Many veterinary hospitals are suspending 24-hour emergency service

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When was the last time you needed to take a dog to the veterinarian after regular business hours – you know, in an emergency? In the past few years alone, I’ve taken dogs (foster and my own) to the closest hospital providing 24-hour emergency services at least a half dozen times, for a puppy with a suspected broken leg (it wasn’t), a puppy with an injured eye (remember Odin? He eventually had to have the eye removed, despite prompt and lengthy treatment), and several times for my dog Woody, who has had after-hours treatment for lots of things.

NOTHING happens to Woody during regular hours! He’s needed stitches (cut his back legs on something while skidding to a stop playing fetch), swallowed a small tennis ball (they made him vomit it up), had a suspected bloat (he had gotten into the foster Great Dane puppies’ food and ate way too much, but was able to start pooping and get relief while we waited for service), and one night, he tanked with a sudden fever and vomiting and diarrhea (not sure what that was, but he was hospitalized overnight on fluids and antibiotics and recovered).

It’s been a couple of years since he’s needed emergency care – KNOCK WOOD – but if you have an accident-prone dog like Woody, take note: Many veterinary hospitals who ordinarily provide 24-hour, emergency services have begun suspending those emergency hours and overnight service. In my area alone, the closest three hospitals I could take a dog or puppy to in the middle of the night have suspended overnight service indefinitely. All three are citing staffing shortages as the reason for this. If something happened to my dog tonight, I’d be driving about 80 miles to the closest emergency vet hospital still operating overnight – and, presumably, so would a lot of other people whose hospitals did the same. The domino effect here, alone, is terrifying to ponder, with so many cases flowing to a few concentrated emergency-care providers.

A banner on the website of my local emergency and specialty veterinary hospital.

I was first alerted to this by a friend who forwarded an email that one of her training clients had received from the emergency care provider in our area, stating that the hospital was closing at 9p.m., and no longer available for emergency care until 7 a.m. Since my trainer friend also provides boarding services, and needs to be able to take clients’ dogs for care in case of an emergency, she started calling around to see if the next closest emergency-care providers were available. That’s when she discovered that two more had followed suit and suspended their overnight emergency services. All three hospitals are citing staffing shortages as the reason for the suspension.

A post from the Facebook page of a veterinary hospital in Colorado, explaining why they are suspending emergency service temporarily.

Shortly after I learned this, I saw an article (linked here) posted on a friend’s Facebook page, discussing the suspension of emergency veterinary services by a BluePearl Pet Hospital in North Seattle. Several friends of my California friend commented that the same thing was happening in their towns – in Colorado, New Jersey, Oregon …

So, just a heads-up: It might be worth a call to whatever veterinary hospital you usually go to in case of an overnight emergency, to check to see if they are still providing service after regular business hours. If they are not, it’s better to know now, so you’d know where to go in case of an actual emergency without a last-minute panic.

And also: Has this happened in your area? If so, please post a comment here.

75 COMMENTS

  1. Yes, similar situation in Fayetteville, NC. However, so far, we do have a 24 hour emergency vet hospital in Fayetteville. Don’t know what would happen if it closed. I imagine we would have to go to Raleigh which is at least 1-1 1/2 hours from my house.

  2. We live in Ojai, CA. There is no 24 hour vet in this small town. There are, however, emergency 24/7 clinics available in Ventura. They have remained open, however, due to staffing issues, they are unable to accept all who arrive with an animal in need of urgent care. Multiple posts have noted filled emergency clinics in both Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties. There was a Facebook post of a local family seeking emergency care for their dog, cradling him as he died in the car as they drove around the area seeking care. We were very lucky that our boy developed an odd cough in the middle of the day a few months ago. We decided this needed to be seen since the vet’s offices were filled up for weeks in advance. We spent nearly five hours out in the car, due mostly to the situation that they were calling a home number to tell us that the dog could come in and be seen (we had provided the cell. number of course). They had assumed that we had left the parking lot with our sick dog after a few hours patiently waiting. But, as I said, we were lucky. He had developed pneumonia and was prescribed antibiotics to be picked up the next day.

  3. We have the same problem in Louisville, KY! Blue Pearl and Metropolitan no longer have emergency services after hours. Luckily, we have 1 emergency hospital left, Jefferson Animal, otherwise we have to drive to Lexington, KY where there are 2 (MedVet and Bluegrass)! It is sad. Of course, none of these facilities will even treat an animal unless you pay up front.

  4. We have been through several emergencies of late, so after reading your article, I contacted VCA PetCare East in Santa Rosa, CA. They too are having staffing shortages. They are not yet instituting a policy about closures but suggested we call first before coming because on some occasions, they have needed to refuse all but the most distressed animals overnight. They did provide two other local referrals within a thirty minute drive.

