How to prepare for emergency pet care

CLEVELAND - Navigating the choices for where to seek emergency services for your pet can be difficult. Most general practices provide some emergency care, while some dedicated clinics specialize in emergencies only. Other pet health care facilities provide a spectrum of services, including emergency care.

According to a nationwide Angie's List poll:

- 83 percent of respondents have a pet.

- 63 percent have experienced a pet emergency.

- 24 percent reported paying between $251-$500 for an ER visit.

- 16 percent spend as much as $1,000 or more.

About 15 percent of small animal practices in the U.S. are accredited by the American Animal Hospital Association, a voluntary program that has stringent requirements for care, service, and medical protocol.

Angie's List, the nation's premier provider of consumer reviews, including veterinarians, has tips for finding emergency vet care.

Prepare for an emergency: Find a highly rated emergency care clinic that's open 24 hours a day before you need it. Keep the phone number handy, along with that of your regular vet. When searching on Angie's List, check whether a veterinary office's profile lists emergency services.

Ask about training/credentials: Although specialty training is not required to administer emergency and critical care, some veterinarians pursue internships or residency programs to obtain additional experience. Some also become Diplomats of the American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care, which requires an additional three years of intense training in treating life-threatening conditions after receiving a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine.

Keep records: Once you choose an emergency vet have your regular vet fax your pet's medical records to the clinic and keep a copy for yourself. When seeking emergency treatment, be prepared to communicate any underlying health conditions your pet has and any medications your pet takes.

Do you need a specialist? If follow-up care is needed, your provider should be able to recommend other certified specialists, such as those trained in ophthalmology, or other fields of veterinary medicine. After you receive a diagnosis and a referral, shop your options for continuing vet treatment if time allows.

Invest in your pet's health: Emergency care can be quite costly due to factors like round-the-clock staffing, and state of the art technology. The cost for care varies depending on the care, but most require a fee for the initial exam and some require payment before treatment. Several companies offer pet health insurance policies that can help offset the cost of emergency care, but be sure to read the fine print. Another option is to open a savings account for your pet's vet expenses.

Know the signs: Pet owners should use their best judgment when deciding whether to take a pet to the emergency room. Obvious signs that care is needed include an inability to go to the bathroom, immobility, frequent vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, or bleeding.

Regular checkups: Routine veterinary checkups can help prevent costly emergency visits.

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