Paws in Your Travels: What to Expect When Seeking Pet Care on the Road

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July 29, 2022

RVing with my dog makes every day more fun. But if she got sick in a campground or on the road, we’ve got problems. Staffing shortages in the veterinary field are making it harder than ever to get pets into a clinic—especially when you’re visiting unfamiliar areas. This doesn’t mean you need to leave your adventure pets home. But you should know what to expect if your cat or dog needs care on the road, and how to avoid urgent care visits in the first place.

RVing Pets and Current Vet Care Obstacles

Like many industries, veterinary clinics have a huge staffing shortage problem right now. As a result, most practices are not taking new patients. If they do, it often means waiting for weeks to see a vet for non-urgent matters. And when things do get serious, emergency clinics manage clients by queuing them up in the clinic parking lot. Waits can be seven or eight hours just to get a pet into the clinic.

Veterinary doctor examing heart of dog boston terrier with stethoscope portrait

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This is a huge traveling pets health care issue that didn’t hit home with me until July, when we adopted Nellie. She is our first dog since 2020, and she came to us with some health issues that needed attention. As full-time RVers since 2007, we thought we knew how to get great vet care on the road.

Getting Vet Care for RVing Pets is Totally Different Today

Before the pandemic, the biggest challenge was to locate a high quality, accredited veterinary clinic near us. Sometimes we traveled directly to a veterinary teaching hospital for serious pet health issues. We almost always got an appointment when we wanted, where we wanted.

But with today’s veterinary care staffing shortages, you just cannot do this anymore. Veterinary clinic teams operate with a skeleton crew today. Pets are enduring the same kind of triage care we humans have been getting for years. Every day at vet clinics around the country, the team will determine which pets are most critical and see those clients first. Pets who are not experiencing life-threatening situations get put at the bottom of the list. Today, your pet’s life may be at risk if you hit the road without being proactive about their health care. But there are lots you can do to avoid this situation in the first place.

Scared small yellow dog sitting in owners lap

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Plan Your Travels Around Wellness Visits

We knew that our Nellie needed vet care the day we adopted her. One issue was urgent, so I called a dozen clinics within a 75-mile radius of our RV park. Out of all of them, only one was taking new patients. I scored an appointment in a few days, but it was a seven-hour day of waiting, tests, and more waiting to get her diagnosis and medications. This is not something I ever want us to go through again. Staying on top of her annual wellness visits can help me avoid it.

Lucky for Nellie, we happened to be a 50-mile drive from an excellent veterinary clinic team accredited by the American Animal Hospital Association. The team cared for our Wyatt in 2020, so as an established client we “only” had to wait a month for her first wellness visit. We booked more time at our RV park so she could get seen. It was a full-time expense we didn’t anticipate, but paid it anyways. And when the big day came, our favorite vet was there to give her a complete physical, address some minor concerns, and discuss eventual needs like a dental cleaning and orthopedic exam. Now we know what to expect, and when she needs additional care.

Cat relaxing on a couch.

Photo: Christine Mays

Maintain Vet Clinic Relationships on the Road

Starting a relationship with a practice helps you stay on top of your pet’s health, and lower the risk of stressful urgent care visits. When you establish your pet at a practice, you become a preferred client. This puts you on the A-list if your pet needs urgent health care. Full-time RVers like us who tend to stay in a geographic region should establish care at multiple clinics spread out among our favorite travel routes. This puts us closer to care in case an urgent situation arises.

If your RVing dog or cat is younger, they may only need an annual check-up. For older dogs like mine, seeing the vet every six months is recommended. Now that Nellie is a full-time RVing dog, she’ll get established at additional vet clinics in California and Colorado, our other two most visited states.

What to Do If You Think Your Pet Needs Urgent Care

If you suspect your traveling pet needs urgent care on the road and their life is not in immediate danger,  first consider reaching out to a televet virtual service. The veterinary field has relaxed rules about providing long-distance advice to pet parents. As a result, these virtual vet services can provide general advice to help pet parents know if their pet needs an urgent care vet visit. You can be anywhere with cellular and/or internet service to access these services. Most will allow you to pay a one-time flat fee, others are on a subscription model. The most popular televet services include:

AskVet
Ask a Veterinarian
Chewy Connect with a Vet
WhiskerDocs

And this 2022 Wired article lists even more:

When an Emergency Room Visit is Needed

Labrador retriever is lying on the grass

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I’ll do anything for my best friend’s health care needs, and if you read this far I suspect you will too. If an ER visit is inevitable, don’t delay. Get there asap, but expect a long, long wait and a huge bill when it’s over. Vet care costs have escalated over the last few years. It’s yet another reason why I’ll never be without pet insurance and you shouldn’t either.

There’s just no getting around this situation, these are crazy times. Please be kind to the veterinary clinic staff. Every day, they take serious abuse from angry, frustrated pet parents who are not nearly as compassionate or understanding as you are. This is one reason why so many vet professionals are leaving the field. So remind yourself that they are doing their best to help your RVing dog or cat during unprecedented times. Take snacks and something to do while you wait, and remember that your pet is looking to you for calm leadership during a stressful time. When the hard times are over, you can get back on the road to adventure in good health, for more good times.