Featuring Demian Dressler, DVM and Susan Ettinger, DVM, Dip. ACVIM (Oncology), authors of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide

Dog Tumor Surgery and Anesthetics

Updated: December 24th, 2018

In the last post we looked at why surgery ends up often being a good option for malignant dog tumors.

Of course, this is a simple answer, but it may not be all that simple in reality. Why? Well, aside from the cost-benefit considerations, surgery itself varies from vet to vet.

I have worked with a number of colleagues, and have seen quite a spectrum of different skill sets in different people.


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One of the challenging thing about being a vet, especially those of us living outside metropolitan locales, is one has to be competent in many different facets of medicine and surgery.

In urban areas, one can refer to a specialist. Otherwise, it is sink or swim. This leaves the veterinarian with quite a bit of data to keep abreast of.

And it may produce gaps in the fabric of this knowledge that, truth be told, may have impact on the well being of your dog. The outcome of this is different veterinarians having different levels of ability, or knowledge, in dealing with anesthesia.

This brings us to a fact that not all dog lovers know: most veterinarians, at least in private practice, also are their own anesthetists.


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This is a departure from surgery done on human patients, where there is an anesthetist as well as the surgeon. What are some things to consider? Anesthetic safety, for one.  It can help if the veterinarian uses different ways of maintaining anesthesia (such as a quick-clearing gas like isoflurane or sevoflurane, along with an epidural or local nerve blocks).

This way they all act together, with less side effects to worry about, because you can use less of a given anesthetic. Another is pain control during and following anesthesia, which is the topic of another post. Monitoring is so important.

When your veterinary surgeon is operating, blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen saturation, respiratory rate, and ECG trace should all be monitored, at a minimum. An IV catheter should be placed for rapid emergency drug delivery, IV fluids to help maintain blood pressure, and to deliver high blood concentrations of drugs.

Just to name a few. I like a circulating hot water pad to maintain body temperature during surgery. Finally, the avoidance of certain anesthetics should be considered.  There was an illuminating article published in the journal Anesthesia and Analgesia in 2003 which showed that Ketamine, a common anesthetic and pain control drug, may be a bad choice for tumor surgery. Read it here.


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Why? Well, rats were injected with tumor cells and then given different anesthetic drugs.  When ketamine was used, the rates of metastsis (cancer spread) were much higher than the others.  Thiopental and halothane had the same effect but less so.

These two drugs are rarely used anymore.  Propofol was the best of these 4 that were tested in rats. Don’t be afraid to talk to your veterinary surgeon, before the procedure.  Be your dog’s primary health advocate!

Best,

Dr D


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  1. Phillip Conroy on March 31, 2009 at 9:15 am

    Hello Peggy,

    I am a fellow dog owner who has watched one of his beloved dogs suffer from cancer and fatty tumors. I give my new dog Resvantage Canine as a prentative measure now and I happened to see your posting regarding your dog’s lymphoma and know that resveratrol, the key ingredient in this supplement, might be useful as an effective therapy in treating lymphomas.

    Please access the following link to the National Institute of Health report regarding this;

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17088997

    And best wishes to you and Brandi.

  2. Peggy Wrazen on March 30, 2009 at 6:55 pm

    My dog Brandi 10years old has been diagnosed with cutaneous lymphoma in her mouth.
    Her brother died from the same in 2005. We did chemo on him but it never put him in remmision, The vet told me that this form of lymphoma doesn’t respond to chemo and to just treat her pallitive. I had ordered some artemisinin from Holly and then found your book and ordered it.
    Today the vet gave me Doxycycline and told me to start it right away because Brandi’s mouth is ulcerating. I don’t know if I should stop the Arte and wait and start the Doxy or what My vet does not want me to use Arte at all so there is no help there.
    What should I do to help Brandi, she is active and not acting sick at all except her mouth looks so sore.
    Thanks for any help or advice.