One of the most unsettling things a diligent dog parent faces is learning dog surgery is imperative. Whether for a sudden injury, to go under anesthesia for a routine procedure, or something planned, keeping your dog’s safety is first and foremost. In my lifetime as a dog mom and close to a dozen years in the dog writing and dog blogging space, I’ve talked to countless numbers of experts. I’ve also faced the pit-of-the-stomach feeling of knowing it’s dog surgery day.
Before your dog undergoes surgery, here are questions to ask and things to keep in mind. Special thanks goes out to the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) who invited us to a private breakfast recently and contributed to some of the information in this post.
Anesthesia: Ask First
- Who will be monitoring my dog before, during, and after anesthesia?
- What equipment will be used to monitor my dog?
- Will a trained professional be in the room to continuously monitor my dog, record vital signs, and communicate any findings to the vet?
- Will there be frequent evaluations of my dog’s vital signs both performed and documented while he is under anesthesia?
- What type of anesthesia is my dog receiving?
- Will my dog receive preoperative analgesics? Giving pain medications before pain signals are sent can very much reduce the amount of pain a dog experiences after surgery.
- Will a sedative be given before surgery?
- Will he or she have an IV running and where will it be placed (location)? How long the surgery will be and the general invasiveness of the surgery will generally determine whether the dog needs an IV catheter. Sometimes giving IV fluids and having an IV catheter in place allows the anesthetist to deliver pain medications, anesthesia drugs, and intravenous fluids in a timely and most effective manner.
- How many of these procedures have you done?
- Is my dog’s age a risk? If so, how much of a risk?
- Are you prepared, and have the resources and equipment necessary to handle unexpected anesthetic or procedural events or complications that may occur during my dog’s surgery?
- Will you be monitoring my dog’s heart, oxygen levels, blood pressure, temperature, respiration rate, and CO2 levels? Many practices will monitor oxygen, but some may not monitor CO2 (carbon dioxide). I always ask, as I always want the same vital sign monitoring for my dog as I would myself.
- How will my dog be kept warm? Note: Never allow a heating pad to be used to keep a dog warm during/after surgery, as severe burns can occur.
Dr. Marty Becker says that no matter what your dog’s age, he should have lab work to check his liver, kidney, and bone marrow function. “Abnormalities could indicate a bacterial or viral infection or other conditions that would make your pet a poor candidate for anesthesia at that time, or could alert the veterinarian to the need to modify the anesthesia to make it safer,” Becker says.
Anesthesia – You Share
Aside from the questions you ask the veterinarian, there are things you need to share about your dog. Your vet should be aware of any pre-existing questions, but you should also be clear if your dog has any allergies, a heart murmur, known conditions, any previous anesthesia complications.
If your dog has a flatter face, such as in the brachycephalic Bulldog, talk to the vet/surgeon about risks.
Dog Surgery – Ask First
In addition to anesthesia questions, here’s a list of questions to ask before any type of dog surgery:
- Is the surgical suite/room/area separate and closed from the rest of the practice? Is the area dedicated to aseptic surgical procedures? Personally, I don’t want my dog being operated on in an open room where any number of germs, people, and activity is occurring.
- What preoperative tests will you be doing? (for major surgeries, and even many minor under anesthesia procedures, a dog is best served with a chest x-ray, blood work, EKG, blood pressure, and/or ultrasound). Discuss which tests are best for your dog in advance.
- Is the procedure something best served by a board certified specialist? Case in point: When my dog underwent two ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) surgeries, I wanted a board certified orthopedic veterinary surgeon, knowing he or she did this all all the time and received extensive and additional training and qualifications to achieve that title. Many veterinarians perform surgeries, but this does not necessarily mean that they are board certified to do orthopedic procedures, such as an intricate ACL surgery.
- Will my dog be receiving an endotracheal tube inserted into his trachea (windpipe) to deliver the anesthetic gas and provide oxygen to his lungs?
- Which pain medications will you be using before, during, and after surgery?
- Why are you choosing these pain medications/any side effects?
- Will my dog be allowed to come home the same day?
- Who will be checking in on my dog postop and how often?
- If my dog must stay overnight, why and who will watch him? Please note, many clinics and practices do NOT have someone with the dogs overnight.
- How long will it take my dog to recover?
- Will there be stitches and what type (dissolvable)?
After Surgery Before Leaving the Hospital: Find Out
- Are there any activity restrictions?
- Are there any dietary modifications and/or restrictions?
- Can my dog use stairs?
- Are there any medications and side effects?
- How will I know if my dog is in pain? (Dogs are very adept at hiding their pain, so ask about this)
- Are there any special bandages and/or changing instructions?
- Are there any changes to watch for with regards to the wounds? (abnormal discharge, redness, etc)
- How do I prevent my dog from licking or irritating the wound? Note: A plastic cone is not always the answer, as some procedures allow for a dog to have alternative means of preventing wound irritation and licking.
- When will I need to bring my dog back for a followup appointment?
- Who do I contact if I have issues, problems, or questions after hours?
When your vet tells you not to feed your dog pre-surgery, follow those instructions closely, Food or meds or even water after a certain point – can interfere with anesthesia. Be certain you are aware of costs. Know what to expect before you leave your dog in the hands and care of someone who is placing them under anesthesia. I’ve been there, I know the fears, and a solid understanding of what is happening, why, coupled with having your questions answered is key. Your dog’s life depends on it. Any vet who scoffs at questions is not worth your worry, and you can quote me on that.