  5. I’m blessed to live less than 10 miles from a university veterinary medical center; I don’t expect their ER to shut down. However, earlier this week I called my vet’s office to make an appointment for a suspected ear infection. The earliest option the receptionist offered was a drop-off appointment in 7 days! I explained that my dog couldn’t wait a week to receive treatment for an infection. She was sorry, but they were booked solid. Fortunately, I found another vet that could squeeze him in and I was able to start treatment that evening. But I was truly surprised that the practice I’d gone to for 20 years (a really BIG practice!) couldn’t fit a longtime patient in for an illness. They had always found a way to take care of unexpected needs before. Perhaps veterinary care is going the way of the human doctor’s office, available for maintenance visits, but not for the unexpected and sudden illness.

    • I had this experience 2 weeks ago. When my old dog pretty suddenly changed noticeably, and became weak, unable to stand, and cognitively not there. I called her long-time vet. Told too busy through the next week to set up app’tment, but to call at 8:30 next a.m., and maybe there would be a cancellation. There was, at 3:00.
      My g’daus. came, and thankfully were with me when she passed away at home, in my arms, at 11:10–4 hours before her app’tmnt.
      My issue is that my pup, a Katrina rescue, was a long time patient. We were not nuisance clients, and she needed to be seen ahead of a check-up for a healthy dog spot on the vet’s calendar–there must have been one. It was an emergency.
      The next week, a condolence card came from the vet.

      • I am so sorry that happened to you; my heart is just breaking. I lost one of my dogs recently due to a heart condition; losing a pet is just overwhelming. I will keep you in my prayers Carilyn.

  6. So far, so good in my region: both Loomis Basin Vet Clinic (in Loomis, CA) and Marqueen Pet Emergency (in Rocklin, CA) are still open 24/7. For me, it’s a 45-50 mile trip…but at least it’s still available.

  7. It’s everywhere across the country. I would also ask if people are seeing price gouging because of the increase in pets during this pandemic. It’s not something that shelters council/stress about as they do adoptions.

      • Our guy was in the vet hospital for 4 days in 2018 and it was just over $4000; every time we went to see him it was another $1000. He did have to have tests so, admittedly, that counted for part of it and we live in an expensive market for care (Mass). Our little chihuahua was in for 3 days way back in 2013 in Des Moines Iowa for hemorrhagic gastroenteritis and it was around $1800 all up but much less testing, just had a whole lot of hetastarch IV.

        One of our 24 hr clinics is shut from 23:00-7am but that happened right before the pandemic. We have 2 ER hospitals in western MA and CT along the I-91 corridor and Tufts which given its a teaching hospital will be unlikely to shut its doors. I feel for folks who have clinics closing and no longer offering overnight ER services with nowhere else to go. There are even regions with no ER services for humans; it’s a sad state in a country that is supposed to be top of the mark.

        Note: that is not meant to make a political statement; it is meant to lament why health services for humans and our pets, which many people consider actual ‘family members’ these days even though they are a different species, is so challenging to access for so many families across our wonderful nation.

  8. What a mess! Our emergency vet hospital is always busy even on a slow day. All of the local vets send their patients there after hours. However, it’s hard to come out without a horrendous bill. What cost $250 at the hospital was $50 at the local vet clinic. They didn’t share X-rays with the home vet and would threaten that the dog would die without over $2K worth of testing. One of my friends went to euthanize their dog with cancer and got a $10K bill.
    I hope other emergency clinics don’t take advantage of the locals like this one does. Catch-22

  9. Yes! We received an email from our vet here in Sebastopol, CA (neighbors to another commenter in Santa Rosa, CA) that services would be closing or shortening at several of our 24 hour emergency hospitals.

  10. Here in Rhode Island we have very limited 24 hour care to begin with, with just a couple of clinics. But our major ER where most pets go established a Covid protocol after having a 30% increase in emergency care. Due to staffing shortages at regular clinics, many people were having to resort to ERs, which made everything worse. The major ER stayed open 24 hours, but a phone call triage was required, as well as curbside evaluations. Many local pets were referred to the major hospitals in Boston – Tufts and Angel Memorial, but they, too, were overwhelmed. Our local clinics are back to in office care now, but appointments are so far out that clients are not happy. Hopefully things will improve more shortly. Also, the two ER clinics in nearby MA towns had shortened hours, and one required a referral from the pet’s regular vet.

