How Emergency Animal Hospitals Work (the triage system)

Estimated Reading Time: 2 min | Last Updated: March 23rd, 2022


We understand an unexpected trip to the emergency vet is an emotional time for you and your family. For many families and their pets who visit us, it’s their first time in an emergency hospital and they are unsure of what to expect. To help put you at ease for when you arrive, below we’ve detailed what to expect when you first arrive in our hospitals and what happens before you see a vet.

What to expect when you arrive

When you walk through our hospital doors you will be greeted by a nurse who will triage your pet. If your pet is experiencing an urgent or life-threatening emergency they will be taken through to the treatment area for further assessments, stabilisation, and treatment.

For non-life-threatening cases, our emergency veterinarians will treat pets in order of medical priority based on our triage system.

What is triage?

Rather than operating on a ‘first come, first severed’ system, like you would expect at a restaurant if you don’t have a booking, our hospitals use the triage system. Triage is the process of rapidly examining sick pets when they first arrive in order to place them into priority groups according to their medical need and the resources available.

Triaging ensure patients who require immediate emergency treatment are seen first. If someone else’s pet is taken in before yours to see our vets, please know we have assessed their emergency as urgent or life-threatening. Please be assured we will be with you as soon as we can.

Triage priority groups

After your pet has been triaged, they will be placed into a triage priority group according to how severe their emergency is. This is so our vets know which pets need treatment first. We have four (??) triage priority groups:

  • Triage priority group 1: Patients currently experiencing life-threatening illnesses or injuries requiring immediate attention. These include conditions such as resuscitation, XXX, XXX
  • Triage priority group 2: Patients with serious illnesses or injuries but are in a stable condition.
  • Triage priority group 3: Patients who aren’t in immediate danger.
  • Triage priority group 4: Patients who have a non-emergency health concern.

What is an emergency?

Emergencies classified as urgent and life-threatening requiring immediate treatment by our vet, include:

  • Difficulties with breathing
  • Major trauma, such pets who have been hit by a car
  • Blood loss
  • Penetrating wounds
  • Seizures
  • Collapse
  • Tick paralysis
  • Snake bites

How long will I have to wait to see a vet?

Our emergency hospitals are busy places. We do our best to see you as soon as possible, however, at times there may be a wait time to see one of our emergency vets.

  • Our patients are treated according to the urgency of their presenting conditions, not in order of arrival
  • Higher than usual numbers of patients in our hospital
  • Seriously ill or injured patients requiring the attendance of several vets and nurses
  • Emergency blood tests, x-rays, ultrasounds, surgeries are being performed
  • Even if our waiting room doesn’t appear to be busy, it may be very busy behind our doors in the treatment areas

Currently, we are seeing a higher than usual number of patients in our hospitals and fewer vets than ever before due to:

  • An ongoing national shortage of qualified vets
  • Team members must isolate if they are unwell (with or without COVID)
  • There are 1.9 million extra pets in Australian households now, compared to the start of the pandemic

If your pet’s condition worsens and you are concerned please notify our reception team as soon as possible.

If you prefer not to wait and see your usual family vet instead, you can leave at any time. Please let our reception team know before leaving.


For more information about what is and what to do in a pet emergency, visit our Pet Emergency Guide.

If you suspect your pet may be ill or injured, contact your local vet immediately or your closest Animal Emergency Service hospital.


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