By now, you may have already come across the rather informative and brilliantly written post (shameless plug) post, entitled ‘When To Take Your Dog Or Cat To The Emergency Vet’ (see below).
But now let’s address the opposite. Let’s address the time when you really shouldn’t be taking your dog to the emergency vet.
After all, those precious little emergency slots on our diaries are few and far between, and when they are inadvertently taken up by a non-emergency patient, the speed and level of care a true emergency receives can suffer as a result.
If that makes you feel bad, you’re not alone. It makes me – as a vet – feel bad too. Which is exactly why I’m writing this entirely bullshit free blog post.
Let’s get cracking.
1. The Novice Puppy Owner
Picture the scene. I am awoken from my hard-earned slumber at 2am, bleary eyed and disorientated, by the menacing screech of the on-call phone.
I am told there is a very sick dog, and I need to be in the consult room in twenty minutes. I stumble in.
Young female owner arrives all-of-a-tremble. She clutches a really rather cute fluffy puppy, some sort of Shih Tzu creation, to her chest.
I endeavor to calm her down, and then examine the puppy: bright demeanor, normal vitals, normal temperature. Abdomen feels normal.
Puppy happily eats several treats on the consult room table, wags it’s adorable tail, and begins bouncing up at Concerned Owner, wanting to play.
He was sick.
“Ok. So he’s been being sick, bless him. How many times – just roughly – has he been sick today, the poor little thing?”
“Ok. Is he eating?”
“Weeing and pooing normally?”
“He’s been sick! “
“…And it was yellow!”, chimes in Appalled-Mother-Of-Owner, who has just blustered in armed with tissues and a vending machine coffee from the waiting room, hair all done up in rollers.
Guys, I do get it. Taking care of a new puppy, especially as a first time owner, is a rollercoaster of “is that normal?!”
But please don’t assume your little one is dying should they have a single chunder, or pass a single sloppy poop.
Apply the same logic as you would apply to a toddler. Keep a close eye. Ideally have a thermometer handy, and educate yourself on normal rectal temperatures (yes, I did say rectal. Invest in disposable gloves and vaseline, friends). And by all means make us aware. But make us aware after 9am.
That way, your vet (who may well be working back-to-back day shifts with a night on-call in-between) gets to sleep, and you save a small fortune.
(FYI, emergency consults out-of-house tend to cost in the region of £130-200 in the UK; the equivalent of $160-245 USD)
2. The Knows It’s Not An Emergency
Mr Jones knows that this is not an emergency.
Sunday evening just happened to be most convenient for Mr Jones, and he had to book an emergency appointment to get past the guarding force of reception. Never mind that I’m now staying late, and missing my dinner plans.
Mr Jones looks sheepishly around the room as I examine his entirely healthy dog.
“She was definitely uhhhhh, under the weather when I booked. Ahem. Seems to be better now though.” He shuffles his feet. “She’s due her booster too, as it happens. We might as well get it done today. That way I’ve not wasted your time.”
Mr Jones is an asshole, but only in terms of his ignorance. He likely doesn’t know he’s messing up my weekend. I almost feel bad, charging him the out of hours fee.
Unlike Mr Smith, who will unashamedly announce that his dog needs to be vaccinated at 10pm on a Thursday night because that’s the only time he’s able to make it in. Yes, it’s an emergency. Well, how much extra do I want?
Don’t I realize he’s a brand manager for a multinational corporation?! He can’t be expected to stick to normal opening hours like everybody else.
Mr Smith is a special kind of asshole.
3. The It Happened Overnight
You’re telling me your elderly dog lost a third of his body weight and became skeletal overnight?
That grapefruit-sized tumor on his leg wasn’t there when you went to bed?
His ears developed chronic, structural changes consistent with a severe long-term infection just this weekend?
I’m sorry. But this has not happened overnight. Your pet absolutely needs to see a vet. In fact, they needed to see a vet weeks ago.
It did not become an emergency today, you just had the day off work and couldn’t ignore it any longer.
I will be booking you a standard appointment, when there is next availability, because there are pets with immediately life-threatening conditions that I need to see today.
And, with a standard appointment, I can book 30 minutes rather than 15, which gives us time to do your pet’s chronic problems justice, without making the clinic run behind for the entire rest of the day.
4. The Convenience Euthanasia
Even when our books are full for the day, the reception team will always book in any euthanasias that ring through. These are considered (and often are) emergency cases.
Noodles is elderly, but not dramatically so. He’s likely got a couple of good quality, happy years in him yet, with some minor adjustments: maybe a little arthritis management, some medication for that cough, a dental to sort out those teeth.
So when Noodles arrives, waggy tailed and snuffling at my scrubs for treats, it breaks my heart. You want him put to sleep not because he’s terminal, unfixable, or even hugely suffering (bar some very treatable sore teeth and joints).
You want him put to sleep because he’s effort. He’s smellier than he was (especially his breath). He growled at the new puppy, because it jumped on him (and he’s not on the arthritis medication he needs to be comfortable).
He can’t go hiking with you anymore. And now he’s expensive. A dental costs how much?!
Your dog doesn’t need to be euthanised. Your dog needs a more responsible owner.
I will put him to sleep if you insist. But only because if I don’t you’ll just take him elsewhere, or worse try and take matters into your own hands.
At least this way I can ensure it is peaceful.
But just so you know – it is not my job to make you feel good about your decision. I took an oath with regards to your pet. He is my patient and my priority.
I’m not gonna hold your hand and tell you it’s the right call.
5. The Simply Ridiculous
To finish up on a lighter note, for your pleasure here are some examples of random things I’ve been woken up by pet owners at 4am to deal with, or had added into already fully-booked consult days because owners have convincingly conned reception into believing it’s an emergency:
- Empty his anal glands (it’s an emergency because they smell)
- Apply pressure for 2 minutes to a small nick on a dog’s ear that was slowly dripping blood (“he’s hemorrhaging to death!!”). Stopped after two minutes of pressure and £180 / $220 worth of vet’s bills (their fault not mine; I told them on the phone it wasn’t an emergency).
- Dogs that have missed a single meal, but this “isn’t like them”. Owners have no other complaints/otherwise dog seems fine. Nine times out of ten these dogs eat normally at the next meal and simply weren’t hungry. Or there are young children in the house who later admit to feeding the dog their dinner.
- The owners (this happens regularly) who claim their dog is unable to walk (a true emergency). Dog will then happily bounce into my consult room, mildly lame on a single paw, usually due to a pulled muscle, which then gets better on it’s own over the next couple of days.
- The owners (also frequent) who turn up without an appointment and demand to be seen claiming their dog is “screaming in pain”. Dog has minor ailment (eg, ear infection, damaged dew claw) and waltzes into consult room entirely oblivious to said minor ailment.
- The owner who is near inconsolable because she has found “lumps” on her dog and cannot rest until these are checked by a vet. Lumps turn out to be a normal nipples (she hadn’t realised they have more than two).
- Owner saw a flea. Owner is afraid of fleas.
Please, do your vet a favor. We are real people too, with lives and families and social lives outside of work.
Don’t make us stay late just because it was more convenient for you to bring your dog today than tomorrow.
And don’t lie to our hardworking and well-meaning reception teams to get an emergency appointment once all the routines are taken. It means your vet will stay late that day, almost certainly. This is often unpaid, in the UK at least.
And, when you arrive in my consult room, best believe I’ll call you out on it.
Thanks so, so much to the VAST majority of pet owners for being fantastic, responsible and understanding clients <3 <3 <3
And to the minority who aren’t, I guess I’ll see you next Tuesday ^_^