Knock out pet owners' anesthetic worries


Learn to talk to pet owners about the benefits and risks of anesthesia.

It's the dreaded question we all hear at least a hundred times in our careers, right before we take a beloved pet in for a surgical procedure: "Is Fluffy going to be OK?" We want to spin around and say, "Well, there's no guarantee," but that could send a client running home, Fluffy in hand. Discussing anesthetic risk with a client is a tricky balance of telling the truth and telling clients what they want to hear. We'd be hurting ourselves if we told them "Fluffy will absolutely be fine," because we simply don't know. The odds are low, but don't tell that to a client whose pet died on the table.

Think like a pet owner

One good way to look at the anesthesia conversation is to think, what if it were your pet? I think we would all want to hear the truth, but we would also like a little bit of happy thinking.

At our clinic, we've approached the topic a few ways over the years, and now we've got it down pat. We start by asking clients to read and sign a surgical consent form, which outlines the risk and explains that by signing, the client is authorizing resuscitation.

If clients choose not to authorize resuscitation, we ask them to circle any wording they don't agree to and initial next to it. We initial the passages they've marked as well. This has occurred only once since we started using the form.

Reinforce your message

Most people don't really read the surgical consent form—they just sign it. So we make a point to briefly explain the form, which sometimes convinces pet owners to read a bit more. I usually say something like, "This is a release of anesthetic risk. It outlines the risk and gives us the authorization to perform CPR in the event of an emergency. Please read it and ask me any questions."

The most common question we hear: "What's the risk involved?" That's a hard one to answer, but we usually say, "There's always a risk associated with anesthesia, but we employ state-of-the-art measures to monitor your pet's health during the procedure, and our team has been trained to help in any situation." This helps clients feel more comfortable handing their pet over to you. This is especially important when the surgical visit is one of the client's first experiences with your practice. Remember, what if it were your pet? What would you want to hear?

Brent Dickinson is the practice manager at Dickinson-McNeill Veterinary Clinic in Chesterfield, N.J. Share your tips to educate clients at

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