How to deal with a pet health emergency


Adam Cecil

Adam Cecil

Former Staff Writer

Adam Cecil is a former staff writer for Policygenius, a digital insurance brokerage trying to make sense of insurance for consumers. He is a podcast producer, writer, and video maker based in Brooklyn, NY.

Published October 8, 2014|4 min read

Policygenius content follows strict guidelines for editorial accuracy and integrity. Learn about our

editorial standards


how we make money.
News article image

It’s the middle of the night. Your dog seems listless and drained of energy. He seems like he’s struggling to breath. Your vet’s office is closed, but the answering machine suggests that you contact an emergency clinic. You’ve never been to the emergency clinic before, but your dog can’t wait. He might not make it to the morning.It’s a situation that no pet parent ever wants to be in, but unfortunately, one that most pet parents will have to experience. According to PetPlace, an estimated 92% of pets will experience an emergency situation at some point in their lifetimes. Going to the emergency clinic can be a terrifying experience, but it’s important for pet parents to stay calm. We talked to Dr. Jacquelyn Wahl, a veterinarian at the Emergency Animal Hospital of Northwest Austin, about her experience as an emergency care veterinarian and her advice for pet parents who are dealing with a pet health emergency.

1) Keep An Open Mind

It’s impossible to know when an emergency medical situation might happen, and it’s often a shocking and scary experience. "It’s hard a lot of times to deliver information to owners that they’re not expecting to hear," Dr. Wahl told us. "Animals can come in looking relatively stable but then we’ll find something potentially fatal." Dogs and cats are some of the greatest actors - they can be incredibly sick, but barely show any pain. Dr. Wahl told us that just because a pet might not seem "life or death," their bodies could be hiding something much worse.That’s why it’s important for pet parents to keep an open mind and listen to what their veterinarian is saying. "If they’re going to an emergency clinic, they’re going to get the best care that they can."

2) Trust The Vet

It can be hard to trust a veterinarian that you’ve never met, but Dr. Wahl told us that it’s one of the most important things a pet parent can do. "I’m not going to recommend things that aren’t necessary and I’m not going to recommend things that I wouldn’t do for my own pet. I’m there for the animal. I’m their advocate. They can’t speak, so I have to do it for them. I have to tell the owners that this is what they need. I went to school to know what this animal needs."Your vet will also understand that you’re scared and probably frustrated with the long wait. "People sometimes have a two to three hour wait to see a doctor. In every pet parent’s mind, their animal is the most important emergency, so it’s very tense for them to wait. Tensions can run pretty high. I’ve been yelled at a fair amount of times in front of people. By the time we see the client they’re in a bad mood, they’ve been waiting, and we’re trying to re-establish that relationship with them and get what their pet needs."

3) Have A Financial Plan For Emergency Care

"Emergency medicine is not a cheap thing." Dr. Wahl told us that pet parents coming in to an emergency clinic should be prepared to spend, at minimum, $1,000. Once you start talking "multiple night stays or a surgical procedure," costs easily rise to anywhere between $3,000 and $5,000. "A lot of people don’t have that kind of money to pull out of their pockets. Unfortunately, if they don’t have the money, their only option is euthanasia. It’s a common occurrence that animals are euthanized for something very treatable, but the people just can’t afford it."In many cases, pet insurance can literally be "a life-saving thing." Emergency pet insurance will reimburse up to 90% of a vet visit and will cover any licensed veterinarian in the country. "More often than not, they don’t have insurance. I feel like I’m rarely filling out insurance claim forms. If did have it, it would be amazing, because we could actually help more pets with what they need. I think insurance is amazing and everyone should have it for their pet."Unfortunately, less than 1% of pets are covered by an insurance plan, leaving the majority of pet parents open to economic devastation by emergency medical fees. If you want to get your pet covered, but don’t know where to start, check out our pet insurance guide. It features unbiased advice on who needs pet insurance and what kind of policy pet parents should buy. If you’re ready to jump in and get a free quote for your pet, head to our pet insurance marketplace, with quotes and comparisons for pet insurance plans from the top insurers.Photo Credit: The National Guard