Category: Surgery (page 2 of 3)

Spaying Saves Lives & Families

The following are true stories. *Names have been changed to protect the furry and innocent.

hugging dogThe past few months have brought up a few emotional challenges as a veterinarian. But none more difficult than those cases and patients whose problems could have been avoided. On more than one occasion, technicians that I work with and myself have surrounded a patient as we said goodbye and more than a few tears were shed. It’s not only the situation that was disheartening, but also the circumstances of how we got there.

Maggie* was middle to older aged shepherd cross who was brought in to the clinic for vaginal discharge. The next question is always the crucial one…is she spayed? In her case, the answer was “no” and the diagnosis became much more suspicious for a pyometra (uterine infection). She was an otherwise healthy dog. The blood tests further heightened my suspicion and this is where we ran into problems. Financial costs were a concern for Maggie’s family. Further diagnostics were not an option, but more importantly, neither was treatment. Treatment which would have involved surgery including hospitalization, IV fluids, antibiotics, and pain medications can be quite expensive. Every attempt was made to find a financial solution that would work. Even a payment plan was offered of which the terms of could not be met by her family. Re-homing her was not desired by her family and sadly, euthanasia was elected.

Gertie* was another patient who presented with vaginal discharge that looked like pus. She was a middle aged English Bulldog who had previously had a C-section. She was not feeling well for a few days prior to her examination and her family had to decide what to do for her as well as figure out finances. They agreed to go to surgery where I came across a most unusual finding….a gigantic ovary. The ovary was closely attached to the kidney on that side of the body and had extremely enlarged blood vessels. I was able to remove it, explore the rest of her abdomen, and finish the surgery.

Gertie took an incredibly long time to wake up, much longer than it normally takes. We began to worry and started looking into causes to explain what was happening. Ultimately, we went back into surgery only to discover an abdomen full of blood & blood clots. Calmly checking everything, my colleague & I noted that all 6 ligatures were intact and in place and we could not find the cause of the bleeding. Given the appearance of the ovary earlier, we were suspicious of a malignant tumor which may have weakened tissues or spread to other organs. With the constant flow of blood and no way to stop it, in addition to her poor recovery thus far, her family made the decision to let her go. I felt a sickness and surge of emotion as her heart stopped and the monitors went silent.

Two dogs and two different situations. In both cases, pets’ lives ended and the bond with their family broken prematurely. And patients like Maggie and Gertie are not the only ones; this happens almost daily within the veterinary profession and with cats as well. Myself and the rest of the veterinary team hate this part of our jobs. The knowledge that we can save lives and help animals, but in some circumstances fail to achieve that goal, is gut wrenching. A simple ovariohysterectomy (spay) surgery years earlier could have avoided both of these incidents. Month after month, we end up euthanizing patients for potentially preventable issues. I understand that costs can be an issue but many areas have programs or clinics that can help. Alternatively, I strongly recommend either looking into pet insurance or make a savings account for your pet. Every time you get paid, just put away a little bit for Fluffy or Rover in case of those larger expenses or unexpected emergencies. Talk with your veterinarian if you have concerns and maybe get a pet insurance plan in place. So if you are reading this, please listen to your veterinarian when it comes to preventative care. It can save your pet and allow the bond you have to remain strong for as many years as it should rather than be ending too soon.

Disclaimer: All blog posts may contain opinions which are my own and may not reflect those of any current or former employers.

An alternate version of this post was published on Dr. Andy Roark’s site to more directly address the veterinary teams working with your pets. You can check it out here. Thanks for reading and don’t forget you can subscribe on the right side to get new posts directly to your email! And I’m now on Instagram @drryanllera and as always on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest!

