Dealing With Pet Health Emergencies During Off Hours

Q&As to Help You Know What to Do When Your Pet Gets Sick and the Vet is Closed

Small dog in front of a white Christmas tree
Getty Images/D E N N I S A X E R Photography

The holidays are a fun, festive and busy time. But as people get busier, pets can sometimes be overlooked -- the normal pet routine is often overstretched. Additionally, for those in cold climates, additional physical health stresses may be present for our pets. Whatever the reason, it is particularly worrisome to have a sick pet in the middle of the holiday season.

Is My Pet Really Sick, or Can It Wait?

This is an age-old question and one that cannot be answered by an article or discussion forum on the Internet.

There is lots of information available to help you identify what may constitute an emergency or what can wait, but ultimately, a visit with your veterinarian, either by phone or by office visit is the only way to be sure.

Call your veterinarian or emergency referral clinic and ask them if they think your pet needs to be seen. They can often provide pet-specific advice and help you make the decision to make an appointment now or adopt a wait-and-see approach, depending on your pet's needs.

What If My Veterinarian's Office Is Closed?

No matter what day or time it is, your veterinarian should have an answering service (live help) or recording available to direct you to emergency care information for your pet.

Some veterinarians take emergency calls themselves, some refer out to a nearby clinic, and some will refer you to an emergency facility.

Regardless, not calling because you know that the office isn't open may waste valuable time for your pet's health and well-being.

We Have a Local Emergency Facility, But It's Too Expensive -- I Can't Afford It.

True, emergency care is usually more expensive. It is a more expensive type of practice to run, employing staff at all hours of the day/night to be available to help pets in need. But, it is often less expensive in the long run to treat a medical condition early on, rather than wait until things get really bad.

When left untreated, other problems can occur secondarily to the original problem, leading to more treatment needs, etc.

Here's a quick example: your cat is urinating out of the litter box. There are many possible reasons for this behavior, but if your cat is seen by your vet and is determined to have a urinary infection, early treatment can make all the difference in the world.

If left untreated, the cat could become blocked later on. This usually entails a more involved therapy -- unblocking via catheterization plus fluid therapy, leading to a higher expense. Not to mention, if left untreated, a blocked urethra can be a fatal condition in a very short time.

It is important to note that even with antibiotics, a cat can still become blocked. However, good communication with your veterinarian is the key. It may mean a recheck visit versus an emergency visit.

Why Do These Things Always Seem to Happen During the Holidays? 

This is probably a combination of things. With hectic schedules, the subtle differences in behavior, attitude, appetite may be overlooked. During the busy times, it is important to observe your pet for anything that seems a little off -- is their appetite what is should be?

Is your pet urinating/defecating as normal? Is your pet as active as usual?

Finally, it is important not to greatly change your pet's diet during the holidays; no table scraps, chocolate treats, etc. This can be an open invitation to gastric distress. The same goes for pet treats and toys. A lot of the rawhide and pig's ears type of toys cause intestinal troubles. The dyes and coatings used for these types of toys aren't the healthiest, either, and can stain carpets.