Is Surgery Dangerous for Dogs?

Deciding whether or not to put your beloved pet under anesthesia can be a difficult call to make, especially if a procedure seems elective or unnecessary. First and foremost, it is one hundred percent appropriate to ask your veterinarian about the importance of the procedure, the potential risks, and anything else that may be worrying you about the process. Remember that your veterinarian wouldn’t suggest anesthesia without assessing the risks and benefits, as well as other possible options.

We should keep in mind that no anesthesia is entirely without risk, but there are important steps that can and should be taken to reduce this risk. Some of these steps will take place before your pet is even asleep, such as a pre-operative physical exam. This will assess your pet’s overall physical health and condition prior to surgery. Depending on the exam findings, your vet will decide whether or not to proceed with surgical prep. Another important piece of the puzzle is pre-anesthetic lab work. This involves taking a blood sample and running a chemistry panel and a complete blood count to assess your pet’s internal health and organ function. Although this part of the process is often optional, especially with routine spays and neuters, it is a necessary and essential part of the big picture when it comes to your pet’s anesthetic risk assessment. Performing both a physical exam and pre-op blood work is key to ensuring there are no underlying conditions that could make anesthesia more dangerous for your fur baby.

Once your pet’s overall health status is assessed and they are deemed healthy enough to undergo anesthesia, they will be given an injection of several pre-anesthetic medications that will help them relax and ensure they will not wake up in any pain. These medications should be tailored according to your pet’s health and risk evaluation, and calculated specifically based on their weight. Then, once your pet is relaxed, there are a series of safety precautions that should follow. An IV catheter should be placed for induction and safety purposes. This will give your veterinarian direct access to the blood supply and can be used to administer emergency drugs if need be. An IV catheter also allows for your pet to be hooked up to anesthetic fluids throughout the procedure and during recovery which will help them maintain proper blood pressure. Much like pre-anesthetic lab work, anesthetic fluids are also sometimes optional but necessary to be sure the procedure is as safe as possible. 

At this time, your pet will most likely be given an intravenous injection to induce anesthesia and a breathing tube appropriate for their size will be placed. They will then be hooked up to oxygen and an anesthetic gas, and preparation of the surgical site will begin. The area where the initial incision will be should be shaved and scrubbed thoroughly in a methodical fashion with an antimicrobial solution such as Chlorhexidine or Betadine. This will significantly reduce the chance of infection following the procedure. Once surgical prep is complete, your pet should be carefully moved to a surgical suite and positioned on top of a surgical table with a warm heating pad. The surgeon will then prepare themselves for the procedure, or “scrub in”. This Is when the surgeon methodically scrubs their hands and forearms with an antimicrobial solution, puts on a sterile gown, and sterile gloves. A surgical cap and mask should also be worn by each individual entering the surgical suite. Each of these steps will also help reduce the chance of infection for your pet. At this time, in AAHA accredited hospitals, a final scrub of the surgical site should be performed by a technician or assistant wearing sterile gloves. The surgeon should then drape in the surgical site with a sterile drape, and surgery will begin. 

During surgical prep, the procedure, and recovery your pet should be carefully monitored. Anesthetic monitoring should be performed by a well-trained veterinary assistant or licensed veterinary technician. This means that your pet’s vital signs are being closely watched for changes during the course of the surgery. Vitals that are typically observed include heart rate, respiratory rate, body temperature, blood-oxygen level, and blood pressure. A seasoned professional watching these values closely will be able to tell immediately if your pet is experiencing any complications. Adjustments to the amount of anesthetic gas your pet is receiving can be made according to their vital signs which will make them more or less sleepy based on their needs. Patients should be kept under anesthesia just deep enough as to not experience any discomfort or interfere with surgery, while also maintaining appropriate vital signs. Tailoring anesthesia for each pet based on their vital signs will help minimize potential risks.

