What Should You Do When You Can’t Reach Your Vet?


Pets need you to have a plan in place in case your vet is unavailable during an emergency. By: Spiritze

What happens if your vet is on vacation and they haven’t arranged for coverage?

And, on top of that, what happens if you’re in an emergency situation with your pet and you don’t know what to do?

The take-home message of this post is to always have a back-up plan if you can’t reach your vet. Have that plan in place before you are in that emergency or any other acute situation.

Although most small animal veterinarians, when they are away or out on a call, try to have another veterinarian cover for them or have an emergency message on their phone, sometimes it just doesn’t work out.

Sometimes you are left out in the cold with a sick pet and you can’t reach your vet. You are in a panic and don’t know what to do.

A Real Emergency

Stay calm and assess the situation. Many problems can wait a few hours or even a day if your vet is on vacation or unreachable except in obvious emergency situations.

You may want and need advice, but this may be more of an inconvenience than an emergency. If you can’t get advice from your vet or an emergency hospital on the phone, what do you do next?

Stay calm, assess the situation and make sure your pet is experiencing a true emergency before taking drastic measures. By: Daga_Roszkowska

Know Where to Call In Advance

No matter where you live, whether in the middle of a huge city with vets on every corner or in an extreme rural area where veterinarians are few and far between, it behooves you to know in advance what to do in a true emergency with your pet.

When you can’t reach your vet:

  • Have a list of other vets you can call; know if they see “emergencies” and will see you, even if they’ve never seen your pet before.
  • Have a list of the nearest emergency veterinary hospitals, no matter how far it is.
  • If you are in a very remote area, have the number of the nearest veterinary school hospital or the numbers of suburban or urban emergency hospitals, even if they are hours away.
  • If you are far from any veterinary emergency hospital and you think your pet is in a critical situation, be pushy on the phone and explain that you need to be “triaged” over the phone, get emergency advice and then decide if you should get in the car and drive 30, 90 or 300 miles.

Phone System and Beeper Failures

I can tell you from personal experience that stuff just happens with phones and human error.

Although I stayed on call until late at night and then turned my messages over to an emergency hospital close by, we’ve had snafus occur with our phones that have left people dangling on the phone.

Here are just a few examples:

  • Someone at the practice forgot to “turn the phones over” at the end of the evening. This means my emergencies were not sent to my cellphone. A client calling at 11 p.m.,worried about their lethargic dog, would get no answer. Most clients knew the nearest emergency hospital was only 20 minutes away, but getting no answer or no emergency message at your vet’s office is never a good thing.
  • What if your vet’s phone is out of order? Maybe a massive thunderstorm or high wind knocked out service.
  • What if, no matter how many feline boundaries I put on my phones, the hospital cats dislodged the covers and stepped on a critical button, giving clients a busy signal until the next day instead of a recorded message?

When you can’t contact your vet, have those emergency numbers or other hospital numbers close at hand.

If your house call vet is away, have emergency numbers on hand. By: isakarakus

Don’t Be Left in the Lurch

Those who seem to be most at risk for this are people using a house call vet and don’t know what to do when they are unavailable, and also people in very rural situations.

House call vets may not have a backup if on vacation or unavailable. I recommend to folks that use a house call vet to always have a relationship with a brick-and-mortar hospital as well.

In rural situations, your vet may be a mixed animal vet who still sees large as well as small animals, meaning they may be working so hard and covering such a large area that they can’t get to you in an emergency.

Emergency and Specialty Hospitals Save Lives

Many people cringe at the thought of going to an emergency hospital or a hospital they don’t know, particularly when they have a sick pet and are in a state of anxiety. But emergency hospital and large practices with evening and weekend hours save lives.

Recently, I had a very sick little bunny, and the rabbit went downhill late in the evening. I had a heart-to-heart talk with the client and I told them if they were willing to make the 90-minute drive to Tufts Veterinary School, it was 3-pound Snowball’s only chance.

That was a year ago. She is alive and well today.


This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD. It was last reviewed Aug. 1, 2018.

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