Steps to Take Before a Pet’s Surgical Procedure
Finding out that a beloved pet requires a surgical procedure, no matter what it is, can be extremely stressful for the pet’s owners.
Because of this, it is important to help the owners understand exactly what the procedure entails, what decisions they will have to make and what the potential long and short-term complications could be.
Discussing the Issue
Before any surgical procedure is initiated, the vet should have a meeting with the owners, and inform them of the nature of the procedure, its purpose, and the potential costs that will be associated with it. In many states, an accurate estimate of costs may be a legal requirement before the veterinarian can commence treating the animal.
If he or she is uncertain how costly the surgery will be, the owners should be informed that the total cost might differ from the current estimate.
In addition to the surgical procedure itself, the veterinarian should discuss the following issues with the pet’s owners:
- The likely long-term prognosis for the pet.
- The potential for health complications.
- What types of postoperative care and medication will be needed.
- Any “quality of life” issues that may impact the pet’s comfort.
In some cases, it may not be possible to have a leisurely discussion. A pet that has been struck by a car or attacked by another animal may need immediate surgery in order to ensure its survival. In this case, the vet should take what action is required to preserve the pet’s life.
However, if possible, another veterinary professional should speak with the pet’s owners in order to explain to them what is happening and what decisions may be required of them. Furthermore, the supervising veterinarian should speak to the owners as soon as possible.
In some cases, an injury or illness may have several different treatment options. The owners of the pet should have these alternatives explained to them. In some cases, a less expensive procedure may be possible, but may equally have a lower chance of successfully resolving the pet’s health issues.
Futile Surgical Procedures
In some cases, the veterinarian may have to undertake the difficult task of explaining to a pet owner that the surgical procedure will not save his or her beloved companion animal, or will only prolong the pet’s life for a short time during which the animal will endure great suffering.
Many owners may be unwilling to accept this at first, and so the veterinarian will have to patiently discuss the probable consequences to their pet while assisting them in determining whether or not to conduct the surgical procedure.
Explaining the Surgery
One vital part of preparing the pet’s owners for any surgical procedure is to describe the procedure in accurate, but non-technical terms.
In many cases, pet owners may be intimidated by an overly technical explanation, so phrasing it in terms that a layperson can understand is vital.
Among the important information the veterinarian must convey to the owners are the following items:
- The likely duration of the surgery.
- Any unusual risks that the surgical procedure could entail.
- Possible long-term effects of the surgical procedure.
Providing Translation Services
In many parts of the United States, a number of pet owners may have limited skill in the English language. The veterinarian should make certain that they can fully understand what he or she is discussing or that they have a friend or family member who can translate what the veterinarian is saying into their native language. This can be especially important when discussing the exact nature of the required medical treatments, in addition to the likely cost of the procedure.
Reassuring the Owner
Many owners will be distraught, especially if the pet is one that they have owned for many years or if the surgical procedure is required due to an unexpected illness or accident. Because of this, the veterinarian, any vet techs and other veterinary workers should be aware that they may have to reassure the owner before, during and after the procedure.
One important factor to note is that even quite minor surgical procedures are often very disturbing to individuals who are not used to them, making it likely that they will be unnerved by frank descriptions of the nature of the surgical procedure.
In addition, the veterinarian should discuss the postoperative recovery period with the owner. While many operations have a relatively fast recovery phase, in other cases, especially when serious injuries or illnesses are being treated, the pet may have to remain at the veterinary clinic for some time. When discussing any postoperative questions with the owner, the veterinarian should discuss the following factors:
- Any costs that might occur due to postoperative considerations, such as the need for drugs or later visits to the vet.
- Whether or not the owner will have to undertake any special measures to ensure that his or her pet remains healthy after the surgical procedure.
- When the pet should receive a follow-up examination from the veterinarian to ensure that the operation was a long-term success.
- Whether or not the operation will result in any long-term changes to the pet’s behavior or physical capabilities.
Explaining What Supportive Measures Will be needed for the Pet
As a part of discussing possible postoperative factors, the veterinarian should speak with the owner about likely supportive measures that may be needed after the operation. A pet that has suffered an amputation may require special accommodations, while a pet with a suppressed immune system may be unable to safely go outside. This can be especially important for pets owned by individuals who may not be able to provide extensive home care.
This can be a serious issue for large animals, such as equines, which often require extensive support after a surgical procedure. In some cases, the veterinarian may suggest that the owner temporarily transfer the animal to a boarding facility that is capable of providing the postoperative care it will need to make a full recovery.
A surgical procedure can be an extremely expensive undertaking and an important part of any consultation is to discuss how the owner will be able to pay for his or her pet’s operation. This can be especially important for those owners who do not currently have insurance coverage for their animal.
Many owners may have an insurance policy that covers some aspects of their pet’s care. However, it is important to determine exactly what the policy will cover, how high the deductibles will be, and what the exact out of pocket expenses will be for the owner.
By doing so, both the veterinarian and the owner can avoid an unpleasant surprise when the bill for the operation comes due. An especially important question is whether or not the policy will cover postoperative care for the animal, especially any required drug prescriptions, which can quickly result in very large bills.
If the owner cannot pay the entire price of the surgical procedure at once, then it will be important to discuss payment arrangements. Many veterinary practices prefer to avoid this, so it may be necessary to suggest that the owner obtain a loan in order to be able to pay the entire sum to the veterinary practice. In other cases, if a payment arrangement is accepted, then an acceptable contract will have to be arrived at by the owner and the veterinarian.
No matter what type of surgical procedure is being performed, it is vital that both the veterinarian and owner understand what is expected and what will be needed in order to secure a successful outcome. Whether it is a minor procedure for a small animal, or major surgery on an injured equine, by working to inform the owner of the risks, potential outcomes and financial issues surrounding the surgery, the veterinarian can help reduce the potential for failure.