Q: I have a Wheaten terrier puppy that needs to be spayed. Do you do the procedure laparoscopically? Are there ways to minimize the procedure so it is less traumatic?
A: Laparoscopic procedures may be less invasive, but in veterinary environments they’re typically considered highly time consuming. Moreover, they require expensive equipment only specialty facilities can afford. Which probably explains why I don’t know of a single nonspecialty practice that performs this common female sterilization procedure laparoscopically.
Further, it’s clear that unless a veterinarian can acquire enough of a familiarity with the procedure so that it becomes routine, the pet may be at a greater risk of complications associated with both the length of time it takes to complete the laparoscopic version of the procedure and the relative inexperience of the surgeon.
Let me clarify the reasoning for this, as explained to me by a board-certified veterinary surgeon who performs laparoscopic surgery:
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The more a surgeon undertakes a certain procedure the more proficient he or she becomes in performing it. This expertise typically translates to fewer complications and greater speed. Speed, by the way, figures significantly in the reduction of anesthetic complications and infections.
Because those who undertake laparoscopic spays are unlikely to perform anywhere near as many of these procedures as the average general practitioner, for whom the removal of ovaries and/or uterus is routine, the complication rate is doubtless higher. (Incidentally, so few spays are performed laparoscopically that statistics for this disparity are unavailable.)
Finally, there’s a reasonable question to be asked about invasiveness: Is the laparoscopic spay really less invasive?
Maybe not. Plenty of veterinarians are so expert in this procedure that they can perform the procedure through tiny incisions that rival a laparoscope’s. Plus, the laparoscopic procedure requires three separate incisions, not one. Because incision site issues are the most common kind of complications, this too makes me question the laparoscopic spay.
Indeed, I think you’d be way better off concentrating on the second half of your question and worry more about finding a veterinarian who can minimize the stress of this common abdominal procedure.
To that end, ask your veterinarian about more simple means of addressing trauma:
Pre-surgical weight loss, removing the ovaries alone instead of the uterus and ovaries (in the case of a medium dog like a Wheaton, the size of the incision will probably be the same either way). Nerve blocks, post-operative sedation and other progressive pain management techniques can be indispensable, too.
Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is drpattykhuly.com. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.