Following surgery, your pet should be moved out of the surgical suite and into a private area to recover while under close observation. Their vital signs should continue to be watched closely during this time. Assessments of vital signs and physical reactions to stimuli will be continuously made until your pet is awake enough for their breathing tube to be removed. Endotracheal breathing tubes should be removed when your pet is awake enough to swallow repeatedly or sit upright, and should be left in place as long as is necessary for this to occur. This is a safety measure as well, and allows for the veterinary staff to have the ability to reconnect your pet to oxygen or anesthetic gas in case of an emergency. As a rule, IV catheters should not be removed until the patient is extubated, and in many cases are left in place during the recovery period in case emergency drugs need to be administered. Your pet will be watched closely after their breathing tube is removed and during their recovery. Depending on the nature of your pet’s procedure and their recovery experience, they will either return home the evening of the procedure or stay for further observation following anesthesia. Post-operative instructions should be sent home at discharge and, if you have any questions regarding their at-home recovery this is the best time to ask your hospital staff what to be on the lookout for. If you have any concerns during your pet’s recovery, you should absolutely contact your veterinarian as soon as possible. 

Here at the Family Vet in Danville, Virginia we are an AAHA accredited hospital and operate in accordance with these guidelines (maybe embed a link here to our info about AAHA). This means that all pets undergoing anesthesia for any surgical procedure are monitored carefully during surgical prep, induction, the procedure itself, and post-op recovery. Each pet is assigned a specific team of well-trained medical professionals to attend to them during their entire experience, including a veterinarian, a veterinary assistant, and/or licensed veterinary technician. Vital signs are watched closely for changes during the course of all anesthetic procedures, recorded periodically, and saved for future reference as a part of your pet’s unique medical history. Pre-operative exams are always performed prior to prep and induction for every single procedure, in accordance with AAHA regulations, to evaluate physical health. Pre-anesthetic lab work is highly recommended, and often required, to help assess anesthetic risk factors and obtain a baseline for what is normal for your baby internally. Medical alerts and histories are created based on past procedures, and are always taken into account when preparing your pet for any anesthetic procedure. 

At our clinic, pre-anesthetic sedation and pain control medications are calculated based on the weight, age, health, and medical history of your pet. Emergency drugs specific to your pet are always calculated prior to administration of pre-anesthetic medications for quick access in case of emergency. After sedation and pain control medications are given, your fur baby will rest comfortably under close observation in a private bedroom on a heating pad. This will help your pet relax, and the heating pad will help them maintain their body temperature prior to surgery. IV catheters are placed in all dogs undergoing any surgical procedure, and anesthetic fluids are strongly recommended and often required to help maintain proper blood pressure.

Throughout their procedure, anesthesia will be specifically tailored by attending veterinary staff based on your pet’s vital signs to help keep the procedure as safe as possible and shorten the recovery period. Following surgery, a trained member of our medical team will sit with your pet and monitor them closely while they recover. During recovery, post-operative laser therapy will be administered to the surgical site to help increase circulation, reduce inflammation, stimulate cell regeneration, and promote healing. Following the removal of your pet’s breathing tube, they will remain in their own private bedroom in the treatment area and watched carefully by our medical team throughout the duration of their recovery. The length and complexity of your pet’s procedure will determine how long they will stay with us in the hospital, and we encourage you to check in on your baby as often as you like. Upon discharge, we will take time to go over specialized at-home recovery instructions based on your pet’s individual experience. While your pet continues their recovery journey with you, we will be here every step of the way to answer your questions and ease your worries. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us as often as necessary during this time!

At the Danville Family Vet, we believe that each pet is unique and, while there are in-depth protocols that are adhered to for each procedure, no two procedures are the same. We are trained and prepared to customize this experience based on the overall health and needs of your pet specifically, as well as your wishes as their caretaker. Our staff are very compassionate and well-educated, and would love to take time to sit down with you and further elaborate on your pet’s next procedure whenever is convenient for you.