- About Us
- Pet Library
- More Features
- Contact Us
Your Pet's Surgical Visit
Most of you with a cat or dog that has undergone surgery really know very little of what happens to your pet between the time he or she is “dropped off and picked up.” In a general way, I am going to describe the rest of that surgery day to you.
Your pet is welcomed on the day of surgery by the receptionist and veterinary assistant who escort them either to the cat only ward or to the dog kennel. The cage or run has been cleaned, disinfected, and prepared with soft bedding prior to your pet’s arrival. There is a short social time during which your pet becomes acclimated to the surroundings and to the staff.
Shortly after your pet’s arrival at the clinic the surgery suite is readied for the procedure to be done. All the sterile equipment, surgical packs, drapes and sutures are prepared for use. Next your pet is carried, if possible, to the surgical preparation area to begin anesthesia. Your pet is continuously stroked and talked to.
The method of inducing anesthesia varies between small dogs and cats, and larger dogs. Smaller pets begin anesthesia by breathing a mixture of the anesthetic gas and oxygen until they are sleepy. Large dogs begin anesthesia with an intravenous injection of valium and an anesthetic agent. Once lightly anesthetized, when appropriate, pets have a breathing tube placed in their trachea to create an open airway for safe, efficient, delivery of the anesthetic gas/oxygen mixture and removal of waste anesthetic gas and carbon dioxide. While anesthetized, your pet is either able to breathe on their own, or the surgical technician may control their breathing, if needed. Next your pet has the surgical area shaved clear of fur and scrubbed many times with disinfectant to remove debris and skin bacteria. Now your pet is moved into the surgery room and positioned for the surgical procedure with support padding and heat supplied if required.
Once in the sterile surgery room, sterile surgical drapes are placed over the entire body so that only the scrubbed surgical area is exposed. The doctor, who has scrubbed, capped, gowned, masked, and gloved approaches surgery. Only now, some ten to fifteen minutes from the time your pet began anesthesia, are all the sterile packs containing sponges and instruments opened. Your pet’s surgical procedure begins. Surgery time varies from one-half hour to many hours depending on the medical complexity.
While surgery is underway, your pet’s heart, respiration, reflexes and anesthetic level are continuously monitored for optimum conditions.
Most pets are given a drug during surgery to eliminate their respiratory and salivary secretions to lessen the chances of their vomiting after they awaken. As soon as the surgical procedure is finished the anesthetic is turned off and your pet breathes oxygen until they are awake enough to have the breathing tube removed from the trachea. Shortly thereafter, your pet is awake and trying to figure out what, or if, anything really happened. The ease and speed with which pets come out of anesthesia varies with each individual.
Immediately after surgery, your pet receives intensive nursing care designed to keep him or her comfortable. This may include stroking your pet, carrying them around, or simply talking to your pet, while keeping them warm and secure. Food, water, a walk outside or a litter box are provided when your pet has regained coordination.
This is a short synopsis of a pet’s surgical visit and does not include variations in anesthetic procedures dictated by differing sizes and breeds of pets, nor the complexities of certain surgical procedures and individual instrumentation requirements. I hope this helps remove some of the mystery and fear you, as a pet owner, go through when your pet is away from home for surgery.
Many pet parents also share many of the same questions about various aspects of their pet’s surgery, so we thought it might be helpful to share some of these common questions, along with our answers. We hope this helps to set your mind at ease and better prepare you for the experience ahead.
Is the anesthesia safe?
Today’s modern anesthetic monitors have made surgery much safer than it was in the past. At the Holt Veterinary Clinic, we’ll conduct a thorough physical exam on your pet before administering anesthetics, to ensure that a fever or other illness won’t be a problem. We’ll also adjust the amount and type of anesthetic used- depending on the health of your pet.
Preanesthetic blood testing is important in reducing the risks associated with the use of anesthesia. Every pet should have blood testing prior to surgery to ensure that the liver and kidneys can handle the anesthetic. Even animals that appear to be completely healthy may be at risk of serious complications from anesthesia that cannot be detected without blood testing. If there is a problem, it is much better to find it before it causes complications during surgery. Animals that have minor dysfunction will handle the anesthetic better if they receive IV fluids during surgery. If serious problems are detected, surgery can be postponed until the problem is corrected.
We offer two levels of blood testing before surgery, which we will go over with you when you bring your pet in. Our doctors prefer the more comprehensive screen, because it gives the most information to ensure the safety of your pet. For geriatric or ill pets, additional diagnostic tests may be required before surgery.
It is important that surgery is performed on an empty stomach to reduce the risk of vomiting before, during and following the anesthesia being administered. You will need to withhold food for at least 8 to 10 hours before surgery. Water can be left down for your pet, up until the morning of surgery.
Will my pet have stitches?
For most surgeries, for the comfort of your pet, we use absorbable sutures underneath the skin. These will dissolve on their own, and do not need to be removed later. Some surgeries, especially tumor removals, do require surface skin sutures. With either type of suture, you will need to keep an eye on the incision for swelling or discharge. Most dogs and cats do not lick excessively or chew at the incision, but this is an occasional problem you will need to watch for. If excessive licking or chewing occurs you will need to use an Elizabethan collar to protect the surgical site. If there are skin sutures, these will usually be removed 10 to 14 days after surgery. You will also need to limit your pet’s activity level during the recovery period, and no baths are allowed for the first 10 days following surgery.
Will my pet be in pain?
Anything that causes pain in humans can be expected to cause pain in animals, including surgery. Pets may not show the same symptoms of pain as people do; they usually don’t whine or cry, and are very good at hiding it, but they do feel pain. The pain medications we prescribe will depend on the surgery performed and the specific condition of the pet. Major procedures require more pain relief than other things, such as minor lacerations.
For dogs, we often use an oral anti-inflammatory drug the day after surgery and several days after to lessen the risk of discomfort and swelling. We use newer medications, which are less likely to cause stomach upset and can be given even the morning of surgery. The cost of the medication varies, depending on the size of your dog.
Because cats do not tolerate standard pain medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or Tylenol, we are more limited in what we can give them. Recent advances in pain medications have allowed for better pain control in cats than ever before. After surgery, pain medication is given on a case by case basis. Any animal that appears to be experiencing pain will receive additional pain control medication.
What other decisions do I need to make?
While your pet is under anesthesia, it is an ideal time to perform other minor procedures, such as dentistry, ear cleaning, or implanting an identification microchip. If you would like an estimate for these extra services, please call ahead of time. This is especially important if the person dropping the pet off for surgery is not the primary decision maker for the pet’s care, or another family member will be picking your pet up at discharge time.
When you bring your pet in for surgery, we will need 5 to 10 minutes of your time to fill out paperwork and make decisions regarding blood testing and other options available. When you pick up your pet after surgery, you should also plan to spend about 10 minutes with us. During this time we will carefully go over your pet’s aftercare needs.
We will call you the day before your scheduled surgery appointment to confirm the time you will be dropping your pet off and to answer any questions you might have.