hugs to you both.

  4. The veterinary care situation is terrifying right now. I don’t blame veterinarians or vet hospitals for that. Like you said, many vet nurses and veterinarians have left the field during the pandemic, either due to burnout or inability to afford full-time child care on a vet nurse’s wages (which are pitifully low, and I could rant for pages about why I think that’s so, but that’s a different subject).

    There used to be a BluePearl emergency and specialty clinic less than 10 minutes from where I live, which was amazingly awesome when I had to take my 19-year-old cat to the emergency clinic because he was having trouble breathing. Unfortunately, that BluePearl closed the next year, and that certainly wasn’t due to lack of demand for emergency and specialty veterinary services–I think it was because that BluePearl hospital decided to unionize and corporate just wasn’t having it, so they just closed the clinic. Now, my nearest emergency vet clinic is at least 20 minutes away (and more if I need to get there during rush hour)–and the emergency clinic my primary care vet recommends is downtown, which can be a trek of more than an hour from where I live, depending on traffic. Yay, Seattle.

    I’m moving to North Carolina in September, and I just hope I’ll be able to find a vet clinic that a) provides good care; b) is a Fear-Free clinic or staff have special training in handling cats; and c) is taking new patients. *gulp*

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