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5 Pet Care Myths About Pet Surgery

At some time in their lives, most pets will have one or more surgical procedures. This could be for spaying or neutering, a dental cleaning, or a tumor or wart removal. As is true with anesthesia, pet owners often have anxieties about their pets' surgeries. This article will address six of the more common myths associated with pet surgery.

Myth 1 - Your pet is too old for surgery

I hear this way too often. How sad to think that our senior citizens of the pet world are denied proper medical care because someone thinks they are "too old." Whenever I hear this, I always ask, "Too old for what? Proper medical care?!"

No pet is too old to receive necessary surgery. It is true that you may decide not to have a surgery done on an older pet. For example, a 15 year old Labrador retriever with hip dysplasia and arthritis might be a candidate for a total hip replacement surgery. You may decide against it, due to the cost of the procedure, amount of postoperative physical therapy required, and the fact that this pet has already lived to the end of his life expectancy. However, the dog is not "too old" to have surgery even if surgery might not be the preferred option due to his age.

In my practice, most of my surgical patients are 10 years of age and older, and many are 15 years of age and older. These pets routinely receive dental surgery and surgery for removal of various skin growths, including tumors. None are "too old" for this type of care. And with modern anesthetics, anesthetic monitoring, and analgesic (pain relieving) medications, all of these senior pets do very well with their surgery and have no negative postoperative effects.


Myth 2 - It's ok to wait to spay or neuter your puppy or kitten

Early spaying and neutering has several health and behavioral benefits for puppies and kittens. Females spayed before their first heat have almost no chance of developing breast cancer later in life. Males that are neutered have no chance of developing testicular diseases and a reduced chance of developing most prostatic diseases, and a reduced chance of developing perianal tumors.

From a behavioral perspective, early spaying and neutering usually reduces aggression between pets and reduces the chances of behavioral urine and fecal marking in the house.
There really is no reason to wait to spay or neuter a puppy or kitten. In my experience, if you wait you are likely to not have the procedure done, and then your pet will miss out on the positive benefits of early sterilization.

Speaking of spaying in neutering, it's all too common for many veterinarians and pet owners to consider these surgeries as "routine." I have never seen a "routine" routine surgery in my entire life, as they are all different. No doctor ever knows exactly what will be involved in the procedure until he is doing the procedure. While spaying and neutering are commonly performed procedures, they should never be viewed as routine, and neither you nor the doctor should ever accept a surgery as routine. Doing so may encourage complacency which could result in unnecessary complications or even death for your pet.


Myth 3 - All tumors should be removed

Some veterinarians recommend that pet owners remove any growths on their pets. While I'm a big fan of early diagnosis of cancerous tumors, I also don't believe in doing surgery just for the sake of doing surgery. Here are the guidelines I use to help pet owners determine if and when a growth or tumor should be removed:

  • Any growth that is large enough to aspirate with a small needle and syringe should be aspirated and the contents of the aspirate should be examined microscopically.
  • If the tumor is a benign lesion, such as a fatty tumor or cyst, I may use herbal therapy or homeopathic therapy to help shrink it or make it go away.
  • If the tumor is a benign lesion, such as a fatty tumor or cyst, and it is a large lesion or is growing or bothering the pet or the owner, I will schedule surgery to remove it.
  • If the aspirate shows a malignant cancer, it is removed surgically.
  • If the aspirate is nondiagnostic, it is removed surgically and biopsied.
  • Following surgical removal of any lesion that has been shown to be cancerous or for which a diagnosis was not made using aspiration cytology, it is sent to a pathologist for further microscopic examination and definitive diagnosis.

My personal feeling is that it is a waste of money to have small benign lesions removed most of the time. My one exception would be if the pet is scheduled to have another anesthetic procedure such as a dental cleaning done, and the small benign lesion can be removed during that time. Personally I try to avoid surgery whenever it is not necessary in order to spare the owner the expense of the procedure and prevent an unnecessary anesthetic procedure for the pet.


Myth 4 - It's ok to wait for a tumor to grow before removing it

As I mentioned in Myth 3, it is okay to wait and watch benign lesions before removing them, as they rarely grow. However, unless an aspirate of the tumor has been examined microscopically, I believe all tumors should be viewed as potentially malignant until proven otherwise. There is no reason to wait and watch cancer grow until the pet eventually suffers when tumors can easily be removed when they are small. Removing tumors when they are small may actually cure the cancer without the need for chemotherapy or radiation. Therefore, unless we know that the tumor is benign and unlikely to hurt the pet, it should be removed rather than watching it grow and harming or killing the pet.


Myth 5 - Analgesic medicine is not necessary for most surgeries

Analgesic (pain killing) medication should be used whenever we know or suspect a pet may feel pain. This means that for the majority of animal surgeries, some type of analgesic medication should be given. The best way to use analgesic medication is through preemptive analgesia and multimodal analgesia. Preemptive analgesia means giving the pain relieving medication before pain occurs. Practically this means giving the pet medication, usually by injection, prior to the start of surgery. Multimodal analgesia means giving the pet several different classes of medications, such as NSAIDS and opioid medications, and even local anesthetics, which work on different biochemical pathways to relieve pain. And of course naturopathic medications which assist in healing, such as herbs and homeopathics, can also be included in the multimodal approach to analgesia.

Following the surgical procedure, additional analgesic medications should be given at home for several days (or longer, depending upon the procedure) to assist in healing.
One word of caution: many veterinarians, in an attempt to reduce the costs of a surgical procedure, either do not use any (or enough) analgesic medications or offer this to the pet owner as an option prior to the procedure. I personally believe this is malpractice and encourage pet owners not to subject their pets to any surgical procedure in which some type of analgesic medication is not used.


BONUS Myth! - The lowest cost provider should be the one you choose for your pet surgery.

I couldn't resist throwing in one more myth. There are veterinarians who call themselves "low-cost veterinarians." While I certainly appreciate the desire for every pet owner to save money on the cost of a pet's care, it's important that cutting costs doesn't reduce the quality of the care the pet receives or puts your pet's health or life at risk. When it comes to surgery, there only so many ways to cut costs. Usually this requires "leaving something out." If that "something" is essential to your pet's well-being, this could possibly affect your pet in a negative way.


I've worked for enough veterinarians during my career to see just what some veterinarians are willing to leave out of a procedure in order to lower the cost for a pet owner. Some veterinarians reuse needles and syringes and scalpel blades (sterilizing them in between procedures, but not using new and fresh equipment for your pet;) some veterinarians use less expensive anesthesia which makes it more challenging to control your pet's vital signs during a surgical procedure; some doctors use little or no analgesic (pain relieving medications,) which places your pet at risk of suffering pain during or after the procedure; and some veterinarians do not have your pet monitored by a technician or a machine during the procedure to ensure that your pet stays alive during the procedure. If you're considering having surgery for your pet, no matter how "routine" the procedure may seem, find out ahead of time just what is included or not included in the price you are quoted. Doing so will allow you to get the procedure done in the best and safest possible way for your pet.



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