3 Out of 4 Ain’t Bad (or 3-Legged Pets)

3 Out of 4 Ain’t Bad (or 3-Legged Pets)
Image from Cassie's Three Legged Dog Club

Image from Cassie’s Three Legged Dog Club

Animals are amazing, most of us know that I think.  Whether it be the unconditional love they give, the ability to brighten up any day, or making awesome videos to entertain us on the internet, the world is a better place with animals but especially our pets.  You know what else is incredible about them?  Their ability to adapt to life’s changes (unfortunately not 100% of the time); specifically I want to talk about amputees – or more affectionately known as tripods.

Severe distal humerus fracture

Severe distal humerus fracture

Pets may only have 3 legs (or even 2!) for just a few reasons; some are even born that way.  Whether it be cancer, irreparable injury, or congenital (from birth) as the cause, they have a remarkable capacity to adapt to their new lives.  Sadly, many animals are euthanized rather than undergo a limb-sparing surgery.  For many people, the thought of a pet losing a leg or being “disabled” is more than they can bear.  Certainly, not every patient is a candidate to undergo such a procedure but for those that are, the emotional aspect should not dismiss the idea.  Let’s look at both sides of the coin.

To finish on a good note, we’ll look at the cons first.  The immediate post-op period does take some adjustment and there is a difference between front legs and back legs in terms of recovery and ultimate mobility.  In my opinion, losing a front leg may be easier especially in terms of using the bathroom (much harder to balance without a second back leg!) but in time, most animals will learn how to move around wonderfully.  Additionally, missing a leg will put added stress on the opposite side which can potentially lead to some joint problems or make arthritis seem worse – hence, it is important to keep these patients at a healthy weight.  Your pet may also experience a phenomenon known as phantom pain, which will make them feel as though the limb is still part of the body.  Lastly, things may seem cosmetically unattractive to you….let me assure you, Rover won’t care what his surgery site looks like.  He’ll just be happy for treats, belly rubs, your assistance in learning to walk again, and being alive.broken leg puppy

So why should you adopt a tripod or consider having an amputation surgery done on your pet if one is recommended?  One main reason: the procedure is done as a way to eliminate pain (after the recovery period) from conditions such as nerve damage, non-reparable fractures, or bone tumors.  A pain free life is a good life!  That’s really THE reason to elect for that surgery.  Sometimes cost for a fracture repair may be too much or the prognosis for recovery will be poor and amputation will be brought up.  Aside from relieving pain, this may be done to preserve the bond you have with your pet; rather than euthanizing them, you can still let them live out their natural lives by your side.  There’s so many intangible benefits as well!!  They won’t hold a grudge against you for making this decision because you’re removing the pain.  If they are 3-legged and awaiting adoption in a shelter, they will love you just as much as any pet with four legs.  And if you’re feeling really ambitious, you can help them set up their own social media accounts to share their story & to help advocate for other tripods!

my own tripod Louie

my own tripod Louie

Three legged pets often have an interesting story and are natural survivors.  Losing a leg is not a death sentence; it’s a second chance at a renewed life.  I’ve seen this with my own cat.  Louie is a laid back, happy, fluffy speed demon who outruns our other cats and adores my wife who actually performed the amputation.  He’s also an excellent mouser.  So if your veterinarian brings up amputation as an option in treating your pet, don’t rush to a decision without considering all angles.  For more information, including a broad support network, visit

Disclaimer:  Blog posts may contain opinions which are my own and do not reflect those of my current or any former employers.  I was not compensated by for this post but I do enjoy their community!

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Declawing Cats – Why I’m Stopping

Declawing Cats – Why I’m Stopping

It is highly unlikely that there is a more controversial or debated topic amongst animal lovers even in the veterinary community. I personally had not given it much thought until I met my colleague at the Kingston Veterinary Clinic, Dr. Jaime Buchanan. She mentioned that I should watch “The Paw Project” (which is readily available on Netflix). I watched it this past weekend and here’s my thoughts on onychectomy (the proper name for declawing).

