Back a few decades ago, vets (and doctors for that matter) used to spend almost as much time making house calls or visiting and treating patients in their own homes as they did holding clinics and seeing patients at their surgeries.
Whilst doctors do sometimes still make house calls today, this is much less common – and when it comes to vets, few offer home visits as standard, most are reluctant to offer them if asked, and some won’t see small animal patients outside of the clinic setting at all.
Obviously things are different when it comes to horses and livestock that are too large to travel to the clinic without a lot of hassle, but when it comes to small pets like cats and dogs, it is really unusual for vets to see them in their own homes.
However, many pet owners would like their pets to be seen at home rather than taking them to the clinic and often, don’t understand why vets are often reluctant or outright unwilling to do so, although there are many good reasons for this in most cases.
If you’re wondering why it can be so hard to get a vet that will make house calls for standard treatments, if you should ask your vet to see your pet at home instead of at the clinic and even if vets are under any obligation to make house calls, this article will provide the answers you are looking for. Read on to learn more.
Few vets will offer house calls if a consult in the clinic is possible, and most will refuse them for any routine, standard or non-emergency procedure (and even in some emergency situations too, which we will look at in a moment) and there are a great many good reasons for this.
First of all, the amount of equipment and medications a vet can carry with them outside of the clinic is very limited, so they won’t have access to everything they might need and all of their diagnostic tools and accessories. They may not know what they would need until they arrive, and large kit like ultrasound and x-ray machines can rarely be transported with ease – and doing so would mean they would not be in the clinic if needed for another case.
Also, unless they also take one or more nurses or other clinicians with them on the call, they won’t have another veterinary professional to call on for help or a second opinion.
The environment within anyone’s home or premises is also not the same as a clinic, which is set up to enable your vet to work most effectively and of course, with safety and hygiene as key concerns. Your average home environment might not be safe for your pet or your vet when it comes to administering treatment or making a diagnosis.
Also, the cost to the clinic of arranging home visits or outcalls is prohibitive, and even though house calls are usually priced at a premium that may be several times the cost of the same consult in the clinic, the clinic still almost always makes a loss on them.
You have to factor in prep time, getting the appropriate kit, the means of transportation, the cost of transport, potentially taking a nurse or assistant and their time lost in the clinic, and the time spent travelling as well as the appointment itself – just for starters. Additional insurance and many other incidentals add up to the cost as well.
When you factor this all in, a house call means potentially several lost clinic hours for one or more staff, only to be limited in their environment, equipment, abilities and even potentially safety and hygiene when they get to you – and your pet may well need to be taken to the clinic then anyway.
In a true emergency situation your vet or clinic might be more willing to make a house visit because this is warranted in terms of the needs of the pet rather than those of the owner.
There are several reasons for this, which include the fact that it might be impossible or dangerous to move the pet and transport them to the clinic, or that the vet might wish to see them in situ before determining if they can be moved.
Additionally, for out of hours emergencies, some vets will be on call and need to get to the clinic themselves, and if they have an emergency bag prepared in their car, it might be as fast or faster for them to attend your home rather than going to meet you at the clinic.
However, once more, your vet will almost certainly ask you to bring your pet to the clinic for all of the reasons outlined above, in terms of access to the appropriate facilities, hep and equipment, as well as a known hygienic environment, and sometimes this is especially important in an emergency.
Not having easy access to transport to the clinic on the part of the pet owner is not an emergency, and not the vet’s problem to solve!
There are some situations in which a house call might be warranted and in which case, your vet might be willing to make one or even suggest this approach rather than asking you to bring your pet in.
Some potential situations for this include if a dam or queen in labour is having problems, if a pet is sick or injured and cannot be moved comfortably or safely, or if moving the animal might worsen or cause further harm for any other reason.
Some vets will also acknowledge the wishes of pet owners that their pet be put to sleep at home, and be more flexible and willing to do this than they might be for other types of appointments.
Vets have a moral obligation to treat any animal in an emergency to a minimum level that will reduce pain or suffering and if possible, limit further harm, regardless of any external factors – such as the owner’s ability to pay, or even knowing if an animal is owned at all.
However, their obligation is restricted just to this, and they are not obliged to do anything other than manage pain and if possible, prevent further injury or harm – and in some cases if an owner cannot be found or cannot pay, euthanasia might be fully appropriate or a viable option to the vet in good conscience, even if there might theoretically be ways to save the pet if more time and money were available.
None of this means that your vet is obliged to make a house call though, even if your pet were dying and you could not get them to the clinic – their obligation relates to animals brought under their care, and in no way means that the onus is on them to get to you or seek out pets in need.
Additionally, if your vet was already involved in dealing with one emergency and a second one came in, if there was no safe way to stop or suspend treatment of the first animal or a way to get help to treat both pets, they would not be obliged to prioritise your pet over another in equal or greater need, or if doing so would compromise or harm the other animal.
Whilst most vets will try their very best to accommodate reasonable requests in an emergency, they are not obliged to visit you at home – so always ensure you have a plan to get your pet to the clinic in an emergency, even out of hours.