Veterinary Emergency Triage and What to Expect

If You Think It’s an Emergency, Please Come In

If you think that your pet is experiencing a veterinary medical emergency, please bring them to our 24 hour vet hospital. Certain injuries, including if your pet has been bitten by another dog or wild animal, or they were hit by a car, warrant an immediate visit.

You should also come in right away if your pet has constant or persistent bleeding, labored/difficulty breathing, vomiting, diarrhea, or seizures. Also come in immediately if your pet is experiencing what may be heatstroke or poisoning, or if they are expressing constant or excessive pain. Time is of the essence in the most urgent cases. You can also visit our emergency services page for more information.

We know that a pet health emergency is stressful for you and your pet. We apologize in advance if you have to wait. Hopefully, the information in this post will help you to better understand what is happening.

Using Triage Helps Emergency Vets Treat Pets

If you visit our veterinary emergency and specialty hospital, we use a triage system at Veterinary Specialists of the Rockies to quickly determine which pet patient must be seen next, especially during busy times.


Our triage system uses color-based codes for easier communication of the most immediate cases and includes:

RED
Patients that require immediate stabilization efforts for survival

ORANGE
Critical and most urgent, requiring cardiovascular stabilization

YELLOW
Urgent patients with mild to moderate discomfort, with symptoms that are not currently life-threatening

GREEN
Non-urgent and not life-threatening


Everything Can Feel Like an Emergency

As pet owners, we also know that when our furry friends are in physical distress and pain, everything can feel like the worst emergency. Our stress levels increase, and our emotions kick in. However, as veterinary professionals at an emergency and specialty animal hospital, we will need to examine your pet to determine the level of urgency and to begin the proper treatment of your pet.

Please remember that we want what is best for your pet, too. Our hospital provides 24/7/365 emergency veterinary care.

Today’s world is very stressful, and it’s a tough time for veterinarians, too. We ask for your patience as we triage and care for all pets.

Our average wait time for non-critical patients to be examined by a doctor can vary. We make every attempt to keep pet owners apprised of wait times. There is also an industry-wide veterinary technician shortage that may result in increased wait times. Waits are often two to three weeks to see a primary, general veterinarian. We increasingly see cases that are more appropriate for a pet’s primary veterinarian than the emergency room. This can increase wait times. We also refer back to your primary veterinarian when appropriate.

Evaluations Over the Phone

If you call us to let us know that you are on the way, please let us know what happened so that we can prepare and provide the best care when you arrive. Over the phone, we will try to understand how urgently we need to see your pet and the severity of the emergency. We may request to see your pet immediately but will only be able to see your pet in the order of urgency of their injuries or medical condition upon arrival.

It is possible that as a pet owner you will not want to visit a veterinarian, so you may contact us by phone for advice on how to handle an emergency at home. In this case, we can offer basic advice only. Without an exam, it can be difficult to provide the proper information depending on the situation. We are also unable to give out drug doses or prescribe medications over the phone to pets we have not seen.

If You Suspect Poisoning

If you think that your pet has eaten something toxic or has been poisoned and you do not wish to bring them to the nearest veterinary emergency hospital, we advise you to contact a pet poison control hotline. The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) is a good resource for any animal poison-related emergency, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. If you think your pet may have ingested a potentially poisonous substance, call (888) 426-4435. A consultation fee may apply. If you cannot get through, you could also try the Pet Poison Helpline at (855) 764-7661.

If It Is Not an Emergency, then What?

Whenever you have a sick dog or cat, it can seem like they need immediate attention. Please work with your veterinary emergency team to understand whether your pet may be stable enough to wait to be seen. Depending on their condition and as long as nothing changes, you can consider waiting to come in or come back at a less busy time. It is a good idea to at least let us assess them. If your pet’s condition deteriorates while you wait, please let your vet team know. Call or come in right away.

Severe Emergencies May Extend Wait Times

As you wait, another pet owner may arrive with a pet who has experienced severe injuries or a life-threatening medical condition, like those from being hit by a car, or an inability to breathe, which may mean that your wait time may increase.

At Veterinary Specialists of the Rockies, we have a large emergency veterinary medical team, on-duty and on-call specialists, and our facility sometimes acts as an overflow emergency clinic for veterinary partners at other practices. We will work hard to accommodate your pet as soon as possible and in the order that their injuries and condition indicate.

Visits to the Emergency Veterinary Hospital

When you arrive at the hospital, your wait may depend on the number of other pets who have already been checked in and those who may arrive at the hospital, as well as the extent of their injuries.

There are fewer and fewer days when emergency veterinary practices are slow, due to the large number of pets being adopted as more people work from home at least part of the time. It’s also easier for pet owners to recognize when a pet health issue happens as we spend more time together with our pets.

To determine whether your pet can wait to be seen by our veterinarians is an essential skill with both medical and client service implications.

What you as a pet owner might consider an emergency could be a relatively mild illness. It is also possible that something your pet may present could seem mild but be life-threatening.

It is important for us to determine the nature of your pet’s condition, especially if it is not visible, so we may ask questions including:

  • When did your pet’s injury take place or when did their illness begin?
  • What other symptoms does your pet have that we might not see right now?
  • Has something changed that made you come in today?

Let’s Help Each Other During the Emergency Visit

We understand the stress and worry that can come from a pet health emergency, and additional circumstances can make things even harder.

Some of today’s additional challenges may include:

  • More pets leading to longer wait times
  • Pandemic stress for everyone
  • Veterinary staff shortages  
  • Rising costs of healthcare supplies
  • Compassion fatigue

Our team works hard to provide you and your pets the best medical care possible, including:

  • Adding the right staff to meet your needs
  • Upgrading our facilities
  • Informing families of care options and costs
  • Providing Continuing Education for staff and vet partners

You can help support your pet’s care by:

  • Asking clarifying questions, especially during your pet’s visit, if possible
  • Being patient and courteous to the veterinary team and support staff

Check out our client visits page for more on what to expect.

Summary and Thank You

Veterinary triage helps veterinarians and our staff to quickly assess the condition of our pet patients and communicate it to each other. It will mean that if your pet needs the most urgent help, they will get it. It may also mean that if your pet’s condition is not as life-threatening, you and they will need to wait until we can see and treat your pet.

We appreciate your patience and thank you for trusting us with your pet’s emergency and specialty care.

As always, if you suspect that your pet’s condition is a health emergency, please call us or come into our 24/7/365 veterinary hospital right away.

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