  11. Our local VCA hospital (Versailles KY) is blaming the end of their 24-hour emergency care on the governor’s COVID restrictions, which actually ended over a month ago (see below). I called about re-opening the service and was told that they are looking into putting together an overnight staff. Both the Lexington and Blue Pearl facilities are over 50 miles away from us.

    “Emergency Care –
    Due to social distancing mandates by the governor of Kentucky relating to the coronavirus, we are unable to provide emergency care after hours. If you have an emergency DO NOT CALL OUR HOSPITAL. We are referring all emergencies to Bluegrass Veterinary Emergency Clinic. They are located at 1591 Winchester Road in Lexington and the number is 859-268-7604. If you live in Frankfort, Metropolitan Veterinary in Louisville may be a quicker option. Their number is 502-266-7007. “

  12. Blue Pearl Hope in Malvern, Pa limited hours. No Saturday hrs.
    Blue Pearl in Shillington, Pa still 24/7
    VRC in Malvern, Pa 24/7
    I have used all three in the past, closest is 15 minutes farthest is 1 hr+. This was according to their Websites.

  13. Yes. All of the vets here in Grand Forks, ND are sending people to the emergency clinic 80 miles away. I’ve heard of pets passing because they don’t have that kind of time. Also, I find it strange that all of our vets are still curbside. I can guess that the staff are going out to eat and out in the evening and not wearing a mask or anything, yet they are still curbside. A vet tech friend of mine stated that they’re hoping it stays this way forever because they love not dealing with people. 🤬

    • Our vet also in the Tucson area, all of them do not want to have to deal with the evil “public”, and dogs and cats cannot talk so who knows how our animals are being treated, I hate the way they have taken full advantage of this pandemic, alot of the people that work in the vets hospitals are totally on a power trip, it is so sad.

    • I know a vet tech who said same. I would love to tell her who does she think cares for their pets and will give them their medicine etc.
      These people need to find a different job if they can’t deal with pet owners.

  14. The closest emergency veterinary hospital anytime for us is 50 miles away. I recently called at 2:30 am to find that unless they deemed my dog’s condition to be life threatening, I wouldn’t be able to see a vet until maybe 8 am due to short staffing and an overload of patients.
    I understand that they’ve recently had to hire security guards due to upset clients…

  15. There hasn’t been an emergency vet here in Lake County since I moved here in 2012. There is a phone number that can connect us to a vet at night who may or may not be able to meet us at an office about 40 mins away but this is not reliable. It’s one of the few things that keeps me uneasy about having pets where I live. I have been trying to educate myself on animal medicine but I know how risky that can be too.

  16. We said goodbye to a beloved kitty this past 4th of July weekend at our local emergency clinic in Bellingham, Washington, a 10-min drive from where we live. My friend, who is a veterinarian there, explained that this clinic is the only one left open in Western WA. I was shocked. We, too, have been to the emergency clinic after-hours for every dog we’ve had, more than once. I can’t imagine what we would do without the comfort of knowing the Animal Emergency Clinic is a few minutes away. Scary! And I feel so fortunate to live in Bellingham!

    • It is absolutely false that there is “only one emergency clinic left open in western WA. There are a number of them still operating 24/7 in Snohomish and King Counties, alone. My cat was just in one of them for 4 days over the 4th of July weekend. Do your research, and correct that horribly misinformed person.

      • Natalie is correct, there are many 24/7 ER clinics open in Western WA. I have actually only heard of Blue Pearl-North Seattle closing their ER clinic; but Animal Medial Center (also a 24/7 ER clinic) is only 10-ish minutes away.

        • Yes, Blue Pearl ER on Aurora (Seattle) closed…but Blue Pearl has one downtown Seattle & in Kirkland.
          Animal Medical Center on 175th & 15th (North City) is wonderful
          Emerald City ER on Stoneway Seattle is also good!
          Been to them all…
          Bellingham does Not have the only one left…

  17. We took our dog to SAGE emergency center at Campbell during the last weekend, at night. She had bloody diarrhea and kept vomiting. We waited in the parking lot for three hours before being checked. The lack of the staffing is obvious.

  18. That’s happened here too in the SF bag area. I started googling and checking all over a couple weeks ago and was shocked to find so many emergency rooms closed. I’ve also noticed lots of turnover at my own vet in the last year.

  19. Here in central Texas where it’s at least an hour to any ER clinic, several have closed. Of those staying open they are not accepting clients due to overwhelming demand for services. This is very upsetting as it is snake season and it seems to be a very active one at that. There are few options for emergency animal care of any kind at this point. I feel for the staff but I certainly hope a solution presents itself soon.

