It costs a lot more to see a vet out of hours than it does during the day, but out-of-hours care is not the sort of service you're likely to be shopping around for based on price.
You might need it in an emergency or when you're worried your pet could get sicker if you wait for treatment. So choosing an out-of-hours vet could be based on their location or the services your daytime vet recommends.
You need to know where to go for help – and how to pay for treatment – before a crisis hits.
Of course, many people want to know how much they can expect to pay so they have a complete picture of the costs that come with pet ownership. We’ve surveyed out-of-hours vets around the country to find out what sort of services are available and how much you’re likely to pay for an emergency vet visit where you live.
All our pet insurance policies cover it within the vet fee limit so you don't have to worry about the price of treatment, whatever time of day or night you need it.
And you get unlimited, 24/7 online vet advice with a registered vet as part of your ManyPets pet insurance. It could save you a lot of money and stress by helping you decide whether you need to see a vet right away or if you can wait until your regular practice is open.
How to find an emergency vet
In case of a pet emergency, first call your regular vet.
The Royal College for Veterinary Surgeons says that all surgeries must take steps to provide 24 hour emergency care to their customers. In practice, this doesn’t mean every surgery stays open 24/7 – in fact few do.
What it usually means is that most vets keep some appointment time free each day during their opening hours so they can prioritise any emergencies that come in. Then when they’re closed overnight or at weekends they'll either:
Run a reduced staff on a rota overnight at the practice
Have a vet working on-call
Direct you to a separate 24-hour or out-of hours vet practice
If you phone your vet out of hours, there should be an answerphone message telling you how to see an emergency vet near you immediately.
Emergency vet costs around the UK
In November 2023 we surveyed 51 emergency vets around the UK to find out the cost of an out-of-hours consultation.
Like other veterinary treatments like neutering and vaccinations, the price of out of hours vet care has gone up. Our research found that the average cost of an emergency vet appointment in the UK is now £253.34 - that’s a 27% increase since 2022.
This is for the basic consultation cost to see a vet during the night.
You’ll need to pay for any treatment needed on top of the out-of-hours consultation cost. This may be more than the consultation (emergency visits might need urgent treatment such as surgery) and prices will vary between providers.
Although it's helpful to know the cost of a consultation, your final bill will be for the full care your cat or dog receives.
The price of different out-of-hours vets can also vary based on whether they have vets onsite the whole time.
Companies like Vets Now always have vets and full emergency clinical teams at the locations they operate from but some providers have an on-call service where a vet is on standby at home and may have to be woken to open a practice to attend an emergency consultation.
Some out-of-hours vet services had different rates based on bank holidays or weekends, so for consistency we used the most expensive stated night time cost.
The cost varies depending on where you live, but this year for the first time we found that average costs were over £200 right across the country.
|Average out of hours vet cost
Who provides emergency vet care?
Vets Now is the largest provider of out of hours care and provides cover for over 1,400 daytime vets around the country.
Some Vets Now clinics have their own premises while others operate from a local vet practice while they’re closed. They also have two 24-hour emergency hospitals. All have a dedicated emergency staff that specialises in out of hours emergency care during nights, weekends and bank holidays.
Vets Now say they provide the full range of care that could be found in a vet clinic during normal hours, but round-the-clock. It also says they have "the latest, state-of-the-art equipment" in their hospitals.
MediVet is a huge vet group with around 400 practices that mostly operate during normal working hours, but it also has 27 24-hour sites that deal with emergencies.
Vets4Pets is another huge veterinary group. Most of its practices are based in Pets At Home Stores and operate during shop opening times but it also has a few 24-hour hospitals around the country.
Animal Trust has 11 practices across North Wales and North West England providing ‘at cost’ vet care. You don’t need to be on benefits or low income to use them.
Not all Animal Trust hospitals have 24-hour service, but the ones that do are extremely reasonably priced. They had the lowest out of hours consultation cost of any of the vets in our survey, at just £75.
MiNightVet offers out of hours care for groups of vets in a ‘catchment area’ and usually operates out of one of these partnered practices.
They have 29 clinics around the country.
Fee structures usually vary at different times of day or night.
Why are emergency vets more expensive?
We didn’t find any out of hours vets that didn’t charge extra for an emergency consultation during anti-social hours.
It’s just more expensive to run a night vet because of higher staffing costs, plus the fact that every case that comes in is likely to be urgent. And, as Vets Now points out, consultation costs aren't balanced out by quick, routine complaints as they would be during daylight hours.
Can I go to any out of hours vet?
You don’t want to be running around trying to find an out of hours vet in an emergency.
That’s why all daytime vets have an emergency provision in place for their clients – once you’re registered with them for daytime appointments you‘ll also be expected to use their night time service, whether that’s their own out-of-hours clinic, or a nearby provider like Vets Now, MiNightVet or another local vet.
