When to Visit a Veterinary Surgeon

The chance to cut is the chance to cure. This is a classic line out of the mouths of veterinary surgeons who relish their time spent in the operating room, donned in surgical garb and cutting to the beat of their favorite music. Welcome to part five in a series of blog posts about veterinary specialists.

During their residency training programs, surgical specialists learn about surgery on every conceivable body part. They must feel comfortable whether fixing a broken bone, removing a lung lobe, or repairing a torn loop of intestine. Following residency training some surgeons go on to subspecialize (orthopedics, soft tissue, cancer surgery, joint replacements, organ transplantation), but most are willing and able to cut whatever comes their way. Surgeons tend to be the “go to docs” for difficult to diagnose lameness issues or gait abnormalities, whether or not surgery is needed to fix the problem.

When should your dog or cat be evaluated by a board certified veterinary surgeon? Here are some suggestions:

  • A surgical procedure has been recommended for your pet and you would like a second opinion.
  • Your pet is in need of a complicated or major surgical procedure. Consider working with a doc who performs this particular surgery multiple times a year rather than only once every few years. Additionally, when working with a surgical specialist, your pet will more likely have access to state of the art anesthetic monitoring along with post-operative round-the-clock attention and pain management.
  • Your family vet has recommended surgical removal of a tumor. Surgical specialists tend to be far more aggressive when it comes to removing cancerous growths and this is exactly what you should want for your pet. Far better to remove the tumor in its entirety the first time around rather than subjecting your dog or cat to a second surgery when the biopsy report reveals “dirty margins”.
  • Your pet has a lameness issue or gait abnormality that isn’t getting better or is getting worse despite multiple visits with your family vet.
  • The breed you fancy is prone to orthopedic issues. For example, most large breed dogs are predisposed to hip dysplasia. A visit with a veterinary surgeon will allow you to preemptively learn more about this problem as well as any preventive measures you can take at home.

To find a board certified veterinary surgeon where you live or to learn more about this specialty, visit the American College of Veterinary Surgeons.

Has your pet ever been evaluated by a surgical specialist? What was the reason and what was the outcome?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

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5 Responses to “When to Visit a Veterinary Surgeon”

  1. Julie Cook says:

    I’ve been going to the same vet for 19 yrs I trusted her judgement. I have a 8 yr old GSD that I had xrayed when she was 2 and vet told me she had hip dysplaysia, calluses on elbows I should leave the elbows alone so I had her spayed started glucosamine, vet said trot her along side bike and get her swimming so I did. This past year the bike rides seemed to be bothering her when we went for 6month check up I asked about adequan and started her on that vet suggested stem cell surgery at our next exam told vet her right elbow was bothering her she said try putting sock on it. Then my dog started stumbling took her in xray done was told arthritis in shoulders. I decided then to go see holistic vet, he is also penn hip certified had my vet email all my dogs xrays to new guy I was stunned to find out my dog doesnt have hip dysplasia hips are good! However elbows very severe osteoartritis, moderate osteoarthritis in knees and spine is deterioating 3 lower discs have fused together shoulders are fine. This is when I found out most vets do not know how to read xrays find a vet radiologist. This was all incredibly upsetting but can only blame myself for not knowing this. Now what about Stem Cell who do I trust? If I had said ok to original vet she was going to do stem cell on hips thankfully I decided to try adequan 1st will it help new vet suggested it for elbows. Warning folks wherever you go do your homework 1st and get those second opinions

  2. Lisa Waggoner says:

    Nancy, thanks for always posting such sound advice for the pet owning public and us dog trainers too!

  3. I visited a veterinary surgeon last year with my beloved old Cavalier, Murphy. We had already had an X-ray and ultrasound, and the consensus was a splenic tumor, probably hemangiosarcoma. The surgeon was very clear and compassionate, and, in fact, my summary of our visit with her that I posted on my magazine, Bridging the Paradigms, has helped many people trying to make sense of a complex issue. The surgeon was clear that we would never know if the tumor was cancer or what kind unless it was removed, but her extensive experience led to her conclusion that it was in fact hemangiosarcoma. She told me what what would happen in the surgery, that they could compensate for age and so on, and also that we would only be buying my beloved a few months, and those complicated by recovery and chemotherapy. She gave us the information we needed to make an informed compassionate decision, and actually supported our decision to not have surgery. Surprising in some ways, as you don’t expect a surgeon to say that. In short, I found the visit comforting and informative, and never doubted our decision for comfort and quality over longevity. Murphy and I had almost two more months together. I would urge everyone to have a consult if a complex surgery is suggested, because you need all the experience available to help. But make sure, too, that you consult a surgeon who’s realistic and supportive and not simply gung-ho to ‘solve’ the problem for you. I knew a human surgeon who convinced my mother to have a surgery everyone else had ruled out–and she died a few hours later. Go for love, informed choice, and people with a lot of experience.

  4. Linda says:

    Yes, my Pekingese continued to have trouble with sneezing and breathing. We went to a surgeon and had a biopsy which showed there was a large growth in the nasal passage– and it was not malignant. We did the surgery and this ten year old Peke had five more years! He was almost 15 when he died.

  5. Amy says:

    My diabetic came to me with nine mammary tumors and her regular vet insisted on taking them off at the same time as her spay, which was needed for control of her diabetes. Her diabetes was better than when she had her hormones but not better than the end-part of her cycle. She grew new tumors on her chest and the internal medicine doctor I took her to thought getting rid of those would help her diabetes. So she went to the surgery side but it turned out there wasn’t enough tissue left from the first surgery for a second surgery to be successful so no surgery :-( . She also went to a dental specialist to get her dental disease under control (and lose 11 teeth), but that didn’t help the diabetes either. In retrospect I think the cancer cells were greedily eating the glucose and helping her diabetes. She got put on a cox-2 inhibitor and special diabetes food, and was fairly comfortable but she died from something else soon after all this.