Surgery days are always fun for me. I really enjoy surgery. Way back in veterinary school I used to think it was a bit daunting, but working for ten years in emergency medicine where I was the only doctor available at two a.m., I learned to love it. The years spent in the emergency room taught me how to think on my feet and react to whatever was thrown at me. It was there that I took out my first kidney, did my first gastric torsion (bloat) surgery, did my first foreign body removal and intestinal anastamosis (putting two ends of the bowel back together), and repaired all kinds of traumatic wounds. Now that I am in general practice, surgeries are much more routine, but still enjoyable.
For the owner of the pet having surgery, the day is usually a bit more stressful. Owners worry about what is happening, how their beloved pet will react, and how much pain will be involved. So, let’s walk through the surgery day to help you feel better!
Pets need to be fasted for about 12 hours prior to surgery. The drugs used for anesthesia can make them vomit and we don’t want them to aspirate (inhale) any stomach contents. When your pet is admitted in the morning you will fill out a lot of paperwork to make sure we understand all your instructions. Questions about additional procedures (nail trim, shave mats, take off a couple skin tags) will be asked. It’s much easier to do some of those things while they are sleeping!
After the paperwork, your pet will have blood drawn for pre-operative testing if it hasn’t been done prior to surgery day. We need to know how the liver and kidneys are functioning so we can tailor the anesthesia to the pet’s condition. We check clotting profiles to make sure there won’t be any bleeding issues. An EKG will be run and evaluated to make sure there are no heart problems that can be detected. If your pet is having a tumor removed, we may xray the chest to make sure there has been no detectable spread of the tumor prior to surgery. While the tests are being run, your pet will be made comfortable in a cage or holding area with blankets to snuggle. Some even like to snuggle with large stuffed animals.
If everything checks out and your pet is safe to be anesthetized, an intravenous catheter will be placed and hooked up to a bag of intravenous fluids. The fluids are run through a pump to make sure your pet receives the correct amount of fluids. The fluids help maintain blood pressure in the correct range during surgery and replace fluids that your pet is not allowed to drink for 24 hours. The catheter is also used to inject the medications that will induce anesthesia. Once the pet is sleeping, a tube is placed in the trachea (windpipe) and hooked to a gas anesthesia machine. We use pediatric gas anesthesia which is very safe and can easily be adjusted up or down to keep the pet at the right level of sleepiness. A blood pressure cuff, EKG monitor, and oxygen monitor are attached to monitor the vital signs of the pet. Pain medications are given by injection to keep the pet as pain-free as possible.
The area where the incision will be made is shaved, vacuumed, scrubbed with antibacterial soap, and sprayed with antibacterial spray. Surgery is performed by the doctor and the technician monitors the anesthesia, keeping close track of any changes in vital signs. Once surgery is completed, the animal is given oxygen through the endotracheal tube for a few minutes to help cleanse the system. After that, the pet is moved back to their blanket to wake up under the watchful eye of the doctor and technician. The tube is pulled from the throat once the pet is able to swallow and is breathing well on their own. Usually, within an hour the pet is sitting up, standing, and wobbly on their feet.
Before being discharged in the evening, incisions are checked for swelling, redness, or bleeding. The incision area is cleaned and the pet is checked over for any signs of a problem. Pain medications are sent home with your pet to keep them as comfortable as possible during the healing phase after surgery. Our goal is to make the procedure as pain-free and pleasant as we can.
Your job at home is to keep your pet as quiet as possible for a few days, using a leash when outside. We ask that you check the incision area and notify us if there is any swelling or redness or if your pet is licking the area. If your pet will not leave the area alone, an “E” collar (cone) will be fitted to your pet. Campho Phenique mouth medicine is available over the counter for people and can be painted around an incision in a pinch to keep the pet away from the area. You can also try putting a tee shirt on the animal if that will cover the incision. Do not try to bandage an area, as that may be damaging to the wound. Call any time you have a question!
Sutures are usually removed 8 to 10 days after surgery. Biopsies usually take 5 to 7 days to come back.