Finding out your dog needs surgery is stressful. But dog surgery can be a lot less daunting if you are prepared ahead of time. In this article, we’ll cover all the bases so you feel confident you’ve thought of everything.
First: Get the Details About Your Dog’s Surgery
Your veterinarian or surgeon’s office will likely call you a day or two ahead of time to confirm your dog’s surgery appointment and go over some details with you, but feel free to call in advance if you’re feeling nervous.
Things to know:
- What time your dog needs to be dropped off.
- If your dog will be staying overnight.
- When your dog is last allowed to eat.
- How much water your dog is allowed to have the night before and morning of surgery.
- What meds your dog can get the morning of the surgery (if any).
- Supplements that need to be discontinued before surgery.
- Estimate of the cost.
- How to get to the clinic.
If they don’t cover these and any other questions you have, call them back and make sure you have all this information. It will help you to feel calm and ready for the big day.
The Timeline for Dog Surgery
In most cases, your dog will need to fast 8-12 hours before her surgery. You want a completely empty stomach for the surgery.
This is because sometimes dogs vomit while under anesthesia, but can’t swallow. You don’t want food or water going into your dog’s lungs!
Most practices schedule surgeries back to back, so that the team can be efficient and your dog doesn’t have to wait too long.
That means they often will have you drop off first thing in the morning. This allows the surgeon to have all of their cases for the day in the facility and ready to go.
The exact time of your dog’s surgery will vary, but the staff can likely give you a rough idea.
They can also tell you when to expect to pick your pup up — at the end of the day, or the next morning.
Supplements to Stop Before Surgery
Some supplements can act as a mild blood thinner, which is obviously less than ideal if your dog is having surgery!
Unless otherwise instructed by your vet, these supplements should be discontinued a couple of weeks or ten days before surgery:
- Dietary enzymes
- Fresh ginger root
- Krill oil
- Fish oil
- Wobenzym N
Now, sometimes we need surgery quick, and we don’t have time to stop supplements.
If that’s the case for you, don’t panic. In most cases, these supplements are not going to put your dog in real danger.
Your vet or surgeon can make adjustments in their plans to accommodate for the possibility of slower clotting times.
Just let your vet or the surgeon know which supplements your dog is on, so he or she can plan accordingly on the day of the procedure.
Dog Surgery Cost
The estimate for your dog’s surgery is just that – an estimate. So take it with a grain of salt.
Things that affect the cost of surgery are:
- time under anesthesia
- medications being used
- support staff involved
- diagnostics run beforehand
- tools and supplies
- the surgeon’s time
- how difficult the procedure is.
Each one of these things is variable. Sometimes a surgery is easy and short, and other times what your vet assumed would be quick turns out to be complicated.
Until the surgery is started, and the vet can see what’s really going on inside, it’s impossible to truly know how much time, how many meds, or anything else.
That’s why you need to take the estimate with a grain of salt. It might be more — or sometimes, less!
Other Costs for Dog Surgery
Sending out a sample of a tumor for a histopathology report (to find out what it is) will also add to the cost.
Where you live will also have an impact on the final bill, because the cost of rent, electricity, and labor also impact what veterinarians need to charge.
It is much better to know the estimated cost of your dog’s surgery ahead of time so that you can be prepared and ask questions if needed.
If you have financial concerns, there are resources to help you pay for your dog’s surgery.
Preparing Your Dog for Surgery
There are some things you can do to get your dog physically ready for surgery too!
1. Do the recommended pre-anesthetic bloodwork.
Bloodwork can get expensive, but it is really valuable to know how your dog’s internal organs are doing BEFORE she goes under anesthesia.
This is because the liver and kidneys are the primary organs that clear anesthesia drugs from your dog’s body. If the liver and kidneys aren’t working well, your dog may have trouble waking back up.
Bloodwork can also alert your vet to electrolyte imbalances, anemia, infection, or even clotting disorders.
Depending on your dog’s overall health and any other medical conditions she might have, your veterinarian may only recommend a small panel to check the core liver and kidney values.
For more involved procedures or a dog with a lot of health concerns, more extensive bloodwork may be needed.
Bloodwork results from the morning of the surgery give the most up-to-date information, but most surgeons will accept bloodwork done within the last two weeks. Some are okay with bloodwork that has been done within the last month.
Whatever the case is, saying YES to pre-anesthetic blood work will help with planning a surgery.
It may also reveal conditions or problems that make the surgery less appealing or something to avoid. It’s important to get those answers before your dog is on the table.
2. Consider giving your dog a bath.
After surgery, your dog won’t be able to have a bath for 10-21 days until her incision heals.
It makes sense when you think about it – you don’t want water or soap getting inside your dog’s body and potentially causing irritation or infection.
So if your dog has a tendency to get a little stinky, plan on a bath a day or two BEFORE surgery.
You (and your dog) will be happy you did.
3. Discontinue certain supplements.
Some supplements, such as dietary enzymes, fresh ginger root, fish and krill oil, and Wobenzym N, can have a mild blood thinning effect.
Not ideal for surgery!
Talk to your vet ahead of time about which supplements your dog is taking and if any of them should be discontinued ahead of surgery.
