Why are wait times so long at the emergency vet clinic?

LAST UPDATED 16 AUGUST 2022

This article is written by Pet Circle veterinarian, Dr Lacey Kelly, BVSc (Hons)

A trip to the emergency clinic is understandably a very stressful and emotional time for owners, who just want their furry or feathered friend to be feeling better again. Emergency clinic wait times can certainly be a contributing factor to this stress.

Thanks to the pandemic and stay-at-home orders, there has been a huge surge in new pets since 2020. This coupled with a large number of vets leaving the veterinary profession, has made it difficult for remaining staff to keep on top of caseloads and has contributed to an increase in emergency clinic wait times.

It is quite common to receive complaints or negative reviews about the wait times in emergency veterinary clinics. This is often seen despite pets receiving appropriate treatment and a successful outcome.

So why do you have to wait?

Just like human hospitals, veterinary emergency clinics work on a triage basis. By doing this we make sure the sickest patients are seen and treated first. In most emergency clinics a nurse will evaluate your pet's body systems and get a quick history from you on arrival. This helps to identify any life-threatening problems that need immediate care. Those pets that are in a life-threatening position or what we call Category 1 will take priority over those that are less critical and will often be rushed out for immediate treatment.

Triage system:

  • - Category 1: Critical. Patient is critical and treatment must be initiated within seconds to minutes. Examples: major bleeding, shock, cardiac arrest, respiratory distress, seizures
  • - Category 2: Urgent. Patient is currently stable but may become category 1 at any point. Needs assessment and treatment within minutes to hours. Examples: history of inability to urinate, repeated vomiting, history of trauma
  • - Category 3: Stable. Pressing issue in a stable patient. Needs assessment and treatment within hours. Examples: lacerations, lameness, vomiting, diarrhoea
  • - Category 4: Nonurgent. Patient requires evaluation but not urgently. Example: skin irritation

Should I even go to emergency?



If you are concerned enough to be thinking about going to the emergency clinic, then it generally warrants an assessment by a vet. If you're not sure, call ahead to check with the clinic. You can also contact our Vet Squad who are available on chat 24/7 for general advice.

Things to remember while waiting

  • If you feel your pet's condition has worsened since you first arrived, please feel free to share your concerns with one of the clinic team members so your pet can be reassessed.
  • Please be patient. There is often a lot going on behind the scenes as vets and vet nurses work to stabilise and save pets' lives as well as share heartbreaking news with owners.
  • Wait times will fluctuate with the number and types of emergencies coming in. Some extremely critical patients take a long time to stabilise before we can jump into seeing our next patient.
  • Having to wait may be frustrating but keep in mind those animals that are rushed in ahead of yours are often fighting for their lives. We ask that you show understanding and gratitude that your pet isn't the one in a critical situation.

Further Reading

Want to read more? Check out our other articles:

Tick paralysis in dogs and cats

Chocolate Toxicity in Dogs

Arthritis care in dogs

Looking after your senior cat

Caring for a blind dog



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