Madeleine Keyser assumed someone would watch her dog overnight at the vet office in New Jersey. Her 16-month-old Rottweiler, Betsy, underwent routine eye surgery earlier that day. Poor Betsy was found dead the next morning when a staff member arrived to check on the animals.
Leaving your dog overnight at the vet can be very dangerous and sometimes deadly. I used to believe my dog was being cared for by dedicated staff or at least a veterinary technician or nurse. Many veterinary practices do not have the staff nor budget to have someone present around the clock. Depending on the type of veterinary facility, your pet may or may not have 24-hour supervision.
Many veterinary facilities are not open 24 hours a day, so often times there is no one to check on your dog overnight. When the vet facility closes for the day until the time it reopens the next morning, your dog is likely alone in a kennel without supervision. Madeleine Keyser’s dog hanged herself on an unbreakable collar while left unattended in a kennel overnight.
Pet parents should be 100 percent clear as to whether or not a veterinary facility is staffed 24/7. Without an overnight staff, the benefits of leaving your dog in the hospital are greatly diminished. Before you leave your dog overnight at a veterinary clinic or vet hospital, there are a number of things to know and ask.
Leaving Your Dog Overnight At The Vet: Facts
In most states, there is no written law that requires a veterinary facility to have a staff member on-site to monitor animals overnight. This includes pets who had surgery, received anesthesia, are hooked up to an IV line, and/or are medicated.
Madeleine Keyser’s veterinarian told her Betsy required overnight supervision so she would not paw and scratch at her sutures. Keyser followed the veterinarian’s orders and assumed someone would be present to watch Betsy overnight. Sadly, the clinic had no overnight staff, and her dog died from strangulation.
Keyser discovered that at least 90 percent of vet hospitals and animal hospitals in New Jersey did not have 24-hour care. She fought for change for eight long years until Betsy’s Law was passed. The law requires veterinarians in New Jersey to post signs clearly indicating pets do not have supervision overnight. Some veterinarians have pet parents sign a form indicating they are aware of this.
“I will even have people sign it to the effect that there’s no one that will be watching their pet because my facility doesn’t have 24-hour care,” stated veterinarian Dr. Fritz McHugh.
In research for this article, I called 14 different veterinary facilities and none of them had a staff member on site after the offices closed for the day. A local veterinary emergency hospital, however, does have staff on-site overnight. More about that shortly.
What If My Vet Requires My Dog Stay Overnight?
There are many reasons a vet or emergency vet might require your dog remain in the hospital one or more nights. Some of these reasons include:
- Your dog had major surgery that day
- Monitoring after an accident or severe injury
- If your dog ingested something toxic and is being treated and monitored
- Sudden illness or problem that requires around-the-clock medication, IV, monitoring, or treatment
- Uncontrolled vomiting, diarrhea, or gastric issues
- Neurological problems, seizures, reaction to medications or vaccines
- Frequent blood draws for an illness or condition
I allowed my Cocker Spaniel, Dexter, to remain at a veterinary hospital for four nights because a veterinarian or vet tech was available on-site. My dog required IV medication and blood draws after being diagnosed with immune-mediated thrombocytopenia (IMT).
I rushed Dexter to the emergency room at an area veterinary hospital when his gums turned pale and bled. He was immediately triaged, and blood work revealed he had zero platelets. His body was destroying the platelets, and he required hospital care I could not provide at home. I also took comfort in knowing someone was watching him overnight and would call me if anything of concern happened.
If your dog requires an overnight stay at a veterinary facility, make sure someone will be present with the animals around the clock. I would not allow my dog to stay at a veterinary facility for any reason if someone wasn’t present to monitor his condition and watch over him.
If your vet feels your dog requires overnight care in their facility, ask about 24-hour supervision. Vets who insist on keeping your dog overnight obviously feel there is something they can do in-house that you can’t do at home.
I would highly recommend having your dog transferred to a hospital you trust that has 24-hour monitoring and care of their patients, much like a human hospital. My first Cocker Spaniel had a traumatic bleeding experience when I left her overnight at a veterinary clinic after eye surgery.
What Happened To My Dog Overnight At The Vet’s Office
Brandy Noel was my first Cocker Spaniel and the reason I fell in love with the breed. She required eye surgery and an overnight stay. Her veterinarian said she would be in a kennel, kept safe, and unable to scratch at her sutures. My story is very similar to Madeleine’s.
When we arrived the next morning for discharge, the veterinarian ushered us into an exam room and summoned a nurse to get Brandy. I could not believe my eyes. Caked on Brandy’s face was a large amount of dried blood near her eye and on her cheek. The vet informed us she likely bled overnight.
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. 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? Apparently not.
I switched veterinary practices because the vet was flippant about my dog’s bleeding issue and never informed us she would be alone.
Is It Normal For Dogs To Be Alone At Night At The Vet?
Yes, it is the norm, but no you don’t have to accept this. Some veterinarians agree.
“It has always boggled my mind, but many veterinary practices hospitalize patients without anyone in the hospital overnight! Why bother doing this,” says Dr. Jared Coren of West Hills Animal Hospital. “Doesn’t it make more sense to have the pet at home with the owner than being left without anyone with them in a dark hospital by themselves?”
Never assume your dog is being watched, cared for, and monitored overnight. Ask the veterinarian what their overnight protocol is for in-house patients.
If your dog needs care that requires overnight monitoring, silence, quiet, or any sort of care, he should have someone present to make sure that happens.
