A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Your Dog’s Surgery

Worried about your dog’s big day at the clinic? Put your mind at ease by reading up on these standard surgery practices.

Surgery is sometimes necessary to maintain your dog’s health. By: paradisecoastie

You leave your pet at the veterinarian for an operation. How does that feel?

Even if Cooper is going in for routine surgery, “emotional” probably sums up your feelings because it’s the worst thing in the world to walk away from the clinic without your pet. But — hopefully — it’s comforting to know your pet is in the best place to take care of his needs.

People with pets all have different ways of coping when entrusting their vet with their loved one’s care. Some people want to know every last little detail of the procedure, while others want to just sign the consent form and go (as they are too emotional to discuss things).

So what happens after you walk out the door and your dog is admitted for surgery? For those who would like to know, here is the lowdown on a dog’s day of surgery at a typical vet clinic.

Pre-Op Checks

Your pet arrives at the clinic feeling slightly suspicious because you forgot to give him breakfast.

With you or after admission, the vet checks the patient over, paying particular attention to the dog’s heart, lungs and circulatory system. This way, we’re on top of any new health problems and can select the safest anesthetic protocol.

Blood Tests

Your boxer may have more bounce than a bungee, but if he’s 7 years old or over, I’d advise pre-anesthetic blood tests. These tell us if there are any problems that need attention first, such as mild dehydration or tired kidneys, and alert us to problems with the potential to cause anesthetic complications.

Most clinics run blood in-house, and it takes 20 minutes or so to get the results back. Meanwhile, Cooper waits in his own comfy bed, still feeling miffed about that overlooked meal.

Pre-surgery blood tests tell the vet what kind of pre-med injection the dog needs. By: dmahometown

Intravenous Fluids

If a problem shows up or the patient is elderly, he’ll need an intravenous fluid drip before having an anesthetic. This promotes good blood circulation across the kidneys and protects against low blood pressure during anesthesia.

The vet or vet tech preps the patient for the drip. This means clipping a patch of fur over the vein on a foreleg to insert a flexible catheter. All your pet feels is a quick scratch, but if your dog or cat is sensitive, the skin is numbed first with local anesthetic cream.

The drip tubing is then attached to the catheter and secured in place with a dressing.

Don’t Miss: Are Some Dogs More Sensitive to Anesthesia Than Others?

Pre-Med Injection

The blood test results help the vet decide on the drugs and dose for the pre-med injection, which prepares the patient for an anesthetic.

The pre-med is part sedative and part pain relief. It reduces the amount of anesthetic needed and makes for greater stability. If your dog’s surgery is very painful, extra pain relief is given now to stop the pain before it starts.

Depending on drugs, dose and delivery method, the pre-med takes a few minutes or up to half an hour to work. During this time, Cooper rests quietly in his bed, still feeling hungry but increasingly sleepy.


Once the patient is sufficiently relaxed, he’s ready for the anesthetic. This is done in a prep room just outside the sterile operating room.

Squishy-faced breeds, such as pugs, bulldogs and Boxers, may be given oxygen via a face mask for several minutes immediately before their anesthetic, which ensures their blood is rich in oxygen before they go to sleep.

Check out these tips on post-surgery care:

Cooper is given a short-acting anesthetic injection into his catheter, which gives enough time to slide a tube into his windpipe. Anesthetic gas is delivered via this tube, and the dog stays asleep.

A vet tech monitors the dog during his anesthetic. In addition, equipment measures blood pressure and heart rate plus oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, which helps us detect problems early and stabilize the patient.


The surgery is over! The anesthetic gas is turned off, and Cooper wakes up. He’s kept warm on a heating pad or with blankets with someone by his side until he’s fully awake, sitting up and responsive.

When both vet and vet tech are happy he’s doing well, he goes back to bed for further monitoring.

Home Time

Cooper’s up on his paws after having relieved himself in the clinic’s yard and eaten a little food (yay, breakfast at long last!). One last check from the vet, and all being well, Cooper gets to go home and back into your loving care for his recuperation.

And the best thing is…You’re really, really sorry about the skipped food thing and make up for it with lots of pets and kisses.


This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS. It was last reviewed May 13, 2016.

Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS

View posts by Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS
Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS, is a veterinarian with nearly 30 years of experience in companion animal practice. Dr. Elliott earned her Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery from the University of Glasgow. She was also designated a Member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. Married with 2 grown-up kids, Dr. Elliott has a naughty puggle called Poggle, 3 cats, and a bearded dragon.

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