What Dog And Cat Parents Should Know About Pet Surgery

Pet surgery can be scary, but it doesn’t have to be!

pet surgery

Did you just find out your cat or dog needs surgery? If so, you’re probably freaking out, which is totally fair — the thought of your BFF going under the knife seems super scary.

But knowing what to expect from your pet’s surgery and how to be prepared for it can help make the whole thing way less stressful.

We spoke with Dr. Cristina Bustamante, an associate veterinarian with Caring Hands Animal Hospital in Florida and founder of Dr. B. Vet, to create this handy guide to pet surgery.

Does my dog or cat need surgery? | Questions to ask your vet before pet surgery | What to do the day before your pet’s surgery | Does pet insurance cover dog or cat surgery? | Financial assistance for dog or cat surgery

Why is pet surgery important?

Pets are operated on for two main reasons: to address a medical emergency or to improve your pet’s quality of life.

If your dog or cat needs surgery, you might be concerned about things like the cost and prognosis of your BFF’s surgical procedure.

“Most vet hospitals perform safe surgeries daily,” Dr. Bustamante told The Dodo. “In general, there are more benefits than risks when performing surgeries.”

For example, getting your cat spayed also prevents a condition called pyometra, which is a life-threatening infection in her uterus. But the benefit of getting your pet spayed outweighs the risk of the procedure, especially because there isn’t much risk.

“A routine spay surgery is low risk, but a pyometra surgery is complicated and risky,” Dr. Bustamante said.

Even higher-risk surgeries can be more beneficial than forgoing the operation.

“Some surgeries can be very risky, such as back surgeries,” Dr. Bustamante said. “However, without the surgery, the pet might risk not being able to walk.”

Does my dog or cat need surgery?

If your pet’s having a medical emergency that can only be fixed with surgery, then he will obviously need the surgery.

And in a lot of non-emergency cases, dog or cat surgery is still the best option, which is why your vet’s recommending it. However, sometimes other treatment options can be just as effective as surgery.

“For example, some dogs with knee conditions do very well with surgery to correct the problem,” Dr. Bustamante said. “But other pets do as well with medical management such as pain medications and physical therapy.”

Questions to ask your vet before pet surgery

If you do move forward with surgery, there are a few questions you should ask before your pet’s procedure.

How much does it cost?

Dog and cat surgery isn’t cheap, so the cost is probably at the forefront of your mind. According to Dr. Bustamante, you should shop around at several places to see what the varying costs of the procedures are, as well as what those costs do and don’t include.

“Make sure that you are comparing different clinic prices,” Dr. Bustamante said. “For example, some hospitals might have reduced cost for a surgery, but they might not include laboratory tests, post-operative pain medication or radiographs that the other hospital did include.”

What tests does my pet need ahead of his surgery?

Depending on the surgery your dog or cat needs, he’s probably going to need some tests done ahead of time in order to move forward with the procedure.

According to Dr. Bustamante, things like X-rays are needed to make sure his lungs are healthy enough to safely undergo anesthesia. And blood work could be required before your pet’s surgery to check on his liver and kidneys.

What type of anesthesia does he need?

Finding out whether your pet’s going to be given general or local anesthesia’s important so you can know what to expect. Local anesthesia only numbs part of your pet’s body, while general anesthesia will make him unconscious during surgery.

In addition to asking about the kind of anesthesia your dog or cat will receive, you should also ask who’s monitoring your pet’s anesthesia. Specifically, you should ask if they’re able to monitor blood pressure, heart rate and oxygenation. You should also ask if they can provide intravenous fluids, too.

“Ask your veterinarian how often they perform the procedure and if they recommend having a board-certified specialist perform the procedure instead,” Dr. Bustamante said. “General practice veterinarians can perform most surgeries; however, there are also board-certified surgeons, [who] usually have more experience and more advanced equipment. There are also many hospitals that have board-certified anesthesiologists!”

What will my pet’s after-surgery care be like?

What your pet’s aftercare will entail may vary depending on the surgery he’s having.

There are a few different things your vet might recommend: You may need certain products or medication to help your dog or cat recover. Your pet might not be able to go to the groomer or have a bath for a while. He might not be able to be around other pets or animals while he’s healing. He might have to stay at the hospital for a while after his procedure.

Knowing all of this ahead of your pet’s surgery time will help you prepare your BFF for the most comfortable recovery possible.

What to do the day before your pet’s surgery

Dr. Bustamante recommends not doing anything differently or switching up your pet’s routine unless otherwise instructed by your vet.

“Usually pets are asked to be fasted about 12 hours prior to surgery,” Dr. Bustamante said. “If surgery is in the morning, we usually recommend that the last meal be prior to 9 p.m. and then no breakfast the next day.”

If you’re worried your pet might be nervous about going to the operating room and want to give him any calming products beforehand, let your vet know.

“Make sure to inform your veterinarian of any medications or supplements that you have given your pet prior to surgery,” Dr. Bustamante said.

Does pet insurance cover dog or cat surgery?

Pet insurance can be a huge help when it comes to making dog and cat surgery more affordable. But there’s something you should keep in mind.

If you enroll in pet insuranceafter you find out your BFF needs surgery, the reason for his surgery is considered a pre-existing condition, which typically isn’t covered — meaning the surgery required to fix it wouldn’t be covered.

“Unfortunately most owners find out about health insurance when the pet is already sick, and insurance will no longer cover the pre-existing condition,” Dr. Bustamante said.

That’s why it’s a good idea to sign up for pet insurance ASAP, so if something were to happen, it would be covered.

(If you’re in the market for a plan, you’ll want to check out Fetch by The Dodo since it's made by and for adoring pet parents, and because it's the most comprehensive coverage in the U.S. and Canada, covering things that other providers don't or charge extra for.)

Financial assistance for dog or cat surgery

If you didn’t sign up for pet insurance in time, there’s other financial assistance for pet surgery you could look into.

According to Dr. Bustamante, a lot of hospitals will set up payment plans if you can’t cover the full cost up front. You could also try going to a low-cost clinic or joining a crowdfunding website to raise money to cover your pet’s surgery.

“Some surgeries can also be performed for free,” Dr. Bustamante said. “There are free community spay/neuter surgeries.”

So now that you know a little more about what to expect from dog and cat surgery, you don’t have to panic about it!

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