It is a requirement set by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (the governing body for vets) that there must be a 24-hour, 365 day a year service that provides first aid and pain relief for animals. Overnight care, or an out-of-hours (OOH) service tends to be reserved for sick animals that are not well enough to be treated at home, or animals who have suddenly become poorly outside their vet’s regular opening hours. 

Why might my pet need to be at the vets overnight? 

As mentioned before, normally the most poorly of patients will stay overnight, where round the clock monitoring and further medical treatment can be provided. This is with the aim to keep your pet as safe and as comfortable as possible.

If your pet suddenly becomes unwell overnight, you may need to visit then. In this case, an initial consultation and treatment can be provided. Depending on the case this may be a quick visit with the view to have a check with your regular day-time vets the following day. Or you may be offered the options for your pet to stay in for further diagnostics and monitoring.

Who provides overnight care? 

This will be different for each practice, and the standard of service is likely to vary too; please do find out what your practice provides. 

Out-of-hours provider

It is very common nowadays that practices will hand over their out-of-hours emergency care responsibility to a separate provider. At larger hospitals, the night team may be based at that practice. But in many cases, you will need to go to a different premises entirely. There will be a team ready and waiting to help for all the time your regular practice is closed. This means a close eye will be kept on your pet and tailored treatment can be provided. 

The team will work independently from your normal vets. But they will provide detailed clinical notes to ensure that your pet continues to get the best treatment. It is also important to note that many of the vets and nurses that work for the providers will have specialist training to be able to deal with veterinary emergencies, so really are experts in this field.

Your practice 

Some practices have the capacity to provide their own overnight care, with their daytime vets and nurses sharing the responsibility on a rota. The level of care is much more likely to vary here. In some cases, the staff may be ‘on-call’, and will only come into the practice in the case of an emergency. Other practices may require their staff to be in overnight regardless.

Also be aware that while a practice may offer overnight in-patient care (checks and medication administration), there may not be the capacity to take on emergencies overnight. 

Why don’t all practices provide their own OOH service?

There’s a number of reasons for this. It was normal for a long time that all practices would provide their own emergency care. However, as the industry has grown and changed, the need for more extensive out-of-hours provisions has become greater too. And it is not realistic for many practices to provide this; be that for financial or staffing reasons. More and more vets also value not working unsociable hours on top of their regular day time hours.

So which service is best? 

There isn’t particularly a right or wrong answer here as every practice will have a different set up. It’s certainly become more common for a practice to use an out-of-hours provider at a different premises. So in particular, if you think you may have trouble transporting your pet between your normal practice and the OOH provider, you may want to consider a practice that does their own emergency work. 

I’m not sure if my pet needs to be seen by a vet tonight or if it can wait until the morning – what should I do? 

Whatever the problem is, please do contact your veterinary practice if you are concerned. Whatever kind of OOH service is provided, there will be someone you can speak to who will either be able to give you some peace of mind until morning or suggest you bring your pet in for examination. 

In conclusion…

It is essential that pet owners are aware of what emergency care will be given to their pets. This may affect your choice of practice, so be sure to do your research when looking for a vet.

You never know when your pet may need overnight veterinary care. It is very important that you know who to contact if your pet needs attention. Keep the number somewhere easy to find. Have a general idea of how you will transport your pet there if the service is not based at your regular practice premises. However, whatever service is available to you, remember that there will always be someone there to help you and your pet if you need it!

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