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Paper summary: Pet owner opinions about anaesthesia, pain and surgery in small animals

Perceptions and opinions of Canadian pet owners about anaesthesia, pain and surgery in small animals

Steagall et al., 2017. Journal of Small Animal Practice58(7): 380-388.

What did the research find?

This study provides important insights into the perception and opinions of Canadian pet owners with regards to anaesthesia, pain and surgery in small animal patients. It also identifies important areas that require detailed client communication regarding pain and its control.

How was it conducted?

Six Canadian veterinary hospitals participated, each receiving 200 copies of a questionnaire that were distributed to pet owners. Questions regarding the use of analgesics, anaesthesia, surgery and onychectomy (declawing) were included. Section 5 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 prohibits onychectomy (declawing) for non-medical reasons in the United Kingdom. A total of 849 of 1200 questionnaires were returned. Responses were transformed into ordinal scores and statistically analysed.

Results

Select findings include:

Percentage of owners that considered the following points to be very important/important:

  • Knowing who to contact for help or advice during my pet’s recovery from illness/injury/surgery (99.8%)
  • Knowing what to expect during a pet’s illness/injury/surgery (99.3%)
  • Being assured that all necessary analgesic drugs/techniques will be used (98.6%)
  • Being informed about the procedures/risk (98.5%)
  • Having a board-certified anaesthetist perform anaesthesia on their pet (90.5%)
  • Knowing the separate costs of anaesthesia/pain management and surgery (86%)

Most owners agreed/partly agreed that:

  • Pain impacts quality of life (94·2%)
  • Pain affects their pet’s behaviour (89·5%).

Most respondents were women (69%) and were found to be significantly more concerned than men about anaesthesia, pain, cost and client-communication.

Cat owners believed that analgesics were necessary for some procedures/conditions significantly more often than canine-only owners. Owners of pets that had undergone previous surgery disagreed more frequently that “pain after surgery can be helpful” and that “pain in animals is easy to recognize” than those without previous surgery.

Owners that worked in the health care industry considered “being assured that all necessary measures would be done to prevent/alleviate pain” to be important and were less likely to give the response that “pain in animals is easy to recognise” when compared with non-health care workers.

Owners believed more frequently that analgesics are needed for surgical procedures than for medical conditions.

Why is it important?

Attitudes, expectations and opinions of owners have a dramatic impact in veterinary practice. It is recognised that client education and empowerment may increase compliance, which in turn can directly benefit patients while potentially reducing liability issues faced by vets (Feldman, 2007). Given this, it is important to gain a thorough understanding of the information that clients consider important. This study helps to identify such information with specific focus on patient pain and its control.

This study confirmed that pain management is an important component of veterinary practice. Most pet owners feel that:

  • most surgical procedures require the administration of analgesics,
  • the cost of these drugs is not a concern,
  • that analgesia will hasten recovery.

Given the population surveyed in this study, certain cultural, economic, demographic and geographical differences must be considered when interpreting results. Despite this, client needs are likely to be similar worldwide, and knowing what information is most important to them could enhance client satisfaction through both improved communication and patient management.

Article by
Dr. Dan Cripwell
BSc (Hons) BVSc CertAVP (EM) PgCert (VPS) MRCVS

Veterinary Technical Advisor UK
RCVS Recognised Advanced Veterinary Practitioner

Originally published: Wednesday, 6th March 2019
Last updated: Thursday, 7th March 2019

References

Feldman B.M. (2007). Increasing client compliance to benefit animals. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 231(4): 521.

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