Fear is a veterinarian's friend (your pet spay fears, redux)

Patty Khuly, DVM
May 06, 2008
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Last week I posted on the cost of spays and neuters in veterinary practice. In the comments below the post, it became clear that concern for the risks the procedures entail, particularly for the intra-abdominal spay, run high among you.

No matter what we veterinarians may say to calm your fears it’s true. Every surgical procedure has its risks. And while a spay is a surgery we may perform every single day of our careers, even common procedures have their dangers.

In fact, sometimes the most ordinary procedures can be the most dangerous. That’s why so many of you are wise to fear the lowly dental. You understand that anything can go wrong with anesthesia.

But that doesn’t mean you should avoid all veterinary care involving anesthetic risks. Minimizing their necessity, for example by brushing your pets’ teeth regularly, is the right approach. Giving in to your anesthephobic impulses and allowing your pet to suffer infected teeth as a consequence is the wrong one.

That’s why the best way of mitigating your pets’ risk is to choose your veterinarian and veterinary hospital wisely. My best advice? Get to know them well before electing an anesthetic procedure!

It’s also my preference, and this is personal of course, that your hospital of choice not downplay the risks. For my money, “Don’t worry we do this all the time,” doesn’t provide enough comfort. When I choose a doc for my son, for example, I want to know what  exactly they do to decrease risks. How many staff, what kind of monitoring equipment, etcetera.

But most of all, I want to know that my surgeon shows, by taking my question seriously, that he or she has a healthy fear of surgical risks and anesthetic procedures. I don’t want a hyper-confident cowboy type in the OR working on my children. I want someone who gives a thoughtful, measured response to my questions and who admits the risks the procedure entails.

If I dropped my pet off for a spay and the staff said, “Don’t worry, shell be fine,” that’s one thing—it’s a courteous thing to say and it’s almost always the truth. But if my vet were to say: “Relax. This is really no big deal,” I think I might start shopping for a new one.

But that’s just me. I’m nervous about my pets just like you are. I want someone who thinks a spay is as big a deal as I do. No, it doesn’t mean I don’t ever let my guard down—‘cause I do sometimes. We all do. We're only human.

My point? Healthy fear is a good thing. It’s a philosophy of practice that makes life more stressful for the vet, but it’s ultimately what you want. Finding a veterinarian who takes that fear and uses it wisely isn’t so hard, either. Simply pick someone who you trust who admits to taking all possible precautions when it comes to your own pets’ care. That’s what I’d do.