What happens if the dog rips out his stitches? Pulls out an IV line (my dog did this after a same-day procedure)? Seizes? Is terrified of being alone and gets worse? Will he sit in his own urine and poop overnight? Is he wearing a collar that can get caught on the kennel cage like Betsy’s dog? Will he have access to water?
A dog staying at home with you has a much better chance of receiving the care and attention he needs than being alone in an empty, dark building. If your dog needs overnight care, I recommend a veterinary hospital or facility with qualified staff available around the clock.
Don’t be afraid to ask your vet or take his or her word for it that your dog will be cared for overnight. Ask for proof that someone will be present with your dog for overnight care and observation. If your dog truly requires overnight care, I recommend transferring his care to a 24/7 monitored on-staff facility.
Never leave your dog at the veterinarian’s office overnight unless you are certain someone is there to check on them.
Do Vet Hospitals Leave Dogs Alone Overnight?
Each facility has its own set of rules and guidelines, but in many cases, an emergency veterinary hospital likely has someone on staff overnight. However, you should always ask first.
When my dog, Brandy, required major knee surgery at Cornell Small Animal Hospital in New York, 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 could provide. She refused to eat for them, and when she refused to drink, we were summoned. After one night in-house, the veterinary surgeon discharged her, concluding she would do better with at-home care.
The best thing to do is ask your pet’s veterinarian if someone monitors pets overnight. If you do not feel comfortable leaving your dog overnight, you will usually be required to sign a waiver that allows you to take the pet. This is the canine equivalent of “against medical advice” so you can’t sue the vet should something happen to your dog at home. I’ve never had this situation.
Some pet parents like knowing their veterinary facility has the AAHA seal of approval. AAHA is the American Animal Hospital Association, and it is voluntary accreditation. This does not guarantee overnight monitoring, but the AAHA title is meaningful for some folks.
When my dog, Dexter, was hospitalized for four nights at a local veterinary emergency hospital, we visited daily, talked to the internist once a day, and the vet tech called us at least once or twice a day.
During the pandemic, things changed and most pet parents would be banned from coming inside vet clinics or veterinary hospitals. There were no visiting hours and all communication was done via phone.
Questions To Ask About Your Dog’s Overnight Vet Stay
Before you leave your dog at the veterinary facility overnight, be sure to ask these questions:
- Will someone monitor my dog overnight? (some facilities may have an in-house video surveillance system, which doesn’t help if there is an urgent issue STAT)
- Will someone be present at the facility overnight? Who? A vet tech? A vet? Both?
- Why does my dog need to be hospitalized overnight?
- Can I provide the same level of care at home?
- If my dog stays overnight, will someone call me if there is an urgent problem?
- Who will take my dog out to potty overnight, how often, and/or if he remains in the kennel, will he be sitting in his own waste?
- Can I leave a shirt or blanket with my scent on so my dog is comfortable? (some facilities don’t allow this)
- Will my dog have access to food and water?
- When do you anticipate my dog will be discharged?
- Will my dog be laying on a bed or blanket in the kennel for comfort?
- What medications will my dog be given?
- When can I expect a call about my dog’s condition and overnight progress?
- How will my dog’s pain be controlled?
- Will my dog have an IV line and if so, who monitors that?
- Will my dog be hooked up to any medical equipment and why?
- Will there be blood draws performed?
- Will my dog receive a sedative to relax in his kennel and if so, what?
If your pooch is having surgery, here are questions to ask before your dog’s surgery.
Can I Visit My Dog In The Hospital?
Depending on the facility, their rules, and the pandemic situation, you may or may not be able to visit your dog in the hospital. In most circumstances, you will not be able to visit your dog past a certain time and certainly not overnight.
If your pet is hospitalized overnight and staff is present, you want them tending to your dog’s needs and medical care. They can’t be interrupted with overnight visits. However, in some special circumstances, or if the situation is dire, you can talk to your dog’s veterinarian about this ahead of time.
Ask the veterinarian what the hospital visiting hours are and when you are allowed to visit. When my dog, Dexter, was hospitalized, a vet tech called us each morning, told us when the doctor was making his rounds, and what time we could visit Dexter. They would bring him to us for an hour or so in one of the patient exam rooms after hours.
Will Your Dog Feel Abandoned At The Vet’s Overnight?
My main concern when my dog was hospitalized was that he get better and get home to me as soon as possible. I worried, however, that my dog would feel abandoned overnight. Throughout his life, someone is always with Dexter, and not seeing me or my spouse worried me.
Staffers said he did really well overnight, didn’t cry or moan, wasn’t whining or howling, and was actually very friendly and wagged his tail for them. It’s a leap of faith to believe this, but I felt in my gut and soul they were telling me the truth.
Some dogs require a sedative in their kennel overnight so they don’t move around or become distressed. Often, pain medication is provided depending on the dog’s problem. Many pain meds also have a sedating effect on dogs. Dogs and people can become co-dependent on one another, and I can completely understand and relate to this. My heart beats dog® , after all.
However, your dog’s best interest and health needs must come first. You need to keep that in mind when your dog is admitted to a veterinary facility overnight. One of the amazing things about dogs is their resilience. They are incredibly happy to see us and reunite with us when they are discharged.
You have rights as a pet parent when you take your dog to the veterinarian. Be sure you know what they are and get all of your questions answered first.
QUESTION: Have you ever left a pet overnight at the veterinarian? Did you ask if someone was present to monitor the pet?