Locally-Owned in Oakdale and St. Paul, Minnesota

Does My Pet Need Urgent Care or Emergency Care?


Photo by JL Imagery.

When your pet is injured or not feeling well, it can be difficult to determine whether your pet needs an emergency facility or if urgent care will suffice. Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota has two separate Oakdale facilities for urgent care (Oakdale Blue Building – 1163 Helmo Ave. N) and emergency care (Oakdale Red Building – 1660 Helmo Ave. N.), and we want to help pet parents feel more confident in deciphering which facility to utilize, depending on your pet’s ailment.   

To learn more, you can watch our past Facebook Live video featuring Dr. Berg, one of our emergency veterinarians, or read a summary below. 

How does an emergency veterinarian determine if a case is urgent or emergent? 

In addition to our Fast Track Triage system, our veterinarians determine if a case is urgent or emergent based on these questions: 

  • Will this pet need to be hospitalized? 
  • Is this something that can be fixed on an outpatient basis?  

In other words, our veterinarians ask, “Is it possible to make this pet comfortable and stable enough to go home the same day of its examination?” If the answer is yes, the pet’s ailment is an urgent care one. However, if the pet requires more time inhospital, significant medical intervention, or needs to see one of our specialists at the time of the visit, the pet will require an ER visit 

Understanding AERC’s Fast Track Triage System 

Our team developed this Fast Track Triage system to divide pets’ ailments and injuries into different colors. The system helps our Call Center decide if a dog or cat needs to be seen right away or if the pet can wait to be seen by a family veterinarian. The system also assists pet parents in determining if a pet requires veterinary attention 

In our Fast Track Triage system, there are some general rules: 

  • Pets with an ailment or injury that is in the red or orange column should be seen right away through our ER 
  • Pets with an ailment or injury that is in the yellow column should be seen through our Urgent Care. Note: these pets may also be seen through emergency if they are ill or injured outside of Urgent Care’s hours of operation. 
  • Pets with an ailment or injury in the green column can wait to be seen by a family veterinarian or visit Urgent Care if the family veterinarian won’t have an open appointment within a few days. 
  • Our Oakdale facilities are separated into emergency and urgent care; however, our St. Paul facility sees pets requiring either emergency or urgent care treatment. Call ahead to be directed to the appropriate facility based on your pet’s needs.  
  • Special Considerations: 
    • Avian and exotic pets are triaged on a different scale, but these pets should always go to our ER.
    • Pet parents who have made the difficult decision to say goodbye to their beloved pet should visit our urgent care facility for euthanasia. However, euthanasia is also available at our ER for emergency situations, as well as outside of Urgent Care’s hours of operation.  

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Examples of Urgent Care Ailments or Injuries

  • A dog is coughing but has no history of heart disease, is not panting nor breathing more rapidly than usual. He’s still playing, going on walks, eating and drinking. The dog recently spent the day at a doggie daycare.  
  • A cat incurs a small laceration from an unfortunate home grooming incident.  
  • A dog is at the dog park and suddenly stops using his rear leg (lameness) but still has normal energy levels. 

Other Considerations 

Urgent care conditions aren’t life-threatening, but they can be disruptive to your family’s lifestyle. Here are two examples: 

  • Your dog’s constant scratching is keeping you up all night, and his claws are damaging his ear. Your family veterinarian’s only open appointment is at a time that you cannot miss work. Instead of stressing, bring your dog to Urgent Care. 
  • A scratch on your pet’s cornea isn’t life-threatening, but it can be vision-threatening, as well as painful. If your family veterinarian doesn’t have an open appointment for several days, bring your pet to Urgent Care.   

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Why Offer Urgent Care and Emergency Care at Separate Facilities? 

With the increased demand in veterinary services, we understand that many pet parents are frustrated with primary care clinics unable to fit pets in need of urgent care into their schedules as well as longer wait times at the ER. Our hope is that having two separate facilities will help solve both of these problems. 

Currently, at the ER, stable pets with non-emergency conditions are being turned away or endure long wait times because pets with life-threatening conditions are prioritized. So, a dog with a torn toenail waits while a cat in respiratory distress receives immediate treatment. That is the nature of emergency work – we triage pets so that the more life-threatening the case, the sooner the pet will be seen.  

By having a separate urgent care, stable pets with non-emergency conditions can be seen without being triaged to the back of the line. Instead of having appointments, our Urgent Care will have “arrival times” to help predict and control estimated wait times. 

Plus, since stable pets with non-emergency conditions will be seen in a separate facility, it is our hope that pets with life-threatening conditions will be seen more quickly because the emergency team can focus completely on those pets’ needs.  

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We anticipate the addition of our Urgent Care service will help increase our team’s ability to care for patients and their owners in general. We hope that adding this new Urgent Care facility will take some stress out of seeking urgent or emergency care for your pet!   

If you’re ever questioning whether to come to our Oakdale Urgent Care, our Oakdale ER, our St. Paul hospital, or wait to see your family veterinarian, give us a call, and our trained team will help you determine the best course of action and which facility to visit. As always, please call ahead of your arrival to any clinic so the team can prepare for your pet’s arrival.    

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