my sweet cat Gremlin

my sweet cat Gremlin

I’ve been in practice as a veterinarian for almost 9 years now and I’ve declawed a number of cats. I’ll admit, I even had my own cat, Gremlin, declawed almost 14 years ago. Like many other people, I didn’t give it a second thought at the time as I had a waterbed and lived in a rented apartment where my roommates dog had already torn out a chunk of carpet. Also like many other people, I didn’t really know what declawing was when I was a young first time cat owner who had not gone to veterinary school. In actuality, it is the amputation of the third phalange of each digit (toe) – basically from the tip of your finger to the first joint.

film to end declawing

Paw Project movie poster

Watching “The Paw Project”, I was baffled why anyone, let alone who, would declaw a lion, panther, or other wild cats. There were visible physical deformities that when watching, I attributed to a very poorly done surgery. Namely, nails regrowing which is often the result of incomplete amputation of the bone the nail grows from. Then they turned to domestic house cats as the focus. This is not to say that house cats do not have any problems after a declawing surgery. Undoubtedly, there is always a risk for complications such as open wounds, infections, remainders of bone left behind, damage to paw pads, or residual pain despite analgesics (pain meds).

pic from

pic from

What about the psychological or behavioral implications? Well, this is part of the major dilemma. Cats are typically declawed to avoid unwanted behaviors, namely furniture destruction. Declawing a cat doesn’t remove that behavior…I see Gremlin making the same motions on a step stool all the time. Opponents of declawing argue that declawed cats have more instances of biting and can be more instances of inappropriate elimination. Personally, I can agree with the biting aspect but find difficulty accepting the inappropriate elimination aspect as I see that almost daily in non-declawed cats and find the causes are infections, stress, or bladder crystals. Yes, there are studies out there that discuss this but they are primarily retrospective studies involving asking pet owners. Several of these are cited on under the FAQs.

Now Gremlin does not harbor any ill-will toward me because I had her declawed; she is bonded to me and very rarely is social with other people. But for many people and their cats, the relationship may change. That relationship is what leads owners to elect for a declaw procedure in the first place. They think that by removing the cat’s ability to destroy furniture or scratch people that all will be good in the house. Unfortunately, some cats who do begin to bite more as a way of defending themselves or communicating are very likely to end up outside, in a shelter, or euthanized. Outside, they are even more helpless against other animals.

Plenty of color choices! pic from

Plenty of color choices! pic from

Nowadays, there are alternatives to declawing aside from nail trims though trimming a cat’s nails is much easier than black nails of a dog. I always recommend to new pet owners to start playing with their kittens feet to get them used to being handled and also to start trimming every couple of weeks while they are young. Soft Paws are plastic coated nail covers which can be applied with an adhesive and will last for several weeks. The old standby is scratching posts. Cats can be taught to go after the scratching post instead of your furniture by rubbing catnip into the material. It’s best to let your cat choose the post, so give them a few options – carpet covered, rope, cardboard, etc. Another product I became aware of is called Sticky Paws which is a double sided adhesive that can be stuck on objects you don’t want scratched and when the cat goes after that object the material will be unsatisfying to them and they can be taught to avoid it.

Let’s briefly look at the other pets in the house – dogs. Dogs have been known to rip up carpets, chew couches, scratch up doorways but nobody ever considers taking off the dogs toes or removing all their teeth. So why have we gotten into this acceptance of declawing for cats? When I think about it this way, it becomes clear to me.

We have to start to make a change somewhere. As of today, I am declaring that I will cease to do elective declaws on cats (this includes another type of procedure called a tenotomy). The only situation that I would still do such a procedure would be if a medical reason for the cat to have a toe amputated was given (such as a tumor). Next time you’re in to your veterinarian, maybe ask them how they feel and maybe it will make them step back and think. As of 2014, declawing was banned in at least 30 countries and at least 8 US cities all in California (per The Paw Project). The State of New York is also currently considering a law to join in the ban. Someday maybe this procedure will be illegal elsewhere but until then, inform yourself and bond with your cat.

declawing is chopping off finger tips

Disclaimer: All blog posts are personally written and my opinion and do not reflect those of current or former employers.

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