Pet health: Emergency room shouldn’t do nonemergency procedures

Q: I have a Lab whose ear flap became very enlarged last week with an ear hematoma. I took him to the emergency room, where they opened it and drained blood from it. It was very expensive, but I’m always willing to pay whatever is necessary to take care of him.

But when my veterinarian told me that an ear hematoma isn’t an emergency and that he could have performed the procedure for a fraction of the price, I got very angry. Though it bothers me that I could have spent less money, it upsets me most that they didn’t give me the option to see my regular vet in the morning. I would much rather have had my own veterinarian do the surgery. Is this standard practice?

A: I agree. It’s not about the money. Pet emergency facilities deserve to charge a premium. After all, it costs more to staff a fully equipped place after hours, especially given that they’ve got to be ready for the direst of emergencies 24/7. But that doesn’t mean they get carte blanche to provide nonemergency care (as with your Lab’s ear hematoma) after hours.

While it’s not uncommon for animal ERs to offer to perform tests and procedures that aren’t strictly needed to stabilize or treat a patient after hours, clients should always be given the choice to see their regular veterinarian in the morning.

Even then, ER vets and general practitioner vets (like your regular vet) will have differences of opinion on the subject. Some believe it’s unethical for ERs to perform any nonemergency tests or procedures, even if clients want it done as soon as possible for their own convenience.

Others believe it’s OK as long as clients are given an unambiguous choice in the matter.

Ultimately, however, most veterinarians agree that ERs are not there to find answers to deeper problems or treat problems that can easily wait until morning. This is not only a transgression of a professional boundary effectively agreed upon between the ER and your regular vet, it’s not appropriate because that’s simply not what the ER does best.

Moreover, engaging in nonemergency tests and procedures after hours means the ER vet isn’t as readily available to treat any true emergencies that may arise. Which is not cool.

My suggestion? Have your veterinarian call the ER and read them the riot act.

Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is Send questions to