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Ethical dilemmas in practice
Postoperative complications
  1. Siobhan Mullan

    Siobhan Mullan works part-time in small animal practice, as well as at the University of Bristol. She holds the RCVS diploma in animal welfare science, ethics and law.


The dilemma in the January issue concerned a client presenting a cat that had been neutered two weeks previously at another practice and subsequently treated for a postoperative infection (In Practice, January 2010, volume 32, pages 38–39). The cat was found to be dehydrated and lethargic, with pus oozing from a swollen flank wound. The second practice successfully treated the animal, for which it charged £400. Several months on, the client had paid only £100, having tried to claim monetary assistance from the original vet. Clare Main commented that the welfare of the cat had been compromised as a result of the postsurgical complications, and it was normally the responsibility of the original practice to take steps to treat these. Ideally, the original practice should have had a protocol for dealing with complications. A possible way forward for the second vet taking this case on was to put together a full care plan during the first consultation, even if this only covered stabilisation during the first 24 hours. The full costs of this should have been discussed with the client and, from then on, costs reviewed on a daily basis. If the owner considered that the first practice was at fault, then the second practice possibly had a moral duty to act as a mediator and contact it informally to discuss the outstanding bill.

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