I enjoy surgery so much that it is almost a love, I find it so rewarding to be able to anesthetise an animal, and whilst it is sleeping fix it or stop the pain. For me it has been obvious for a while that my path will follow that of surgery, I’ve seen as much practice as I could with a focus on surgery. And I have spent every spare hour I have within the surgery department here.
Surgery is a massive thrill, the adrenaline rush of scrubbing in and picking up a scalpel is something that I am told will never vanish. And I love this. It makes me happy doing surgery, and it makes me feel fulfilled when the dog or cat or rabbit wakes up after surgery fixed. Well sometimes it is not so simple and there is a period of rehabilitation however every single day from the surgery the poor animal is getting better.
As I get better at surgery, my understanding and experience is deepening. Where before I looked for every opportunity to cut as a chance to do what I love and take the animal to surgery I am now not so fast to want this.
I was speaking about this with one of doctors the other day who told me that many years ago he was told that the art of surgery was not doing surgery, but knowing when to do surgery.
Something that has always bothered me is that sometimes surgery is simply to fix problems caused by humans. This came to a head for me on the Ophthalmology conference weekend when Professor Ron Ofri spoke about a surgeon walking out of surgery holding up a piece of skin he removed from a dogs forehead that stretched to the floor.
I asked the question – should we as vets be performing such surgery without requiring the castration or spaying of the animal at the same time? When a breeder has a litter of puppies that all require a visit to the ophthalmologist and surgery before they are a month old? Is this ok?
It’s not just the eyes though, another common surgery is for BOAS – Brachycephalic Obstructed Airway Syndrome – where part of the soft palate is cut away because it is too long and is stopping the dog from breathing properly. Often this is combined with plastic surgery to widen the nostrils which are too narrow.
Then there are dogs that have been bred so badly that they cannot give birth naturally. They can only be born by caesarean section.
Many years ago I read a book by a surgeon from America asked to present at a UK conference on castration implants in dogs – the press thought it was about plastic surgery and filled the entire room. And the surgeon lectured about the use of “implants” to replace the testicles removed during castration – he passed around some samples and one of the attendees mentioned how lifelike they felt to be told that the ones they had were the human version…
The outcry was because vets are not allowed to carry out cosmetic procedures on animals – this is why tail docking, ear clipping etc are all outlawed as cruel because they are cosmetic. Yet now the two cases above that I mentioned are commonly happening the press is silent.
Emma Milne recently did an amazing job of raising the issue of brachycephalic dogs such as pugs that cannot breathe properly as a welfare concern which got some media attention. Pedigree dogs exposed covered some of the crazy welfare issues. And yet at crufts a unhealthy German Shepherd was allowed to win.
I can cut, however the question will be whether ethically and morally I should cut. I believe if the deformity is so great as to require surgery than that animal should not be bred from. If by surgery I can relieve pain or suffering from the animal then it may be justified – however I believe that in this case the animal should be castrated or spayed before or at the same time.