Under a year ago, I noticed a small lump on Miles’ back. Our veterinarian guessed it was a cyst, and wasn’t too concerned at first, because cysts often go away on their own. Recently, we decided to take action, because the cyst hadn’t gone away. It had continued to grow, and the area around it was firm and swollen. Miles frequently rubbed his back in discomfort. Our veterinarian performed a simple test, called a fine needle aspiration. He collected several samples from the cyst and surrounding areas with a small needle, and sent them off to a lab. The next day we had the results, which revealed that the current content of the cyst was of no immediate concern. Despite that good news, our veterinarian and I simultaneously nodded before saying our thoughts out loud — that cyst should be still be removed as a preventative measure. If left alone, it would continue to grow, would need to be tested often, and the fluid around it would continue to accumulate, requiring regular draining. It was uncomfortable enough for Miles even when drained, and it would have been difficult over time to keep him from rubbing the area, and possibly creating a rupture and/or infection. The location of the cyst was also cause for concern, as it rested above his spine.
Did you know that the less stressed your dog is before surgery, the less drugs they might need for successful surgery? Planning ahead has so many advantages for both your dog, and your own well-being.
1. Talk to knowledgeable sources
When I got the test results back, and the recommendation for surgery, that wasn’t the end of my research. After the diagnosis and the decision between you and your veterinarian that your dog will be having surgery, you are bound to have some residual questions. Sometimes you just need to schedule a second appointment with your veterinarian so that you can ask more questions. Many veterinary clinics offer paid teleconference meetings for residual questions. It can also help to ask around if any of your friends or family members have had similar experiences. Often hearing from people you personally know will be very reassuring. As tough as it is, try to avoid “Dr. Google,” because often it will make you feel really anxious.
2. Plan the pre-surgery blood work ahead of time
My friend who is a veterinary technician had useful advice for me. One of her suggestions was something that never would have occurred to me: she suggested that I schedule Miles’ blood test a few days before surgery. Before a veterinary clinic will put a dog under anesthesia, the veterinarian needs to make sure the dog is in good health, and that the dog’s body can handle the stress of anesthesia and surgery. On a routine surgery day, the patients (pets) awaiting surgery are normally all dropped off first thing in the morning. They then have their blood drawn, and their blood is tested in order to clear them for surgery. My veterinary technician friend’s advice was excellent for several reasons:
If the clinic can determine that the dog is healthy and cleared for surgery a few days ahead of time, you can prevent the following scenario: the dog gets dropped off, waits anxiously on an IV in a cage at the veterinary clinic, and then is deemed unfit for anesthesia. The dog then has gone through all of the pre-surgery stress for nothing. For the sake of your pet, it is great to know that you can do your part (scheduling the appointment, taking the time off) to do your part to prevent this complication.
If the dog has already been cleared for surgery (via the early blood test), and does not require a blood test when he is dropped off on his scheduled surgery day, he can be given a sedative to relax him while he waits. The sedative won’t be interfering with any pre-surgery test results, so it can be given.
The first dog to be cleared is the most convenient patient to operate on first. Meaning, if your dog is already cleared and ready to go when the doctor is ready, then, he is likely to go first. Most veterinarians have scheduled “surgery days,” where they operate on several animals. If you work from home like me, or if you plan on booking the day off anyway, being able to minimize the time your dog is at the clinic post-surgery is ideal.
3. Set up an appointment or phone call with a veterinary technician pre-surgery
The veterinary technicians at your veterinary clinic are invaluable to speak with. These are the go-to people to connect with about any additional questions you might have about your dog’s upcoming surgery. The technicians have just as much to do with the ins-and-outs of the day of your dog’s surgery as the veterinarian. Questions to ask:
Ask to be lead through what a typical surgery day at the clinic is like. This is how I found out that in our case, getting Miles’ blood drawn ahead of time would allow him to be operated on first.
Ask what the clinic will do for your pet if he is really nervous before surgery. The technician I spoke with told me that since Miles would be having his blood test prior to the day of surgery, they would be able to give him a sedative.
If you are able to pick your pet up early, ask politely if your pet can have his surgery performed first. There is no point in asking this unless you are able to pick your dog up early. But if you are like me and work from home, or if you plan to book the day off from work anyway, it never hurts to ask. In our case, the technician was very helpful, and was happy to leave a note of my preference that Miles be operated on early in the day, so he wouldn’t have to wait long for his surgery, and so I could pick him up as soon as it was safe to do so.
4. Other things to expect and to know ahead of time
Prior to surgery, a veterinary technician will shave an area on your dog’s leg(s) and will insert the IV into one of your dog’s legs – likely the inner front mid-area of his front leg. Once the IV is inserted and secured, the dog will be put in his own cage, and will receive intravenous fluids as he awaits surgery. This ensures that his body will be as well-hydrated as possible before the surgery, and as strong as possible during the anaesthetic process, which is quite tough on any dog’s body.
After surgery, and your dog is taken off anesthesia, it will take some time for him to wake up. The veterinary clinic will wait until they are sure the dog has woken up safely, and that he is not exhibiting an adverse reaction to the anaesthetic or any other worrisome signs upon awakening. This period is usually referred to as “observation,” and is an important post-surgical stage. After that point, your dog can be cleared to go home.
When your dog comes home, he will be groggy and confused for up to 12 hours. Some dogs will even whimper, cry, shake, or acts irrationally. Many people also cry or act different and confused when they are coming off of anesthesia. Don’t be worried by this, it is normal. Also don’t assume that your dog is really scared or unhappy. Like people, they likely won’t remember the hours after surgery! Try to talk to your dog in a quiet voice. Let your dog sleep if they will, and if they won’t sleep, have them on-leash and relax with them if they enjoy being cuddled. Take them carefully for bathroom breaks as needed, and if they are waking up well, offer them a little bone broth. If the veterinarian suggests a meal at a certain time, offer them some soft food. Keep the home quiet and limit how much roaming your dog can do by closing doors to unnecessary rooms.
Notes: This article has been reviewed by multiple veterinarians, but any issues your dog may experience should be examined by a veterinarian on a case-by-case basis. Secondly, all tips here are based on our experiences and the local policies of our veterinary clinic, therefore, you should always consult with your clinic prior to following the above tips/advice.
Emma Kesler, CDBC, CPDT-KA is an award winning certified Dog Behavior Consultant and Dog Trainer who has worked exclusively virtually with clients from across the world for the past decade. Emma shares her life with her Welsh Terrier copilot Miles.
This is for all of the wild dogs out there, for the people who love them, and for those who want get to know them. You've come to the right place. 🐶
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