Pet Connection

When Less Is More

Smaller incisions, less pain among the benefits of minimally invasive surgical techniques

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Andrews McMeel Syndication

When Rebecca Barocas went to the veterinary clinic to pick up Anja, the 18-month-old German shepherd she had recently adopted, it was hard to tell that the 50-pound dog had just undergone spay surgery. Anja was bouncing around and then bounded into the truck before Barocas could lift her in. Barocas attributes Anja’s high spirits after what is typically major abdominal surgery to the minimally invasive laparoscopic procedure she had sought out for the dog.

Those of us who’ve had gallbladders removed, hips replaced or other surgery performed using minimally invasive techniques know the benefits: less pain and quicker recovery time. Pets needing surgery can experience the same advantages, including less time spent under anesthesia and a shorter period of hospitalization. If your pet needs joint repair, bladder stone removal, gastropexy (“tacking” the stomach to prevent bloat), fracture repair, liver or kidney biopsy or other surgery, it’s worth asking your veterinarian whether a minimally invasive procedure is available and appropriate.

Pets first benefited from minimally invasive techniques in the 1970s. The procedures allow for better visualization, magnification and lighting, as well as smaller surgical incisions.

But are these types of procedures minimally invasive to your wallet? Not necessarily. I discovered this about six years ago when I was looking into laparoscopic spay surgery for Harper, my cavalier King Charles spaniel, who was 5 years old at the time. A traditional ovariohysterectomy was about $700, while a “lap spay” was about $2,200. A more recent price check brought quotes ranging from $1,100 to $4,000.

“Unfortunately, it does not always mean lower cost for the owner because there’s a significant increase in the amount of equipment that gets used in these, but we do see benefits to the patient,” says Kevin Winkler, DVM, a veterinary surgeon who practices at Blue Pearl Specialty and Emergency Hospital in Sandy Springs, Georgia.

But for owners with pet health insurance or who can afford to pay for the procedures without financial strain, minimally invasive surgery can be a good decision. A Great Dane undergoing gastropexy, for instance, can have a 2-inch incision instead of a 12-inch incision that requires opening up the dog completely on the belly, Dr. Winkler says. “That dramatically speeds recovery, allows these guys to get back to normal much faster and decreases some of the risk associated with the large incision.”

Advanced scoping procedures have also allowed orthopedic surgeons to repair certain types of fractures and dislocations through much smaller incisions. The procedures allow for better and more rapid bone healing in dogs with significant trauma.

“Not only do we have a smaller incision from a wound standpoint, but we’re disrupting significantly less tissue that may be traumatized from the original injury,” Dr. Winkler says. “One of the areas where we have had wonderful success with minimally invasive surgery is in sacroiliac dislocations or luxations. We now have patients who are walking on these legs in 24 to 48 hours versus two weeks, so it’s been a wonderful advancement for the dogs.”

As with any surgery, not every dog, cat or other animal is necessarily a good candidate for a minimally invasive procedure. Veterinarians will look at the animal’s overall health to make a decision about the risk of anesthesia for any procedure.

Other factors: Not every condition is suited to minimally invasive surgical procedures. And not every veterinarian has the training or necessary equipment to perform them.

But for pet owners who have seen the results in themselves, their friends or relatives or their pets, there’s no going back.

“I would definitely do it again,” Barocas says. “For me, it’s the gold standard.”


Dogs adjust well

to vision loss

Q: My dog is losing her eyesight. How can I help her adjust?

A: Blindness doesn’t seem to stop the average dog. When eyesight goes, the nose and ears take over in helping the dog maneuver through the environment.

One primary factor in adjustment is how quickly vision is lost. A dog who loses vision slowly from a condition such as progressive retinal atrophy usually copes well, but one who loses vision rapidly from a nonpainful condition such as acquired retinal degeneration may take a few weeks to adjust.

The following tips may help you accustom your dog to her loss of vision.

-- Walk her on leash. As you walk, talk to her so she knows where you are.

-- Stick to the same route so she can learn how it smells along the way and become familiar with any obstacles such as curbs or steps.

-- Feed her in the same place. If you notice that she seems disoriented, take her to the food bowl. It’s a landmark of sorts that will help her reorient herself.

-- Continue to teach her new things. Using a clicker and treats as well as verbal praise are ways you can train her without the need for her to see you.

-- You may notice that she barks more often. This may be out of insecurity or simply to get your attention so she can find out where you are. Regular training sessions will help her gain confidence.

-- You can also purchase a device such as Muffin’s Halo, which my late dog Shakira wore after she lost her eyesight. It’s sort of a “bumper” that attaches to a dog’s shoulders and takes the hit if the dog comes too close to an obstacle. -- Dr. Marty Becker

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Lil Bub’s genome

brings new findings

-- Celebricat Lil Bub is known for her extra toes, short limbs, and cute tongue that hangs out of her mouth. Feline researchers were curious as the proverbial cat as to what caused the unusual characteristics that Lil Bub was born with. Thanks to crowdfunding dollars, they were able to sequence the cat’s entire genome, discovering two rare mutations. The extra toes, known as polydactylism, are due to a variation in a particular stretch of DNA. It’s sort of an on-off switch for the Sonic hedgehog gene, the same one that causes polydactyly in Key West’s “Hemingway” cats. The other traits are caused by a variation in a gene associated with a condition called osteopetrosis. Seen in mice and humans, it causes unusually dense bones and short stature. It’s the first time genetic osteopetrosis has been described in cats.

-- An 11-member veterinary team in Kingman, Arizona, performed a C-section to deliver 19 Great Dane puppies. The mother, Cleo, was brought in because of her difficult labor, but mom and pups are all doing well now.

-- A wire fox terrier named King took best in show at Westminster last month, making him the 15th of his breed to win the title. If you’re wondering what wire fox terriers are like to live with, here’s the scoop. The dogs are affectionate and sociable but have a mind of their own. They are confident, outgoing, and inquisitive dogs, highly active and into everything. The phrase that best describes them is “always on the tiptoe of expectation.” The dogs love to dig and hunt; if you have a rodent problem, a wire fox terrier will solve it for you in no time. Avoid this breed if you share your home with cats, birds, or pets such as guinea pigs, rabbits, hamsters or gerbils. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker


Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.

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