Ten Tips When Your Dog Needs Surgery

The veterinarian told us our Labrador, Orson, had a tumor in his right parathyroid gland and the only viable treatment option was to surgically remove the entire right thyroid. Five years ago, Orson had knee surgery to repair his torn ACL.  The thought of putting him through another surgery was daunting. The surgeon drew a picture explaining the details, the likely prognosis, what to expect during recovery, and the cost. Then it was up to us to make the difficult decision. Should you find yourself in the unenviable position of making a decision about surgery for your pet, keep in mind the following:

  1. Do your research. Learn as much as possible about the diagnosis, procedure, alternative treatments, and likely outcome, so you can make an educated decision about what is best.
  1. Get a second opinion. It never hurts to get a second opinion from another veterinarian.  The diagnosis may be the same, but they may provide insight the first veterinarian did not have. Our veterinarian had treated a dog a few months prior with the exact the same medical condition. When we took Orson for a second opinion, that veterinarian had not seen a case like his for many years. Our decision was made easier because our veterinarian kept us informed how well the other dog was doing after his surgery. If your animal has an uncommon medical condition, try to find a veterinarian that has recent experience with that particular condition.
  1. Check the surgeon’s qualifications. When you meet with the surgeon, be prepared with a list of questions, including questions regarding their qualifications and experience with this particular surgery.
  1. Research the facility. Make sure you are comfortable with the staff at the hospital. Remember they are the people who will be answering your calls, scheduling the follow up visits, and reassuring you that all is well. If an overnight stay is required, is someone at the facility? Can you visit?
  1. Consider the dog’s age. Without a crystal ball, it is extremely difficult to decide whether the hardship of a surgery outweighs the benefits of prolonging the dog’s life.  Orson was only 5 years old when he had his knee surgery.  He was ten at the time of his thyroid surgery and we were concerned how his body would recover from the rigors of surgery and three days in the hospital.
  1. Weigh the cost. Surgery is crazy expensive.  Make sure you understand all of the costs, including the surgery, follow up visits and medications. Sometimes it can be cost prohibitive, if so, determine the best alternatives and do what is possible to minimize any pain. Research whether there are any charities that might help you cover the cost of medical treatment. Consider purchasing pet insurance before an injury or illness occurs. (Pet Health Insurance)
  1. Prepare your home for the recovery.Prepare everything you need for the dog’s homecoming prior to the surgery.  When Orson had his knee surgery, we purchased a ramp for him to avoid steps. He started using the ramp before he went in for surgery, so he was comfortable with it. We purchased a large pen and set up Orson’s recovery area in the living room.  We took turns sleeping on the couch to keep him company.
  1. Keep the dog comfortable. The cone of shame is such a dreadful, uncomfortable collar, but it works. However, we have had dogs that cannot get comfortable with the plastic cone. Try alternatives. For Orson’s knee surgery we were able to use the “Comfy Cone.”
    Comfy cone

    Comfy cone

    Some dogs don’t like it because it blocks their vision, unlike the plastic version, but it may be worth a try. Consider using the equivalent of a cervical collar, such as a folded towel as shown on this video   This works well when the dog has been neutered or spayed. This would not be a good option if the injury is a paw, the dog could still reach it. Also check out seven other options here.

  2. Ask for help. We had friends, pet sitters, and neighbors looking in on Orson, giving him his meds and letting him outside, when we were not able to be home. It took some coordination and effort, but it is doable. Make the extra effort as the recovery is just as important as the surgery.
  1. Know you will succeed. Caring for a sick dog is work, but you will be rewarded for your efforts and your dog will get better. Orson is doing great after his thyroid surgery and we are all happy with the result.
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