What happens during surgery?

When a dog is about to undergo surgery, whether the surgical procedure is elective or performed as an emergency, the veterinarian will examine the animal and assess the risks of the procedure to adapt the protocol. Only then will he begin the surgery.

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Assessment of the anaesthetic risk

An aesthetic is always associated with a risk. However different anaesthetic protocols are available depending on the status of the patient thus maximising the safety of the procedure. To choose the protocol, the vet will conduct a complete examination of the animal with further diagnostic tests if necessary such as blood tests, radiographs or an ultrasound scan. In all cases, the surgery will be carefully planned by the veterinarian and the supporting team.

Monitoring surgery

© CHV/Frégis

Surgery in a dog requires the same rules of asepsis (disinfection, limitation of contamination) as in man. The veterinarian will have at least one room in the practice reserved for surgery. This room is kept clean and away from the passage of people and animals. There are several possible anaesthetic protocols, of which the following is just an example. The dog is prepared in a room adjacent to the operating theatre: a catheter (intravenous line) is inserted and the dog is anaesthetised by intravenous injection. The operating site is clipped then cleaned. During this time, the dog may be equipped with an intravenous drip to provide physiological saline (and to administer pain killers or antibiotics where necessary), an endotracheal tube (intubation) is placed and leads attached to enable cardiac monitoring. The dog is then taken into the operating theatre and “plugged in” to the various machines (ECG, anaesthetic machine, drip line, etc.). The respiration, heart rate and rhythm and the depth of the anaesthesia can therefore be monitored throughout the surgery for the animal’s safety. The use of gaseous anaesthetics during the procedure enables precise adjustment of the doses until recovery, which is progressive.

© Diffomédia/Royal Canin

Monitoring post-op recovery

When the surgeon has finished the procedure, the animal is progressively awakened. The use of analgesics prior to the intervention helps to prevent pain on recovery. The endotracheal tube is removed when the animal starts to wake up and cardiac monitoring is continued until the animal has regained consciousness (or even later depending on the type of surgery). Where used, the drip is usually continued until after full recovery from the anaesthetic. The dog is warmed and placed in a cage in a quiet area. Close monitoring is continued until the animal has stood up or regained full consciousness. A little food and water may then be offered. Antibiotics and pain killers are continued for several days if necessary. The animal is not returned to the owner until the effects of the anaesthetic have worn off and it is fully conscious.

Regular monitoring during the recovery period

The dog goes home and the owner provides the post-operative care. The skin wound will take around ten days to heal. The veterinarian will often ask to see the animal again within four days of the surgery to monitor the skin wound. The veterinarian thus relies on the owner to report any problems, such as if the dog shows any reluctance to move or eat. The duration of the recovery period will depend on the reason for the surgery. After castration, a young dog should recover within 24 to 48 hours. Pain management is essential as there is absolutely no benefit to be gained from letting the animal suffer. However, for some surgery, and in particular orthopaedic procedures, the use of pain killers will enable the dog to run around, which is strictly inadvisable. It is therefore up to the owner to be reasonable for both themselves and their pet. The use of an Elizabethan collar is also often poorly accepted by the owner and the dog. The animal usually takes 24h to get used to it. However, there are a few precautions to be taken: outdoors, the dog should be kept on a lead whilst wearing the collar as it could scare other dogs and provoke an attack (appearance is very important in canine communication), and it will also affect the dog’s hearing (it will not hear sounds coming from behind it or from the sides).

This collar can be essential, as the healing wound will start to itch from the third day. The dog will therefore scratch and bite himself and sometimes pull the stitches out.

During this recovery phase, the vet may prescribe a specific diet to promote healing or one that is adapted to the dog’s illness. It is an essential element in the recovery phase. Similarly, if the vet prescribes exercise restriction, it is important to monitor the dog's weight to prevent excess weight gain, which will be harmful to its recovery.