That means the emergency vet you go to is usually decided by your choice of regular vet.
There are exceptions to this. Vets Now will generally see any patient. MiNightVet generally don’t – you need to be signed up to one of their affiliated daytime practices.
Some vets that run 24-hour practices will see patients that aren’t on their books but will charge an extra fee for this to cover the extra costs this incurs.
Sometimes you’ll be rerouted to a different out-of-hours vet because the one your vet’s signed up to is just too far away under the circumstances.
That happened to Daniel, a mechanic in South Wales.
“At about 10pm, I noticed my 13 year old cat, Major Tom, was panting. I immediately called my usual out of hours vet. They’re about 25 miles away in Cardiff but we get sent there as that’s just who our regular vet is signed up with.
“When I described the symptoms they told me not to bring him there but to immediately call a different vet on the edge of my nearest town and head there instead.
“As they weren’t my regular vet they charged an extra fee that their daytime clients don’t pay, in addition to the out of hours consultation fee. But they saw Major Tom immediately and fought to save him. Sadly he was having a heart attack and despite all their efforts he didn’t make it.
“At the time, we were devastated and never even thought about the costs, especially as our pet insurance covered it, although the extra fee did push the price up.
“You need to consider emergencies when you choose your vet. Be careful of going with a vet where the out of hours is miles and miles away or where the charges you need to pay up-front are unaffordable for you.”
How to pay for an emergency vet trip
Cost shouldn’t be something you have to worry about when you’re faced with an emergency with your cat or dog, but for many of us, it does matter.
If you’re sent to an emergency vet that isn’t your usual practice, many will ask that you make a payment up-front.
That means you’ll need to have access to probably a few hundred pounds to pay the consultation fee and possibly some initial treatment, even if it can later be reimbursed by your pet insurance.
It’s a good idea to make sure you have instant access to a cash fund or a credit card that you could use to pay the initial costs of emergency vet treatment if you need it.
Does pet insurance cover emergency vet visits?
Pet insurance usually covers emergency vet visits. But some providers will place a limit on the amount they’ll pay for emergency appointments and some will have clauses around only paying in a life-threatening situation.
ManyPets pet insurance covers any necessary out of hours treatment but won’t cover out-of-hours fees if your vet advises that your pet can wait until business hours without undue risk.
If you're unsure whether your pet needs emergency treatment or will be comfortable waiting until morning, you can get expert online advice from a UK registered vet as part of your policy, for more help on what to do next.
How to think about the cost of emergency vet care
Don’t wait for a crisis to find out where your pet will be treated in an emergency and how much it’ll cost.
Follow these steps to make sure you've got an emergency care plan in place for them in advance.
This should be your biggest consideration, not cost. When you choose your daytime vet, always ask about their emergency provision. Is it in the same practice or somewhere else? If so, how far away is it?
This is especially important if you don’t drive. You could be really stuck if your regular practice sends out of hours patients to the next town. A midnight taxi ride with a supplement for your dog will really push up the cost – and pet insurance won't cover that.
Choose opening hours that suit you
Each daytime vet sets their own opening hours.
If you work full time and you’re mostly free evenings and weekends for vet visits, you could potentially avoid some out-of-hours fees by finding a vet whose regular opening hours are up to 7pm or include the weekend.
Be prepared to pay...
Even if you have pet insurance, you often need to pay the initial cost of emergency treatment, then get it reimbursed.
Make sure you’ve got access to funds. If you’ve got a decent credit rating a credit card can be useful as there will be around a month’s grace period where you don’t pay interest. Hopefully long enough to be reimbursed by your insurer.
Read your pet insurance policy
Check for any terms and limits your insurer has around out of hours consultation fees.
Most providers shouldn’t expect you to be able to decide whether something is life-threatening or not, but there are often clauses to discourage you from seeking high cost treatment if your pet could comfortably wait until your regular vet opens.
Ask about ambulance fees
There’s often an extra cost to transport your pet between your regular vet and an out of hours hospital. That can sometimes come as a shock, especially if they need a few nights’ inpatient care.
You can always ask if you can take and collect your pet yourself if they don’t need special care during transportation. You might also feel better with them going in the car with you if they’re not a happy traveller.
When to visit an emergency vet
When you call your vet’s emergency or out of hours number, they should be able to help you decide if you need to see the vet straight away or if it’s safe to wait for a daytime appointment.
But there are some situations where you will need to get your pet urgent treatment, right away:
They are struggling to breathe
They are bleeding and it cannot be easily stopped
You suspect they have a broken bone
They are unconscious
You believe they have eaten something poisonous
They are in obvious pain and distress
If you’re concerned about your pet’s health and you have a cat insurance or dog insurance policy with us you can make free video calls to a vet at any time of day or night. They’ll be able to put your mind at rest or advise you how to get the help your pet needs from an emergency vet if necessary.