What really happens when your pet is desexed?

The process of desexing a dog or cat has become a common occurrence that the skill required, risks and technicality are often overlooked. This causes desexing to almost be classed as being in the same realm of having a tooth pulled ourselves. But trust me.. as someone that is often 'behind the scenes', it is not!

Make no mistake, the procedure your pet has had or is going to have is invasive and should be treated with the same level of concern as any other surgical procedure. With around 250,000 cats and dogs being euthanised every year, the benefits outweigh the risk, but, you still want to be aware of the potential dangers that are associated. 

 

ARRIVAL AND ADMISSION

When you arrive at the clinic you will be asked a series of questions pertaining to your pet's health. Does he have any allergies? Is he on any medications? etc. 

You will have the option to have pre-anaesthetic bloods conducted, as well as IVFT for the procedure. Many clinics have made this their standard and basic level of care, while some still offer these as additional options at an extra cost.

While many animals have been desexed without either, there are always some that unfortunately never wake up. I recommend that everyone take both options every time, because would you really go under a full general anaesthetic and say to your doctor... 'It's ok, don't worry about giving me the best care today'? No! 

Pre-anesthetic Bloods

This involves taking a blood sample from your pets arm (cephalic vein), or from his jugular (sounds worse than it is). The sample is then processed in-house (within the Veterinary clinic) and the results are available within minutes. The purpose of this test is to focus on and check the function of the liver and kidneys, as these are the main organs that are under strain during an anaesthetic.

There is some debate as to what age this should be done. The best way to think of it is this... most of the time the tests come back with no problems, especially in young dogs, but there are always the occasional cases where it shows some potentially worrying results, where either treatment or ongoing monitoring is required. As a general rule, if your pet is a senior (over 7 years of age), this should be considered a basic necessity prior to surgery.  

IVFT - Fluids

This is called Intravenous Fluid Therapy (IVFT) and means putting your pet on a saline drip before, during and after his surgery. A cannula would be inserted into your pets cephalic vein and taped there to keep it secure during the procedure and recovery.

This is exactly what would happen to you if you went in for any kind of surgery.

Using IVFT is beneficial no matter the age and no matter the duration of the surgery. It will help to regulate your pets blood pressure, help to flush the anaesthetic drug out of his system after surgery, and also help support him during recovery by keeping him hydrated. All in all, it makes for a safer surgery. 

I personally have always provided my dog with IVFT, even for the smallest of surgeries like stitching up his paw. 

 

BEHIND THE ADMISSION DOOR

This surprisingly tends to be the area with the most questions for pet owners. Where will he be before and after the surgery? Will he be alone? Will he be with other dogs/cats?

It is perfectly natural to be concerned, and I don't feel that any pet owner should feel that they need to 'dull' their nerves down during admission in worry of being seen as overprotective. You should be overprotective, and personally, I find it more 'odd' when the owner has no interest in the details of the surgery or recovery. 

If I was dropping my dog off to someone that I didn't know for surgery, I would want to see where he will be for the day, who is operating and who will be nursing him. So when it comes time for your dog to be desexed, or have a surgery of any kind, ask all the questions you want, because if you don't, it is going to be a very long and stressful day for you otherwise. 

After you have discussed your options and signed the required paperwork, your dog will be walked (or carried if necessary) out to a kennel area and placed into a cage or a run, depending on his size. This area can be a little unnerving for some, but the view of other animals is restricted to help alleviate stress. Dogs are super sensitive to their environment, and with the overflowing level of scents from every other animal, it can take a few minutes to adjust, but most of the time they just relax right into the situation. Animals are amazingly adaptable... it is us owners that are not. 

Prior to the surgery, your pet will undergo a full general health check by a vet or nurse, checking:

  • Heart Rate
  • Respiratory Rate
  • Mucous Membrane Colour (gum colour)
  • Capillary Refill Time (pressure is applied to the gum when released the time until the colour returns to normal is counted) 
  • Temperature
  • Listening of his heart to check for any abnormalities
  • Tenting of the skin (to check for dehydration) 
  • Checking of his pulse 
  • Blood is drawn (if he is having Pre-GA bloods conducted) 

If your pet is decided to be of good health after the assessment (and his Pre-GA bloods have been reviewed), he will be injected with a pre-med, subcutaneously (under the skin). This pre-med is designed to cause a low level of sedation to help his induction to a full general anaesthetic as calm and smooth as possible. 

