Dog Surgery: Everything You Need to Know
General practice veterinarians regularly perform a variety of surgeries on dogs. The most common elective procedures in dogs are spays and neuters. More urgent surgical procedures in dogs include:
- Correcting bite wounds from dog fights
- Fractures from trauma, or instances of dogs being hit by a car
- Certain intestinal surgeries, such as after a dog has eaten something he or she should not have
- Bladder stone removals, or cystotomies
We in the veterinary community understand that having your dog undergo surgery is stressful, so we do everything we can to arm you with as much information as possible.
If you think your dog needs surgery, find a local veterinarian you trust to ensure that this particular procedure is safe for your pet to undergo.
Preparing Your Dog For Surgery
Your veterinarian will do everything possible to ensure the safety of your dog during surgery. To do so, veterinarians assess each patient’s health before surgery. Your veterinarian is going to want to get your dog as stable as possible, making sure that his or her body temperature is warm enough, and that the dog is well hydrated and not in shock. Your vet will also want to make sure that your dog's pain is well controlled before starting surgery. Beforehand, your veterinarian will generally check lab work - such as blood work and potentially a urinalysis - along with radiographs (X-rays).
The standard of care for dog anesthesia is to have an IV catheter placed prior to surgery. By having that in place, your dog can receive IV fluid therapy to support them during the procedure. It also provides a port where emergency drugs can be given during the surgery if they are needed.
When you prepare your dog for surgery, you're going to want to pick up their food the night before surgery, which means they will be fasted before the surgical procedure. If your dog is on any medication, you should discuss with your veterinarian whether the medication should be given in the morning before you bring your dog in for surgery.
On the morning of your dog's surgery, your veterinarian will want to see your dog, even if he or she has been in recently. Doing this helps ensure that nothing with your dog's physical exam has changed. Your dog will then receive pre-medications, which often include pain medication. Using a pain medication before they even feel pain is important to help control your dog's discomfort, leading to a smoother and less stressful recovery.
What Happens During Your Dog’s Surgery?
After the pre-medications have had time to take effect, an IV catheter will be placed, and your dog will be given IV anesthetics. Generally, an endotracheal tube is placed in the trachea or windpipe to protect the airway and provide a way to receive oxygen and gas anesthesia. While under anesthesia, your dog’s body parameters will be monitored closely, such as body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, and CO2 levels. These all provide important information about how your dog is doing while under anesthesia.
Your veterinarian will generally use pain medications before, during, and after the surgical procedure, which will cause your pet to recover a little more slowly. It’s well worth the extra recovery time, however, as it also makes the process much more comfortable for your dog. You may find that your dog is a bit sleepy when he or she is sent home, and your veterinarian will generally like to see your pet back to normal within 12 to 24 hours. While most veterinarians will call you the next morning to check and see how your dog is doing, if you have any reason to think things aren't proceeding normally, make sure that you call the veterinary office. If anything seems amiss, your vet can have you bring your dog back in to make sure he or she is recovering normally.
Helping Your Dog Recover From Surgery
One of the other major facets of your dog's recovery that you need to be aware of is keeping your pet from licking the incision. Your vet may provide a bandage or, more commonly, an e-collar (aka “cone of shame”!) to keep your pet from licking the incision. In just a few moments, your dog can open up an incision and create a lot of trauma to the site, which can lead to infections, delayed recovery, or even additional surgeries.
At home, you'll need to keep the e-collar on and restrict activity levels to allow your pooch to heal. You'll also want to complete the course of any medications that are prescribed, such as pain medications or antibiotics.
If you think your dog might require surgery, reach out to a veterinarian near you to get all the answers you need about keeping your beloved pet safe before, during, and after the procedure.