What to Know About Costs of Emergency Veterinary Care

Medically Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on November 16, 2022
4 min read

The cost of emergency vet care can be surprising. It’s especially hard to deal with when your animal is sick or injured, and you are feeling emotional. It is best to be prepared before an emergency happens with your pet. 

Who qualifies as an emergency veterinarian can vary based on location. In rural or under-populated areas, often the emergency veterinarian is the same as the regular veterinarian, but he or she is on-call after-business hours and holidays. In urban and populated areas, veterinary emergency centers are open 24/7. These veterinarians specialize in emergency medicine and critical care, many hold special certifications in these areas, and may see multiple species.  

The cost of a trip to the emergency vet vs. regular vet can vary widely, based on location, type of animal, and type of emergency. In general, a trip to the emergency vet costs more than a trip to the regular vet.

There are many reasons the emergency vet costs more. 

The veterinarians and staff are working off hours, including nights and holidays. These types of shifts are more difficult, especially for people with families. To compensate, many emergency veterinary practices pay their staff a little more than daytime practices that are open during normal business hours. In addition, it costs more to run a business that is open all the time. Costs such as utilities will naturally be higher. 

The veterinarians and staff have advanced training and skills. These vets are trained to handle a variety of life-threatening emergencies — everything from poisonings to being hit by a car, cancer to heart failure. Many also carry additional training and board certifications in emergency medicine and critical care. Emergency vets must be flexible, calm under pressure, and also able to deal with upset pet owners. 

There are often more advanced diagnostics, and treatments available. Many emergency hospitals have equipment that the regular daytime vet offices do not have, such as ultrasounds, MRIs, CTs, oxygen cages, and other equipment. In addition, they can often accommodate sick patients overnight, with advanced treatments and supervision, which daytime practice vets can't do.

They often have accessibility to other specialists. Many emergency veterinarians share a building with other specialists, such as neurologists, cardiologists, radiologists, and others. Consulting with other specialists can increase the quality of care, but also increases cost.

All of these things add up to a larger bill. There is a cost to getting fast, quality, often life-saving medical care, even for our animals.

The costs associated with a trip to the emergency vet vary widely based on location, animal species, size, and type of emergency. For example, a large dog. Keep in mind, these costs vary widely based on location:

  • Exam: $100-150
  • Basic blood work: $80-200
  • Basic imaging (x-rays or ultrasound): $150-600
  • Hospitalization of 3 to 5 days: $2,000-3,500
  • Emergency surgery: $2,000-5,000

Depending on the illness or emergency, many pet owners end up with a bill of several thousand dollars. For most people, this can be difficult to pay.

Sometimes it can be very hard to decide what to do when your animal is sick or injured, especially if you are emotional. How do you decide if you need to go to the vet or not? If you are concerned, it is important to call your vet — or the emergency vet, if your regular vet is closed — for advice. Otherwise, here are some general guidelines about when to go to the vet:

  • Bleeding from the nose, mouth, or rear end, and coughing or vomiting up blood, urinating blood, or any bleeding that doesn’t stop within 5 minutes
  • Eye injuries
  • Inability or severe difficulty urinating or defecating
  • Difficulty breathing, choking, or constant coughing or gagging
  • Possible ingestion of poison or toxin
  • Loss of consciousness, seizures, or staggering around
  • Broken bones, or the inability to walk or move around
  • Severe pain or distress of any kind
  • Severe vomiting or diarrhea, especially if combined with any of these other symptoms
  • Heat stress
  • Not drinking water for more than 24 hours

Keep in mind that most emergency veterinary clinics expect you to pay a deposit upfront and pay the bill in full when your pet goes home. Ask the veterinarian what kind of payment they accept so that you can be prepared. There are several ways to pay for emergency veterinary care:

Insurance and/or savings account. Planning for an emergency is the best option if you can do it. Many people set up a savings account when they get a pet and deposit a set amount every month. There are many insurance options out there, but you need to get it set up before an emergency happens. The American Animal Hospital Association has some great recommendations on choosing insurance for your pets.

Credit cards. CareCredit is a credit card specifically for medical costs and is commonly used and recommended. Standard credit cards can be used as well.

Charities. There are many local and national charities available to help you, such as Waggle. Many have applications that can take time, have specific requirements, and can be competitive. A thorough search on the internet can help you find the best options.

Online fundraising. This has become an increasingly popular way to get help with veterinary bills, with services such as GoFundMe. Again, a thorough search on the internet can help you find the best options for your situation. 

Many people consider their pets part of the family. When a veterinary medical emergency happens, it can be a frustrating and emotional experience for everyone. Knowing ahead of time what to expect, and how to deal with it, will help your pet get the emergency medical care they need.