Returning to exercise and physical reeducation

Following surgery on the bones or joints, the immobilisation of one or more limbs / joints and exercise restriction will result in the loss of muscle mass from the affected leg. It is therefore important to make a progressive return to exercise.

Functional reeducation programmes are now available for dogs (the equivalent to physiotherapy in humans): depending on the requirements, this may include massages (mechanotherapy), work on a treadmill or in a swimming pool (hydrotherapy). This form of therapy is used to remobilise stiffened joints or build up muscle mass under surveillance.

Surgery is always a worrying time for the owner. The vet will always weigh up the risks and benefits of the procedure for the animal and be able to advise the owner. By assessing and identifying the risks, they can adapt the anaesthetic and monitoring protocol to guarantee maximal safety for the animal. During convalescence, the owner’s common sense must always prevail, rather than the dog’s choice!

© Duhayer/Royal Canin
Learn more

Is chronic pain a problem for dogs?

Chronic pain is a problem which affects the entire body, with a major impact on the animal.

Generally, response to treatment is limited and pain often persists over time, even after the disappearance of the cause. Modern medical practice considers this a true illness and not just a symptom.

Often dogs of all ages with pathologies such as cancer or arthritis suffer from chronic pain and it is not easy for the owner to recognize.

An appropriate environment and nutritional therapy along with medical treatment and physiotherapy are the key to enable the well being of these animals and to give them the best possible quality of life.

© Zysman

Dr Marcelo Zysman, veterinary surgeon,
Chronic pain medicine in dogs and cats
(Argentina)

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My dog can't walk normally, he sits down a lot and moves by adopting a bizarre position. Is this lameness or paralysis?

Loss of voluntary movements of hindlimbs is referred to as paralysis caused by motor disturbances. (Where it occurs to
a lesser degree it is called paresis).

Lameness results from abnormal movement of a joint such as a deformity of the hip joint caused by chronic inflammation, rupture of the ligaments in the knee joint, etc. Hip lesions result in visibly shortened stride of the hind limbs.

Lameness is usually associated with pain. It is essential to take the dog to vet for orthopaedic examination and pain relief as soon as possible.

© Banfi

Dr. Andras BANFI D.V.M. , Diploma in small animals
Hungarian vet of the year 2009.
Head of PRIMAVET Small Animal Veterinary Clinic
Budapest, (Hungary)

Learn more

Can epilepsy be prevented?

The most effective way to prevent hereditary idiopathic epilepsy in small animals is by breeding healthy animals. The early detection of affected and carrier dogs and subsequent elimination of them from breeding have been problematic. Environmental factors play an important role in the occurrence of seizures but the fundamental question of why seizures occur in a particular situation is still unanswered. Stress, changes in sexual cycle, feeding habits, food quality, concurrent disease and other factors influence the onset of seizures in affected animals. Identification of both genetic and environmental factors should reduce the occurrence of epilepsy and susceptibility to seizures in small animals in the future.

© Cizinauskas

Sigitas Cizinauskas
DVM, DECVN
Head of Neurology Referral Clinic AISTI
Vantaa, (Finland)

Learn more

We had a dream…

© Stephan Morrosch/Fotolia

Yes, as doctors, since the earliest days of medicine, we have all had the same dream: to be able to see inside the body.

It began by introducing cameras into the stomach or the bladder and progressed by making 2 to 10 mm incisions to see into the joints, the abdomen or the thorax.

In veterinary medicine, keyhole (minimally invasive) surgery has become the gold standard for many procedures: neutering by laparoscopy, abdominal or thoracic biopsies, inspection of joints and treatment of cartilage disease.

The advantages of keyhole surgery are: less pain, quicker recovery, better visualisation and smaller incisions.

These procedures are now performed by most expert veterinary surgeons.

© Dupré

Dr Gilles Dupré, DVM
Head of Small
animal surgery
Veterinary University of Vienna (Austria)

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What happens during surgery?
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