Reasons to Take Your Dog to a Board Certified Veterinary Surgeon
There are times that your dog may require a specialized surgery that your regular vet doesn’t routinely do and you may need a board certified surgeon.
It never fails; several times a week I find myself faced with a patient who requires a type of surgery I’m not in the habit of performing myself. Though I perform surgery many times every week, I typically perform several types of routine procedures on a frequent basis: spays, neuters, mass removals, tissue biopsies, dental extractions (harder than it would seem!), basic wound surgery such as laceration repair and abscess treatment, and a smattering of less-intensive orthopedic approaches such as toe and tail amputations, for example.
These surgeries are usual and customary. We do lots of them. But when the going gets tough and the surgical procedures get less familiar, we become loath to perform them.
I’m not alone; most of my colleagues in companion animal medicine (treating dogs, cats, and horses) feel the same way. We want our patients to have access to better care than we can provide.
Sometimes that means sending them to specialists who perform more complicated and varied surgical procedures than we do.
What Is a Board-Certified Veterinary Surgeon?
This is where board-certified surgeons come in. These individuals have undertaken a year-long internship and a 3-year residency, have written scholarly papers and passed a rigorous examination (one that a large percentage can’t pass the first time around). Based on this knowledge, they perform many surgical procedures every day of their working lives and as such, they’re uniquely qualified to take on certain procedures.
But beware: you want to be absolutely certain to get a board certified specialist. Accept no substitutes calling themselves “surgeons.” Veterinary medicine’s high standard of care recommends no pretenders to the name.
That’s great, you say. But how do pet owners know which surgeries are best left to the credentialed specialists?
Surgeries Commonly Referred to Veterinary Surgeons
The truth is, there’s no hard and fast rule on which pets should be referred to a veterinary surgeon.
Given the issue of financial limitations, plenty of pets don’t have access to the best possible care available because of the expense. Nonetheless, knowing whether the surgical procedure your pet requires is typically undertaken by a specialist can be an invaluable decision-making tool.
As a veterinarian (or any other occupation), you really do best what you do most. Veterinary surgeons may do procedures uncommon to the general veterinarian weekly or even daily while general vets may have the opportunity to do them once a decade. Because of the lack of opportunity and lack of training in certain procedures, many general veterinarians won’t do certain surgeries. Your only option may be to see a board-certified veterinary surgeon.
That’s why I think it’s important to let everyone know about the most common surgeries board-certified veterinary surgeons are called upon to perform.
Common reasons pets need a board certified veterinary surgeon include the following:
1. Cruciate Ligament (CCL or ACL) Repair
The cruciate ligament is a commonly injured bit of orthopedic machinery, a small piece of tissue that helps stabilize the knee joint. When it’s injured or degrades, it requires surgery to return to normal function with a minimum of arthritis and scar tissue.
This is an expensive and delicate surgery. All by itself, cruciate ligament surgery is a multibillion-dollar a year veterinary industry. And seeing as it’s become the most common surgery that board certified vet surgeons perform, for many vets it’s now a surgeon’s bread and butter. This is probably why a vet surgeon will always be the best choice should your dog need an ACL or CCL surgery. Experience is crucial in getting a good outcome.
#2 Fractures and Dislocations
Other vets can do these kinds of surgeries, but the specialized equipment and expertise required to address each individual traumatic event means these scenarios are almost always best left to the specialists.
#3 Belly Surgery
This is the kind of non-routine exploratory surgery that requires open access to the abdomen. If only a simple biopsy is required, generalists will often happily do these. But if something’s really wrong in there, a surgeon is best equipped to handle it.
#4 Cancer Surgery
This refers not so much to small skin masses but to sizable skin cancers that may be tough to resect. Many cancer surgeries will also require abdominal entry, which can be unpredictably difficult.
#5 Spinal Surgery
Spinal surgery is commonly performed on dogs with intervertebral disc disease when the disc material hits the spinal cord causing pain and paralysis. Neurologists and surgeons both do this surgery and often tussle over who’s best. Me? I think it depends on the individual surgeon and neurologist. I’ve seen great (and not so great) results of both kinds of doctors.
This is the dreaded “femoral head ostectomy, (FHO)” which a salvage procedure in many hip dysplasia cases. This surgery involves removal the knob off the femur bone (the ball that goes in to the hip socket). It is also useful in a bunch of trauma-related situations.
#7 Medial Patellar Luxation (Knee Cap Dislocation)
The medial patellar luxation repair (or “MPL repair”) is another common procedure, especially in little dogs. This is a problem where the knee cap doesn’t stay in place. As such, it can be a “fiddly” procedure that requires accuracy and experience.
#8 Serious Ear Surgery
This refers to the TECA or “total ear canal ablation.” This is another so-called salvage procedure, typically undertaken when the ears have become so chronically infected and inflamed that nothing but complete removal of the ear canal can achieve a comfortable condition.
#9 Perineal Urethrostomy
A perineal urethrostomy, commonly referred to as a “PU”, is what we vets call the procedure which re-routes the urethra in the event of life-threatening urinary obstruction. This is more common in cats but is done in dogs that have bladder stones that have caused obstructions in the urethra.
#10 Laryngeal Paralysis
When big dogs start to breathe loudly and rasp as they get older, they’ve usually got something called laryngeal paralysis. Surgeons are lifesavers here. They know just how to fix it so the airway stays open and dogs can breathe much better.
Of all of these in the list (except maybe belly or cancer surgery), this is the one surgery I’m called on to perform most often. The reason, of course, is cost. If a pet’s owner can’t afford to save a traumatized limb it’s unlikely they’ll be able to afford the surgeon’s higher amputation fee. In fact, I’ve been known to do this one for free. After all, it’s a lifesaver.
Though I’m sure there are plenty more surgeries best left to the super-pros, this list is a pretty good start. Quibble though you may over whether it’s OK for your general vet to perform your pet’s more specialized surgery, I have to say this: if you do choose to forgo a board-certified surgeon’s superior skills, please do so knowing that you had a darn good reason.
I hope this gives your more information about why your dog may need referral to a veterinary surgeon.