4. Stick to the usual diet.
It can be tempting to give your dog an extra special treat the night before surgery … but resist the urge.
Rich and unusual foods can cause stomach upset, diarrhea, and even severe illness such as pancreatitis.
You don’t want your dog to experience any of that.
Plus, vomiting or diarrhea might cause your vet to decide to postpone the surgery until your dog is feeling better.
So stick to your dog’s normal diet, and promise her a treat for a day or two after the surgery.
5. Try on the cone or bodysuit.
Surgery is stressful enough. And then your dog is going to need to wear an Elizabethan collar (A.K.A. the cone of shame) or bodysuit to protect the incision.
Talk about adding insult to injury.
Getting your dog used to her cone or bodysuit ahead of time can help make the recovery period less stressful.
For cones, you can use treats to encourage your dog to put her head in it on her own. Then put it on for short periods of time, with plenty of treats and praise of course.
For bodysuits, praise your dog through each step of putting it on. Keep it on for short periods of time, with plenty of praise and treats to make wearing it a positive experience.
You will need to fill out some paperwork on the day of your dog’s surgery.
Ask about picking it up or getting it emailed to you ahead, so you have plenty of time to read through it.
The exact forms will vary from clinic to clinic, but here are some common things to expect:
- A signed statement giving permission for your dog to have surgery.
- Statement about required vaccinations.
- Statement about fleas.
- Additional services that can be done at the same time, such as nail trim or ear cleaning.
- “Bump chart” for you to mark where a lump is on your dog’s body.
- CPR/DNR form.
A Word About Fleas
Vet hospitals hate fleas.
The last thing you want is a veterinary facility infested by these blood-sucking pests.
Because of this, most clinics automatically give flea treatments to a pet who is discovered with a stowaway. Some treat every pet that walks in the door, whether they find a flea or not.
The most common treatment used in this case is a product called Capstar (nitenpyram), which starts working within 30 minutes to kill all of the fleas on the dog. It is very safe and only remains active for a couple hours.
This policy helps to keep all patients in the hospital flea-free.
CPR vs. DNR
This is the hardest part of your surgery paperwork.
You have to decide what you want the veterinary team to do in the case of an emergency if your dog goes into cardiac arrest during the procedure.
CPR = Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation
DNR = Do Not Resuscitate
This is a very personal decision, and a lot of different factors go into it. Your choice may change from dog to dog and surgery to surgery.
If your dog is young and overall in great health, you will likely want to opt for CPR.
For an older dog or one who is struggling, you may choose DNR.
There is no wrong answer. You are making the best choice for you and your dog.
Ask what CPR entails at your facility. All veterinary hospitals are capable of doing basic CPR: chest compressions, assisted breathing, and oxygen therapy.
Specialty hospitals and universities may also offer open-chest CPR. This gives the veterinarian direct access to your dog’s heart, which can make CPR more effective. But it also is a lot more invasive and will complicate the healing process afterward.
CPR will likely add to the cost of the surgery, and open-chest CPR is significantly more expensive.
The good news is that dogs who experience cardiac arrest during anesthesia are much more likely to survive than dogs whose heart and lungs stop functioning due to chronic or severe disease processes.
And the even better news? There is only an 0.17% risk of anesthetic death in dogs.
The Dreaded Cone
Yeah, we know you skipped over the first mention of The Cone.
No one likes a cone.
But you do have to use one.
After all, you don’t want to have to pay to repair that expensive surgery your dog just got.
Your veterinary hospital will likely have cones available for purchase, or you can buy one ahead in a variety of colors and styles.
There are even soft cones, which are a little more comfortable for your dog. Just make sure it has some rigid supports so your pup can’t bend or fold it back to chew at her incision!
Post-surgery bodysuits are becoming increasingly popular. These garments protect your dog’s incision, but without the knee-knocking charm of a plastic cone.
Measure your dog carefully when ordering a bodysuit, and be sure to order ahead so that it arrives in time for your dog’s surgery.
Determined chewers may be able to chew through the bodysuit, so be watchful.
Another option is an inflatable “donut” collar. Don’t skimp on the size, and test that your dog can’t reach the incision area – use a tasty treat where the incision will be and see if your dog is able to snag it.
Personally, I don’t trust the donuts, but I also have long-nosed dogs who are extremely flexible. Your mileage may vary.
By following these tips, you and your dog will be ready for surgery day!
More of a visual learner? We have a video recording of my conversation on this topic with Jim from Dog Cancer Answers:
You can read the full transcript on the episode page on the Dog Cancer Answers website.
Paws and wags,
PS: Feel free to share this article or the podcast itself with your veterinarian and their staff.
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Kate Basedow grew up training and showing dogs, and her passion for canines has affected all parts of her life. She earned a BA in English from Cornell University and an AAS in Veterinary Science from SUNY Delhi, and is a licensed veterinary technician in the state of New York. Her writing on dog-related topics has earned numerous awards from the Dog Writers’ Association of America and the Alliance of Purebred Dog Writers. Kate currently serves and adores two Belgian Tervuren and a Pembroke Welsh Corgi.