  20. Yes! My collie/shepherd needed constant surveillance. I wound up driving her 40 miles to the night emergency vet, but then had to pick her up by 7 am and take her back to our regular vet. Did this twice, since our vet closed at 5 pm. Very sadly, got a call that 3rd night that she was gone. If she hadn’t been shuffled back and forth….?

  21. Between the daunting cost of veterinary care and now this additional stress of not even being able to find good care if an emergency strikes, sadly I find it even harder to adopt my next dog, much as I miss that dear companionship, Between the heartbreak of losing beloved dogs and the budgetary restrictions of retirement, I find the risk is too high.
    P.S. Having two goats is interesting….they are loving, adore going on walks, have quirky and cute personalities and go to vets whose prices are amazingly affordable!!!!! Which makes me wonder what has happened to our small animal veterinary practices…..I know they need to earn a living, but something is very wrong.

  22. We haven’t had emergency services in our area, Truckee/Tahoe City for a number of years now. It’s at least a one hour drive to Reno for emergency services, and I know of a few people who have lost their pets because of the long drive….
    The lack of emergency services happened here many years before the pandemic, and I don’t understand how as a vet you don’t feel a certain obligation to provide care to the animals.

  23. It’s also happening here in Ontario, Canada. My own vet suspended emergency services about 5 years ago. Many other vets are also suspending emergency after hours services. The vets that still do offer after hours service offer it to their own clients only. My closest emergency hospital is a two hour drive away. It’s not just the emergency after hours service, though. My vet started her maternity leave in April and had great difficulty in finding anyone to even cover off her day-only shifts. No one seems to want to work and no one seems to have animal welfare in mind.

  24. I have always had to drive 50 mi to the Emergency Hospital for my dogs. They have always encouraged clients to call ahead to let them know we’re coming and, so far have always had someone waiting at the door to receive my dog. So I guess I’m one of the lucky ones.

  25. I have the answer why. I am a CVT with many years experience. The ‘short-staffed’ is due to pay for veterinary technicians. VCA and Blue Pearl are famous among vet techs for not valuing (paying) the techs enough.
    Veterinary technicians are the backbone of the veterinary world. The doctors diagnose, prescribe and do surgery. Everything else is done by veterinary technicians. Some who have degrees from AVMA accredited schools. Some have specialty accreditation in emergency, surgery, behavior, etc.
    No one is going to take a job at $14/hr with a promise of a raise. Veterinary corporations should be ashamed.

    • I am currently working at my county’s only emergency vet hospital. I was working full time (less than 6 months) as receptionist there, but got a non- emergency veterinary position elsewhere, and am still filling in occasionally. I had to wait for vet care myself before starting to work there, (during the pandemic) and waited 5+ hours (twice!) to have my dog seen for a “non-critical” condition. So yes, I know how stressful it is to wait outside! But working there, dealing with every single pet owner upset, angry, and unhappy is unbelievably awful for me, and certainly affects every other employee there. I imagine that you’ve all heard the statistics showing veterinarians and vet techs have the highest suicide rates of any profession. I totally get that! This hospital is corporate owned, formed when they bought out both emergency hospitals in our county and merged them into one facility. We too have had to close to non-critical patients almost every day. Like others said, it’s harder to get in to the regular vets since the pandemic, so numbers of pets going to emergency has exploded. We are limited by number of kennels available in our ICU, as well as staffing shortages. I don’t know about the veterinarians, but the pay rate for technicians and receptionists is not good.
      It was not worth the emotional thrashing I felt at the end of every shift there for me to continue working there. Now I try to go back and help out when I can, mostly to offer support to all those beautiful people who keep showing up to their jobs there because they love animals.
      Just my 2cents worth.

  26. We still have one clinic here in a smaller-town area of Wisconsin that offers emergency care all night. However, one of my dogs needed this care about a month ago, and it turned out that the vet on call took an hour to get to the clinic because of the distance at which she lives, and then they charged an emergency after hours fee of $275 as well as an urgent care fee of $77. That was a total of $352 just to go in the door. I could have driven my dog to the emergency hospital in Madison in an equal amount of time and been seen for just under $100, plus gotten my dog care by board certified emergency vets. My impression was that this local clinic is trying to discourage clients from using their emergency service while at the same time touting that they offer such service. They’ve also recently gotten on the bandwagon of charging urgent fees for anything not booked a couple months in advance. This makes me very angry. If a pet gets sick or hurt, you cannot plan that a couple months ahead of time and book them in, and it’s ridiculous to think that pets in that situation can wait weeks to be seen. Just strikes me as a money-making ripoff. Very disappointed in the turns my long-term clinic has taken lately and am changing vets.