It takes around 20 minutes for this pre-med to take effect, after this your pet is ready to have his IVFT connected (if you selected this) and undergo a full general anaesthetic in preparation for surgery. 

 

 

DESEXING SURGERY - WHAT HAPPENS?

Here is the part that every owner worries about. Whether it is a spey or castrate, they each come with their own risks which you want to be aware of.  

 

Spey

When a female dog is spayed, their entire uterus is removed through a small incision in the centre of their abdomen. Yes, that's right... a complete hysterectomy. When women have a hysterectomy they need hormone support, but don't worry, a dogs and cats body deal with this very differently and do not require any hormone support after their surgery. Just some TLC during recovery. 

Some people believe that desexing a female dog or cat effects their personality but this is untrue and they bounce back like nothing has happened within a few days, assuming there are no complications. 

Once the uterus is removed it is securely stitched just above the cervix.

If an ovary, or even part of an ovary is left behind, your dog or cat can actually still show signs of going into heat. This is rare but has been known to happen. If you suspect this may be the case with your girl make sure you contact your veterinarian who conducted the surgery. 

 

Here is a video of a cat being spayed by an experienced Veterinarian. If surgeries make you squeamish I would not recommend watching this video. I do not find this video gruesome by any means.

 

Castrate

Most men cringe at the thought of having their tubes tied, but will send their dog in for castration without a second thought. Surprising when in actual fact, tubes being tied is far less invasive and painful than an entire castration.

Castrations are performed through an incision made between the head of the sheath and the testicular sacks. The testicles are then pushed upwards to expose them through the incision where they can be grasped and pulled out to be removed.

The act of castrating does not change a dogs behaviour when they are young (around 6 months). It can, however, reduce the testosterone-fuelled anger than can spark up in certain situations in older dogs. If your dog is over 1 year of age, it likely has some ingrained behaviours already that castration will not fix or change. Such as, urinating on every second leaf while walking, or marking of furniture. These will now require some solid training. 

Another difference between castrating when your dog is 6 months old as opposed to 18 months, for example, is if you have a larger 'beefier' breed of dog. Desexing him young can reduce his muscle gain slightly, but will not have any effect over his performance or agility. 

 

WHAT TO DO POST-SURGERY?

Remember, your pet has been through major surgery and still has anaesthetic on board until late evening after surgery. Here are a few points for you to keep in mind:

  • Only feed a small dinner... half what you would normally feed as too much may cause vomiting. Or, only offer a treat to get him through the night. 
  • Animals are more sensitive to noise after an anaesthetic, so find somewhere quiet and away from noise or children
  • Animals are also more sensitive to the cold after an anaesthetic. It is important to ensure they are provided with adequate warmth. 
  • If you have been provided with an e-collar to stop him from licking, then keep this on at all times. Any pulled stitches or infections may be another anaesthetic. If you were not provided with one I suggest you go back in and purchase one. 
  • After the first 24 to 48 hours, chances are he is going to want to run around like a maniac again. This is where you need to step in as a parent and stop him. The first 5 days are essential healing days and he needs to be well-rested. Overactivity puts strain on the internal sutures and also causes friction with the external ones, increasing the chance of burst stitches and infections. 

 

 

FINAL KEY POINTS

  • If your female dog was desexed whilst on heat, you must keep her separate for 2 weeks to 1 month after her surgery (ideally 1 month), as she will still have a scent and if mated it can be life-threatening for her. I recommended waiting until her heat is finished if possible. Her sutures will also be under more tension if she is desexed while in heat, increasing the chances of complications.  
  • The stitches will stay in for 10 days, so no bathing or swimming, and keep that E-collar on!
  • Keep exercise to a minimum for at least the first 5 days, but preferably the entire 10 days. Any running or jumping will put strain on the stitches and can cause breakages and/or infections. 
  • You can never give too much TLC! 

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