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West Sussex

RH16 3EQ

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Laparoscopic spays – the facts

Laparoscopic surgery, commonly called ‘keyhole’ surgery, has been the standard way to perform certain operations for years in human medicine. It enables surgeons to access the inside of the abdomen (tummy) without the need for large incisions (cuts). A small tube containing a light source and camera (the laparoscope) is passed through a small incision into the abdomen. In people it can be used to help diagnose conditions by vision alone, but surgical instruments can also be passed through other small holes in order to perform camera guided surgery or biopsies.

The veterinary profession has only recently started using this type of surgery, with the most common procedure being the spay. Additional equipment costs and training mean it cannot be performed in most first opinion clinics. However it is on the rise and here we can share some reasons why.

What is a spay?

Firstly let’s clarify what we mean by ‘spay’. It’s a term used for de-sexing or neutering a female dog, preventing her from reproducing. It can refer to removal of just the ovaries (ovariectomy), or more conventionally in the UK, removal of the ovaries and uterus (ovariohysterectomy).

Why should I have my dog spayed?

  • It prevents pups. Thousands of unwanted dogs are put to sleep every year because there aren’t enough homes. You would be doing your bit to help.
  • Neutering massively reduces the risk of breast cancer, particularly if carried out before the first season. It also prevents infection of the womb (pyometra). Both are common and can be fatal.
  • Pregnancy and birth can be risky for mum, even ending in surgery for some. Caring for a pregnant dog through her pregnancy, birth, and looking after her litter is hard work. Some dogs can have 12 puppies in just one litter. Costs can spiral and it’s quite a responsibility to find that many good homes.
  • Unspayed female dogs may have false pregnancies which can cause behavioural issues.
  • An unspayed dog is more likely to direct their amorous attention towards your favourite auntie or much-loved blanket!
  • Unspayed females have seasons, producing a messy, bloody discharge for 3 weeks or more, every 6 months, attracting other dogs

How does a laparoscopic spay differ from conventional spay?

During conventional spays the incision, made through the underside of her abdomen (midline), needs to be big enough to be able to see and remove the uterus and ovaries. We call this open surgery.

With laparoscopy the laparoscope and instruments are inserted through tiny incisions in the body wall. A monitor displays the real time image so the surgeon can direct the equipment. Gas is used to inflate the tummy for a clearer view. The wounds are typically smaller than the size of a 1p coin, although occasionally larger.

A laparoscopic spay involves removal of the ovaries, leaving the uterus in place. The

benefits of neutering mainly come from removing the hormonal influence of the ovaries, and there is little evidence of issues when the uterus remains.

What are the advantages of laparoscopy?

  • The keyhole procedure is quicker (in experienced hands) resulting in a shorter anaesthetic.
  • Laparoscopic incisions are usually much smaller, resulting in less tissue trauma, less pain, and reduced risk of postoperative infections and wound complications. Your pet will be given pain relief whichever surgical route is chosen.
  • Laparoscopy allows superb visualisation of the surgical field. The magnified view is often better than achieved during traditional open surgeries. Better visualisation in the right hands means safer, more accurate surgery.
  • Pets have shorter recovery times, ideal for boisterous and active dogs as they don’t need to rest for as long as with open surgery.

Are there any disadvantages?

  • Laparoscopic surgery requires expensive equipment and training, making it a higher cost option.
  • Laparoscopy still requires a general anaesthetic, which is never risk free. Our vets can discuss the risks, carry out a preoperative examination, and explain any recommended precautions.
  • Inflation of the abdomen with gas can cause some postoperative discomfort, however it is thought to be minimal compared with open surgery. The increased pressure in the abdomen that comes with gas inflation gives rise to extra anaesthetic considerations which need to be monitored, and addressed as needed.
  • Occasionally unforeseen circumstances may require conversion to a more conventional approach, however this is rare.
  • In smaller dogs the incision size of an open spay may equal the sum of the incision site sizes with laparoscopy, so the relative benefit may be lost.

When is the best time for spaying?

Spaying before the first season greatly reduces the risk of mammary tumours, but the exact time is still under debate. Using current evidence either neutering before the first season (but not before 4 months of age), or in between the first and the second seasons would be sensible.

Some dogs may benefit from delaying a little. Our vets are able to examine your pet and discuss individual factors such as breed type to help you decide when to go ahead with the surgery.

What should I expect postoperatively?

After any anaesthetic your dog may be quieter than normal for the first 12-24 hours. Our team can recommend an easy to digest food to offer the evening after the surgery. Pain relief will be prescribed to help reduce discomfort but as there is less tissue trauma with this surgery they often need less, and for less time than with open surgery.

It’s important your dog does not interfere with the wounds. Usually a cone collar is the most effective deterrent, which many dogs dislike. There are alternatives we can discuss if your dog is particularly distressed by it. Rest is important.

It’s advisable to check the wounds daily for redness, pain, swelling, discharge or heat. We will carry out a post op check a few days after surgery but are always available if there are concerns.

If you are considering a laparoscopic spay, would like to make arrangements for this, or simply talk it through, please contact us and we will be happy to help.