Everyone worries when their pet must undergo surgery. Whether the procedure is elective, such as a spay or neuter, or an emergency surgery to repair a life-threatening injury, it is natural to be concerned. Do not hesitate to make a list of your questions that you may have for your veterinarian. This article may help to answer some of those concerns so that you are reassured that your pet will receive the best care possible and have a safe and comfortable recovery from surgery.
Invasive surgeries will require your pet to receive a general anesthetic. Local injectable anesthetics can be used for very minor procedures which are not discussed in this topic. A general anesthetic always carries with it some degree of risk. Modern anesthetic agents are much safer than older protocols. Your veterinarian will nonetheless try to minimize any risk associated with anesthesia.
One way to ensure your pet’s safety is to evaluate a blood chemistry profile before the surgery. This can detect compromised organ function, anemia, electrolyte imbalance, and bleeding disorders. Although it is impossible to screen for every possible disease process with one blood sample, the most likely problems that would preclude or complicate surgery can be ruled out.
Monitoring equipment used during surgery has greatly improved the safety and outcome of general anesthesia. In the past, the level of anesthesia could only be measured subjectively. Heart rate and respirations were observed to indicate the depth of anesthesia. Modern monitoring of blood pressure, blood oxygen saturation (pulse oximetry), and electrocardiogram (EKG) are much more accurate at assessing the patient’s wellbeing. The depth of anesthesia can be “fine tuned” using these parameters to improve safety and speed recovery.
The drugs used to induce and maintain anesthesia have become far safer as well. Induction agents and gas anesthetics are minimally metabolized by the body and are eliminated very quickly compared to older protocols. A rapid recovery reduces the chance of anesthetic injury to the kidneys and other organs. The pet is able to return to eating and drinking shortly after the procedure which prevents dehydration and boosts the immune system during healing.
A side effect of general anesthesia is lowered blood pressure. Intravenous fluids can be administered to normalize blood pressure and ensure adequate tissue oxygen perfusion. Life-saving drugs can be administered through an IV catheter in the case of an emergency.
Analgesia (pain control) is better achieved through the drug choices that veterinarians can utilize. It is a proven fact that pain suppresses the immune response, slows healing, and increases recovery times. Your pet will receive pre- and post-operative pain medications that will ensure their comfort and improve the outcome of surgery.
The veterinary staff will give you specific instructions to follow before and after surgery. The pet will need to fast for a period of time to reduce nausea during anesthesia. Vomiting while unconscious is very dangerous, and an empty stomach will avoid this problem. Be sure that you understand the fasting instructions. Withholding water for too long before surgery can lead to dehydration which may cause problems with recovery.
After surgery, you will be given aftercare instructions. Restricted activity, physical therapy, antibiotics, pain medications, rechecks, and scheduling suture removal are common follow up procedures to a surgery. You will want to monitor your pet’s appetite and attitude afterward and call the vet if there are any problems. An Elizabethan collar may be sent home to prevent the animal from chewing and scratching at the incision.
You should understand what will be done during surgery and the expected results. Discuss the procedure with the veterinarian and the nursing staff so that you are comfortable with your part in the follow up care of your pet.