How much should a veterinarian explain up front before your pet undergoes any given procedure or prescribes any drug or product? It’s a question that came up in this past Wednesday’s post on microchip risks and one we’ve treated here before with respect to non-steroidal pain drugs and the inherent risks of anesthesia. 

Here’s the exchange:

The problem I have with mircochips is that vets don't inform people of the risks.  When my cats were chipped, it was presented as harmless to them in every way.  I wasn't informed that there was a risk of cancer.  Yes, the risk may be slight, but how can I make an educated choice if I am not given all of the information? Vets seems to feel that the risk is small and base their decision not to mention it on their own personal belief that chips save more often than they harm.  It also bothers me that the needle used to implant the chip is almost always described as "just a little needle" or "a typical stick". Bull.  The thing is huge and takes force to get through the skin.  As a pet owner, I expect my vet to give me all of the information and let me make the final call.  I don't think that's asking too much. I've seriously considered having the chip in one of my cats removed because his body tends to overreact to any insult, such as vaccines. I'm just not sure if taking it out would do more harm than good at this point.

Chrissy January 21st, 2010 09:41:40 PM

Chrissy: Agreed! What happened to a client's right to know the facts about a product or procedure and be allowed to make an informed decision?

EM January 21st, 2010 10:38:07 PM

Chrissy: We've talked about this issue here before. I don't disagree with you––in principle. But in practice it's almost impossible to run through all the potential risks of every procedure. 

The key, in this case, is to be very clear that nothing is risk-free.

Downplaying significant risks (as for anesthesia or drugs) is a particularly egregious thing to do. But it's a proven fact that with microchips we're literally dealing with a million to one risk. So do I really need to explain that a freak accident might occur and that your cat might get punctured in the brainstem?

While I respect rational and irrational fears alike and do my best to inform my clients that there are risks, in this case it seems unreasonable to expect a vet to delineate all the extremely rare possibilities.

Dr. Patty Khuly January 22nd, 2010 07:46:54 

So here’s where I’ll offer you the mantra...a-gain: Anything strong enough to help you is strong enough to hurt you. 

But I don’t want to discount any concerns out of hand. After all, I DO agree with Chrissy and EM that risks need to be made more plain for all manner of veterinary products and services. Veterinarians should NOT downplay risks when asked.

For example, while I will not be going out of my way to outline the minuscule risks of microchips, I will not pooh-pooh my client’s concerns. I will tell them it hurts (point taken on the needle size, Chrissy) but I will no more inform them of the possibility of a spinal puncture than I would of the potential for cancer after subcutaneous antibiotic administration. I mean, the examination room conversation would run into the next day if I went to such lengths.

But here’s the upshot: Everyone deserves an explanation, a solid answer and the respect that should drive a willingness to offer them. The way I see it, people who want more explanations (consider Chrissy and EM) are my class A clients. Why would I fail to take their concerns seriously?


So what do you say? How far should a veterinarian go to outline the risks of any given product or procedure?