As a first time dog mom, I made mistakes. I suppose any mom of the world has made a mistake or two with her child at some point in life. I shouldn’t beat myself up. Alas, I do. It’s a fiber of who I am: I love my dog that much. You see, there are myths to what really happens when you leave your dog at the vet overnight. You want to believe that someone is there. You want to believe that your dog, who never sees the inside of a kennel, is being watched over. You want to believe that you are staring at the ceiling at home and all the while, your dog is slumbering and resting with pain medication controlling any discomfort from surgery. You want to believe.
There are myths to what really takes place when you let your pet at the veterinarian for overnight care. This article does not address standard kenneling/boarding and what happens. The purpose of this blog post is to inform dog parents the realities of what happens when you leave your dog overnight in a veterinary facility.
A Cold Brush With The Truth
When I dropped my then Cocker Spaniel off at the veterinary facility, circa 1994, I was a first time adult dog mom. Granted, we had a family dog growing up, but other than spay/neuter, I cannot recall the dogs ever getting major surgery. My little girl required a delicate eye surgery, and the procedure would require an overnight stay.
When you give your child over to the nurse at the hospital for surgery to begin, I would imagine the same feelings are experienced. You feel out of control and you need to muster the strength to believe in the doctors that they will do the right thing. I always pray: It’s just who I am. Thank Dog for my wife: We go through these things together.
Since 1994, I’ve learned to wait at the veterinary office for my dog. If he is having surgery, we are there waiting. Again, it’s just who we are.
Well, if I knew then what I know now, the outcome may have been different.
When we arrived the next morning to pick our little girl up, the veterinarian ushered us into an exam room and then summoned a nurse to get Brandy. When the dog appeared, I am certain a look of shock enveloped my face. Why was there a large amount of dried blood on her face, near her eye, and obviously it had pooled there overnight or at least for some period of time.
When we asked about the blood, the vet became adamant, stating, “Well some dogs don’t leave the wound alone and she must have pawed at it overnight.”
I get as sick now as I did then reliving those words.
“No one is here overnight, so we can’t monitor them 24/7.”
You could have knocked me over with a pin. Here comes the big “A” word: I assumed that someone was there overnight to watch the dogs, or at least check in on them. I mean, it is a veterinary center where delicate surgeries take place. Shouldn’t someone at least be checking on the animals?
Um, in a nutshell: No. But maybe, sometimes.
Here’s the Scoop
Many veterinary practices do not have the staff nor budget to have someone present around the clock. Yes, you read that right the first time, but just in case, many veterinary practices do not have the staff nor budget to have someone present around the clock. The bottom line, however, is there is a portion of pet parents who don’t understand how to keep a dog quiet and calm postoperatively. Many veterinarians feel that an office is a quieter, and perhaps even safer, place to rest.
If your pet is staying overnight at the veterinary facility and there is not someone to monitor the animal overnight, this is concerning on several levels:
What if there is a delayed side effect to anesthesia or pain medicine?
What if the wound(s) open?
What if the dog is in pain?
What if the animal rips an IV out?
What about water intake?
As of this writing, there is no written law that requires a veterinary facility to have a staff member on site to monitor animals overnight who had surgery that day. Many pet parents believe someone is present, and this is not the case.
Most veterinary hospitals and emergency facilities do have someone on staff (usually more than one person) monitoring the animals in their care overnight. This is completely a different scenario than a regular clinic. When our dog, Brandy, required major surgery at Cornell Small Animal Hospital for a patellar luxation (knee issue), we stayed at a nearby hotel. We visited her during visiting hours, and she was wheeled out to see us. The surgery was major and our little girl needed the care and pain management control that only a skilled veterinary hospital of this magnitude could provide. She refused to eat for them, and when she refused to drink, we were summoned. She wanted her mamas. The staff saw after one night that it was best she go home with us.
In talking to the staff at the hospital, we were informed that yes, someone is there watching the surgical patients and monitoring them overnight. This put our minds at ease, and it also taught me never ever to assume someone is watching my dog at the vet when I am not there.
Are All Veterinarians the Same?
Not really. The best thing to do is ask your pet’s veterinarian if someone monitors the pets overnight after surgeries. If you do not feel comfortable with leaving a pet overnight, you will usually be required to sign a waiver that allows you to take the pet and not later sue the vet should something happen to your pet in your care. I’ve never had this situation. The surgeries my dogs have had ever since were same day type surgeries. If the time comes that I need to leave my dog at a veterinary facility, it will only be one where someone is present overnight to monitor him.
Some folks like knowing their veterinary facility has the AAHA seal of approval. AAHA is the American Animal Hospital Association, and it is a voluntary accreditation. Click here to learn more about AAHA standards and accreditation, and how they impact the health of your pet. This does not guarantee overnight monitoring, but the AAHA title is meaningful for some folks.
What Can A Pet Parent Do?
Don’t leave your dog alone at the vet overnight without someone present unless this cannot be avoided. I would absolutely have my dog transferred to a facility that has overnight monitoring, but that’s me. Things do go wrong when animals are left alone overnight. This is not an exercise in finger pointing, just a fi-dose of reality. Caveat emptor, all that jazz. A well-informed pet parent is a pet’s best friend.
By the Way
Brandy recovered from her eye surgery, we cleaned her up on our own at home, and we fired that vet for his horrid demeanor to us and lack of regard for our dog. On top of that, who hands a bloodied animal over to her parents and has no regard for the dog’s appearance and how the parents feel?
There are plenty of qualified vets out there, and you can read about picking a good veterinarian here.
Never assume that the worst can’t happen to you and your pet. It happens every day. Just be prepared and get all questions answered.
Medicine Vs. Mom
Rachel Sheppard is a former veterinary technician, and every few weeks I co-author a series with her, “Medicine Vs. Mom.” For her perspective on this topic, head on over to My Kid Has Paws and get the scoop from a vet tech angle.
QUESTION: Have you ever left a pet overnight at the veterinarian? Did you ask if someone was present to monitor the pet?
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