Puppy at Vet ER
It’s cold and lonely in a veterinary emergency room — colder still during the allegedly “cheerier” times of the year when everyone’s out celebrating. The doctors are working on your pet, and you’re stuck in the lobby staring numbly at an artificial tree’s unconvincing efforts to warm you from the inside out.

At times like these, I wouldn’t blame you for feeling despondent. After all, your loved one has just been injured or taken ill at the worst time of year. This is when you’re least likely to have friends and family with free time to accompany you, when wait times are probably longest, and, of course, when you’re least likely to have funds available for an unbudgeted expense. 

So much for a happy holiday! In fact, you’re so acutely aware of all these issues you’re having a hard time keeping it together. Never have you ever felt so incapable of playing the role of responsible pet owner.

But there is a silver lining. The truth is that the holidays at the animal ER are often made out to be much worse than they really are. In fact, it’s been my experience that even on the busiest holidays, veterinarians and their teams still bring their A games to the table. And after-hours facilities are often quieter and better staffed than anyone expects.

So forget the doom and gloom. Focus on the beautiful lights, that sweetly inspiring nativity scene and the fact that you’ve got highly trained personnel waiting to help you handle your pets’ direst emergencies.

What to Know Before You Go

Before you speed off to the ER, here are nine tips that might help improve the experience.

1. Call your regular veterinarian first. You may be surprised to find that your veterinarian is in the office on Christmas Eve or New Year’s Day. Some of us are crazy like that. But call early in the day. Most of us who do work on these holidays come in only for a few hours in the morning (at least that’s what I do).

2. Know where your go-to ER is. This is crucial. Ask your regular veterinarian which facility (or facilities) she recommends and which are open during the holidays (some smaller ERs are not), and make sure you know how to get there. 

3. Understand the term “triage.” Medical teams treat the sickest patients first. This reality, however, can exacerbate the stress of waiting for your pet to be seen (a sensation that seems most acute during the holidays).

4. Be prepared. Take your knitting, a good book or a crossword puzzle. And, of course, take along a supply of your pet’s food and any medications she takes regularly, in case she needs to be admitted to the hospital. Fighting holiday traffic as you shuttle things back and forth makes things tougher than they need to be.

5. Leave the kids at home if you can. Always do your best to ensure that you have appropriate childcare before embarking on a veterinary health care experience of indeterminate duration and outcome — especially during the holidays. Sometimes you have no choice, but leaving the kids at home will allow you to make decisions about your pet’s care with fewer distractions.

6. Ask about wait time. I know it sounds uncomfortable, but asking if the waiting room is packed to the rafters isn’t unreasonable at this time of year. Finding out if there’s another nearby ER facility might be helpful, too. And this is where having asked about your vet’s second and third next-favorite ERs could come in handy.

7. Speak up about finances. Veterinarians are hardwired to help animals, yet it’s a common reality that people can’t always pay for their animals’ care. The holiday season can sometimes make that problem worse. To aid with such anxiety, lots of ERs offer solutions in the form of vet care-dedicated credit cards and other payment options.

8. Think ahead.
Know for sure you won’t be able to comfortably afford an emergency vet bill? Take the time to enroll your pets in a pet health insurance policy before they become ill or injured. You can apply online, so why wait?

9. Maintain an attitude of gratitude. I know it’s easier said than done, but just the fact of sitting in an animal ER can have a way of putting things in perspective. After all, most humans across the globe don’t have access to the level of care your pets will enjoy — even if you do have to wait a bit for it.

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