Ever wonder what it is that goes on behind closed doors on your pet’s big day? After your pet is whisked away by the veterinary staff for hospitalization, surgery or a dentistry, what happens to her? If you’re the curious type, I’ll bet you’ve pondered this and more––as in, “Why can’t I stay with her? Why can’t I watch?”

Most veterinary hospitals have a policy about owners in “the back.” Unless they’re visiting their hospitalized pets, it’s usually a no-go. Some hospitals even get picky about visiting hours. They’ll bring your hospitalized pet to an empty exam room for your visit rather than have you come back to see how he’s being cared for.

It’s enough to make you wonder what they’ve got to hide, right? If I didn’t know firsthand, I might worry, too.

But policies like these are the norm. Usually, it’s only the smaller “mom and pop” type hospitals are cool about having owners stand around during surgery and wait in the wings while the dentistry takes place.

So you know, the idea is that you’ll get in the way if you’re present. Even if you’re the quietest mouse in the room, your presence itself can be volume overload for veterinarians and staff who need to concentrate. And then there are the emotionally strained or exuberantly chatty clients who would almost certainly take us off our game if they hung around.

That’s why my own pets’ procedures happen elsewhere...when I’m not present. Except for dentistries and super-routine procedures (Slummy’s bandage changes, for example), I’m outta there. I would never want to distract the professionals from their job. And that’s how I’d prefer all my clients understood our routine "thou shalt not pass" restrictions.

Nonetheless there are exceptions. I have one client whose vet assistant background and current profession make her an ally in the OR. She’s great there. I never have to worry.

Another client, a nurse anesthetist, is another exception. She helps us revise our procedures as we go through our routine motions. We love having her there because we improve our skills every time she comes in. Another win-win.

In our practice, we allow clients to be present if we know them well and trust that they’ll not be a hindrance to their own pets’ medical care. If I’m worried about their emotional reactions during an anesthetic procedure and they really want to be there, I’ll let them know they can be present only for the anesthetic induction. If they’re OK during this part, I’ll be more willing to let them stay for the whole thing next time.

The key, as with all aspects of veterinary medicine, is knowing where the trust and partnership lines are drawn. It requires an understanding that not every veterinarian, every hospital and every owner will mesh well with one another during the more sensitive moments in a pet’s lifetime of healthcare. For example, even when the veterinarian is willing, a hospital’s policies may serve to protect staff from the stress of an owner’s presence.

Makes sense, right? Think of it that way the next time your veterinarians says “no” to your entreaties. Most of the time we truly have your pet’s best interest in mind.


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