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Laparoscopic surgery for pets

By SASH Vets

Reviewed by Dr Julia Sumner, Specialist in Surgery

Laparoscopic or keyhole surgery is an advanced surgical technique used by SASH Surgical Specialists to provide a minimally invasive way to operate on your pets. Compared to traditional “open” surgeries, laparoscopic surgeries require only very small incisions to be made, so that a small camera (laparoscope) and tiny specialised instruments can be placed inside the animal. This means the surgeons hand never needs to enter the body. To be performed safely and effectively, surgeons need to undergo specialised training with purpose made instruments.

Compared to traditional surgery, laparoscopic (and other forms of minimally invasive) surgery offers several benefits:

  • Reduced pain after surgery
  • Reduced stress after surgery
  • Improved recovery and quality of life after surgery
  • Reduced risk of infection

Laparoscopic surgery reduces pain & stress in pets

Pain and stress are two interlinked factors that are almost always present after surgery. It is easy to see how increased pain will lead to increased stress. Although it is difficult to eliminate pain and stress completely, laparoscopic surgery for pets can significantly reduce both measurable levels of pain and stress after the procedure.

Scientific studies have compared both pain and stress response from dogs that have undergone laparoscopic surgery to the equivalent open surgery. At each measured time point, there were indications that animals receiving laparoscopic surgery were in less pain (Devitt et al, 2005, Walsh et al 1999). In fact, one study showed that dogs in the laparoscopic surgery group did not even need pain medication after surgery, whereas 90% of those receiving open surgery required pain medication (Devitt et al, 2005). This is important for older dogs and those with underlying medical conditions that may not tolerate pain medication as well.

Laparoscopic surgery for pets pain graph
Graph showing difference in pain score in dogs that received laparoscopic surgery compared to open surgery (adapted from Walsh et al, 1999)

Unlike pain, stress cannot be measured directly in animals. Instead, researchers must rely on measuring indicators of stress, such as stress hormone (cortisol). As expected, with reduced pain, stress hormone levels were also significantly lower in dogs receiving laparoscopy (Devitt et al, 2005, Walsh et al 1999). At certain time points, laparoscopic surgery in pets can reduce stress hormone levels to half of that of open surgery patients.

Laparoscopic surgery for pets stress graph
Median cortisol (stress hormone) levels at 9 hours after surgery for dogs receiving laparoscopic surgery compared to those receiving open surgery (adapted from Walsh et al, 1999)

Laparoscopic surgery improves recovery and quality of life in pets

With a much smaller incision compared to open surgery, the speed of recovery has been shown to be much faster with laparoscopic surgery compared to open surgery.

A good way to assess recovery and quality of life is to measure activity levels before and after surgery. One study found that while activity levels decreased by 62% in the 48 hours following open surgery compared to before surgery, the decrease was only 25% for laparoscopic surgery (Culp et al, 2009).

Laparoscopic surgery for pets activity graph
Reduction of activity levels in dogs, 48 hours after receiving laparoscopic surgery compared to open surgery (adapted from Culp et al, 2009)

Laparoscopic surgery reduces the risk of infection in pets

One of the well-known risks of surgery is surgical wound infection. Although wound infections are rare with modern practices and the high standard of post-operative care provided at SASH, it can still occur. Minimally invasive techniques can further reduce the already low risk of infections. Dogs receiving laparoscopic surgery appeared to be 3 times less likely to suffer from a post-operative infection compared to open surgery dogs (Mayhew et al, 2012).

Laparoscopic surgery at SASH

The SASH Surgery team are highly trained in performing laparoscopic surgeries for pets. Specialists in Surgery have often completed multiple courses on laparoscopic surgeries, and each have over a decade of experience with the technique.

Although not all surgeries can be performed laparoscopically, SASH does routinely use this, and other minimally invasive technique when possible. Common examples of laparoscopic surgeries often performed at SASH include:

  • Spay (female desexing)
  • Cryptorchid castration (undescended testes)
  • Gastropexy (to prevent bloat in deep chested dogs)
  • Adrenalectomy (treatment of adrenal gland tumours)
  • Cholestectomy (removal of gall bladder)
  • Bladder stone retrieval
  • Liver biopsy
  • Chylothorax (treatment of lymph accumulating in the chest cavity)
  • Pericardectomy (removal of heart membrane)
  • Lung lobectomy (removal of parts of the lungs)

When consulting with a Specialist in Surgery, they will be able to advise whether or not laparoscopy may be an option. If it is an option, generally speaking, price estimates for laparoscopic surgeries are higher than the comparable open surgery. However, it is important to remember that laparoscopic surgery also has many benefits over open surgeries.

Culp et al (2009), Vet Surg, 38,811-817
Devitt et al (2005), J Am Vet Med Assoc, 227:921–927
Mayhew et al (2012), J Am Vet Med Assoc, 240:193-198
Walsh et al (1999), Vet Surg, 28:472-479

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