Understanding Your Pup’s First Surgery
Your pup’s first surgery will probably be a spay or neuter. Often, when owners are shown an estimate for a spay or neuter they are given the option to opt out of certain procedures commonly recommended during or before surgery. Most pets don’t have pet insurance, but when they do, there are restrictions on what is covered.
Owners often have to pay the veterinarian directly and are then reimbursed by the insurance company. In these tough economic times, this can put owners in a difficult place — making medical decisions for their pets based to some extent on the cost of the treatment. I have heard pet owners state many times that they brought their pet to a different veterinarian because their veterinarian charged too much for a routine surgery. While this may be true, a lot of the things your veterinarian recommends regarding a spay or neuter are the standard of care. The "standard of care" is a commonly accepted practice that has so consistently been shown to be superior to the alternative that it has become the benchmark for care.
Your veterinarian will probably recommend that your pup have bloodwork completed prior to being spayed. That screening bloodwork is intended to make sure that your puppy is healthy prior to surgery. Your veterinarian will most likely run a CBC (complete blood count) and a serum chemistry. A CBC looks at red blood cells to make sure your dog is not anemic, white blood cells to make sure your dog does not have an infection, and the platelet count measures to some extent the ability to form a clot during surgery.
The serum chemistry looks at enzymes and other values that assess the function of the body's internal organs (liver, kidney, pancreas) as well as electrolytes. There are variations of this test, with some being more complete than others. While the bloodwork does not guarantee that your pup's surgery or anesthesia will go well, it can give you and your veterinarian the peace of mind that there will not likely be any surprises.
Your veterinarian also may want to run a clotting test. These tests look at your dog’s ability to clot her blood. As you can imagine, that is pretty important during surgery. Your veterinarian may want to run a test for Von Willebrand’s disease. This inherited disease results in a decreased ability to clot the blood. Some dogs, including Doberman Pinschers, German Shepherd Dogs, Rottweilers, and Golden Retrievers, are predisposed to having Von Willebrand's disease.
Your veterinarian may recommend that your pet have an intravenous (IV) catheter placed before surgery. In this procedure, a little plastic tube is placed into the vein so that fluids can be administered during surgery. More importantly, if there is an emergency with your pet while under anesthesia, the veterinarian can easily administer life saving medications. I have been lucky enough to always have been able to work at hospitals where IV catheters were placed for all procedures involving general anesthesia. I can't imagine what it is like as a doctor to try to find a vein on a dog who's under anesthesia in the case of an emergency. In situations like that, time is the difference between life and death. Whenever possible, opt-in for the IV catheter.
During surgery your pup will be monitored in one of a couple of ways. Your veterinarian may have the veterinary technician monitor your pup’s pulse rate and the amount of oxygen in her blood using a pulse oximeter (pulse ox). These are pretty important parameters because we want our dogs to get lots of oxygen and have a nice steady heart rate while they're under anesthesia. The technician may also monitor using other technology such as EKG leads and a blood pressure monitoring device. During and after surgery, your dog will be kept warm with a heating pad, or more likely an air convection blanket commonly called a Bair Hugger. The veterinary technician will monitor your dog’s temperature, color, breathing and heart rate until those parameters have returned to normal.
While there are lots of ways that you can cut costs in your life — by skipping the latte, staying home on a Saturday night, filling up with regular gas instead of premium — don’t skimp on your pup’s healthcare. Each piece of the puzzle helps to ensure your pup’s safety when under anesthesia.
Dr. Lisa Radosta