Under the knife
From hunting dogs to ferrets, surgical procedures are likely to occur either through accident or necessity. Veterinarian Dr Karen Davies says even routine surgery can be stressful for owners and their animals but except in rare cases there is little to wo
With hunting dogs the most common things we see are desexing surgeries and injuries.
With some of your older dogs it may be that we need to take x-rays chasing arthritis or dental issues but that is generally not until after a dog has finished its working life.
With a routine desexing, we will do a health check prior to operating to make sure the animal is fit and well enough for surgery. We might ask you to consider running a basic blood panel to make sure the animal’s kidneys and liver are functioning normally to ensure they can metabolise the anaesthetic and wake up well from it.
Sometimes we do find little red herrings but that doesn’t mean we can’t perform the procedure, it might be as simple as changing the anaesthetic choice.
Assuming everything is well on the general health check, we like the animals to be as clean as possible because we don’t want to make an incision through the skin, particularly with bitch spays into the abdomen, if there is a risk of infection.
We can scrub the general area but it is better for us and for the patient if the animal comes in properly cleaned.
Animals need to be fasted to reduce the risk of vomiting and regurgitation while either under the anaesthetic or at the time of waking up from the anaesthetic. If they vomit up food, there is a risk of choking and sometimes they can actually inhale, which can lead to pneumonia.
Don’t think that because the animal needs to go in with an empty stomach you need to give them a big feed the night before; this causes a delay in the digestive process and they will still have a belly full of food in the morning.
Normal food 12 hours before and water up until they come in is fine.
Desexing is a common and routine procedure; you can opt for a hormone implant, however, they come with their own issues.
There is an implant for male dogs that invokes sterility for 12 months but the cost of the implant is generally around the same cost as the surgical procedure, which obviously provides lifelong sterility.
If a hunter wants to use the dog at stud in the future but wants its mind on the job in the interim, then an implant is an option.
We can use hormones to chemically sterilise a range of animals, including ferrets.
Recovery is different for animals. After surgery people are confined and immobilised for at least the first few days but a dog will wake from surgery and immediately want to sit, stand and move about, placing pressure on the wound site.
It is important to try to keep animals quiet to allow the wound to heal without the risk of separation. We can do our best to tell them not to pull the sutures out but they don’t understand that language so we have to intervene to make sure they can’t traumatise the wound. That is why we use Elizabethan collars or jackets or whatever is necessary to keep it safe.
For more complicated procedures like ligament repair or a fracture, it might be several weeks that you have to keep the patient quiet — your vet will provide strategies to achieve that.
On the injury front, minor lacerations can be treated with a surgical antiseptic, then stapled or surgically glued together but neither is as stable as suturing. If you carry a surgical stapler in your medical kit, you can clean and stabilise the wound in the field before seeking veterinary treatment.
Even routine procedures are not without risk. Anaesthetic is a risk at any time and that applies across the species, but it can be managed so long as we identify any underlying health issues.
The complications you have are usually when you don’t know of an underlying problem and it catches you by surprise. It is extremely rare; if animals came in with a neon sign over their head so we could identify them that would be great but they don’t. Vets will always do their best but they are not gods.
We all carry drugs to kick-start the systems again if something does go wrong.
Surgery of any kind comes at a cost but pet insurance is still a bit of a minefield. Essentially, there are only two underwriters: Lloyds of London for all the pet plan policies, which are like your car insurance, they have a basic excess and then they will pay out the balance of any claim.
Hollard Insurance underwrites the rest of the policies, which are what I term a shared care policy (similar to health insurance) where there is a fixed percentage of the procedure covered and the insurer pays the balance.
It really is important to do your research. Even the comparison websites can be difficult to navigate because of the range of policies like accident only, accident and illness and premium coverage.
Veterinarian Dr Karen Davies owns and uses hunting dogs and has broadened her expertise to include animal rehabilitation, animal physiotherapy and animal hydrotherapy services. Readers of Field & Game Magazine can draw on her experience and expertise by submitting questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr Karen Davies