Dog neutering complications are fortunately not very common, yet they can be a dog owner’s worst nightmare. In veterinary medicine, neutering a dog is considered a routine procedure, with many large hospitals or spay/neuter clinics neutering hundreds of dogs each week. Dog neutering complications may take place when the dog is on the surgical table, but many can also take place once the dog is at home, recovering from the surgery. Lowering the chances for complications requires teamwork of veterinary staff and dog owners. Yet, sometimes despite all precautions and the best care, dog neutering complications may still set in.
Presence of Food in the Stomach
Care in preventing dog neutering complications starts as early as the night prior your dog is dropped off for surgery. For many good reasons veterinary staff will call you the day prior to surgery. One of them is just to confirm the appointment and ensure you will be dropping off your dog on time, but another important reason is to remind you to not feed your dog 12 hours before surgery. Usually, most vet offices will recommend giving no food to the dog from midnight the night prior to the surgery.
Why can’t a dog have any food before surgery? The reason is because the anesthetic used can cause a feeling of nausea and an upset stomach.
If the dog has eaten, there will be food sitting in the stomach. Should the dog happen to regurgitate this food, there is a higher chance that the food will end up being aspirated into the lungs which may cause aspiration pneumonia or even choking and dying in the most dire cases, explains veterinarian Dr. Christie.
This happens because when dogs are anesthetized they lose the reflex which seals off their airway preventing the vomit from entering their lungs. Affected dogs therefore have no ability to prevent their stomach contents from entering the lungs.
While it’s true that dogs get intubated quickly to prevent aspiration during surgery, there are risks for aspiration right before inserting the tube and right after the tube is taken out. It just isn’t worth taking the risk, and therefore, veterinary staff will emphasize the importance of fasting by reminding dog owners not to feed the dog anything starting from midnight.
Dog Neutering Complications from Anesthesia
As with other types of surgery, neutering puts dogs at risk for anesthesia complications, but their occurrence are fortunately pretty rare. With the advances in veterinary medicine, statistics are ultimately on your side when it comes to the chances of a dog dying from anesthetic-associated death. According to a 2012 study, the death rate among 3546 animals that underwent general anesthesia was only 1.35 percent.
Regardless, it’s worthy of adding anesthesia complications in a list of dog neutering complications, just for the sake of being thorough. Dog anesthesia complications may arise from a variety of factors and vets take several precautions to avoid them.
The prevention of dog anesthesia complications starts even before the anesthesia is administered. Dogs should undergo a thorough pre-surgical workup which should include a physical exam and some bloodwork. Of course, senior dogs need a more in-depth approach so to better assess cardiovascular, respiratory and vital organ function, explains Dr. Andrew Claude, a board-certified veterinarian specializing in anesthesia.
Once under anesthesia, the risk for complications may arise as a result of decreased delivery of oxygen to the dog’s brain and heart. Fortunately though, this can be prevented by trained technicians carefully monitoring the dog’s cardiovascular, respiratory and central nervous system. On top that, an IV catheter is placed so that potentially life-saving drugs can be quickly administered if needed.
Other possible anesthesia complications include a drop in blood pressure and aggravating factors such as presence of congenital defects such as an abnormal malformed heart or undersized kidneys or liver.
Complications may arise as well after anesthesia, but they too can be prevented. Hypothermia (low body temperature) is the most common complication during anesthesia and recovery. When a dog is anesthetized, the anesthetic shuts down the dog’s ability to regulate temperature and shiver. Heat loss is more common in small dogs, older dogs and certain breeds such as dachshunds. Hypothermia is prevented by limiting anesthesia time (when feasible), warming up fluids, using heated tables and warm-water blankets.
Dog Neutering Complications from Surgery
As with other types of surgeries, getting a dog neutered may lead to complications while the dog is on the surgical table. Fortunately, these complications are quite rare, especially when the surgery is performed by a skilled vet with many years of neutering dogs behind.
In order to remove a dog’s testicles, the vet will cut through skin and muscles. Anytime an incision is made, there are risks for hemorrhages. Hemorrhage when a dog is neutered is generally due to insecure ligatures of the spermatic cord, explains board-certified veterinary surgeon Dr. Philip A. Bushby. Vets can prevent this from happening by making a secure knot in the cord.
The risks for surgical complications may be higher in dogs who are cryptorchid (having one testicle embedded in the abdomen). In these dogs, surgery involves cutting though subcutaneous tissue and sometimes even cutting through the abdomen making it as invasive as a female spay surgery. This makes for a more complicated procedure which may result in higher risk for hemorrhages.
Hemorrhages may start when the dog is on the surgical table and are therefore noticed by the vet, but some may only be noticed later once the dog is home.
A hematoma may sometimes takes place when there is some minor bleeding into the tissues. A hematoma is simply a collection of blood under the skin. This can happen with any neuter and is due to some small bleeder vessels that take longer to stop bleeding, explains veterinarian Dr. Bruce.
Any appearance of purple, dark skin should be reported to the vet as it can be indicative of active bleeding under the skin. The presence of purple blotches from bleeding under the skin (medical term is ecchymosis) is considered a medical emergency because it can be a sign of a ligature on the bigger vessel to the testicles that has slipped or a blood clotting disorder. Dogs who have been exposed to mouse poison may also have a blood clotting disorder. Other signs of trouble include pale gums, lethargy, presence of petechiae (pinpoint, round bleeding spots on the skin), slow capillary refill time, and cold extremities.
Dog Neutering Complications of the Incision
There are several dog neutering complications that can happen at home. Most of these are caused by not following through the post-surgical instructions. It’s important to keep the dog quiet (no running, jumping) and walk the dog on a leash to go potty. Also important is to avoid giving baths and preventing the dog from licking or chewing the incision.
A dog’s infected neuter incision is a common complication. This may take place when the dog’s incision becomes wet from bathing or from the dog licking the area. Exposure to outdoor contaminants can also be a trigger. Infected incisions in neutered dogs can be avoided by not giving baths during the recovery period, letting the dog wear an Elizabethan collar and keeping the dog on leash for potty breaks so to not get the incision dirty by dirt and debris.
Signs of an infected neuter incision include pain, swelling and the presence of a foul-smelling purulent discharge. See your vet if you suspect an infected incision.
A seroma unlike a hematoma, is the collection of serum, a liquid that separates out when blood coagulates and that appears as clear or blood-tinged fluid. Seromas are quite common in larger dogs after they are neutered, explains veterinarian Dr. BJ Hughes. Often, the swelling goes down eventually as the body absorbs the fluid, but in some cases they may require veterinary intervention. See your vet if the incision seeps pure blood (frank blood).
Excessive licking and chewing at the incision may cause the dog’s incision area to open. This may or may not be a main problem. The good news is that your vet may have placed interior sutures that will help keep everything together. However, a popped stitch or more can considerably slow down the healing process, especially during the first few days, because if the area remains open, it will take double the time to heal since it would be healing from the inside out, explains veterinarian Dr. Loretta. Not to mention higher risks for infections. Consult with your vet, your vet may want to re-suture or staple the gap if the edges are no longer together.
Finally, opening of the incision where tissue protrudes out (wound dehiscence) is a serious complication. The main objective of stitches is to keep underlying tissues tucked in place so to allow rapid healing. If you notice any tissue protruding from the incision, contact your veterinarian immediately to prevent a potentially life threatening infection.
As seen, there are several dog neutering complications, but the good news is that several of these are quite uncommon, and best of all, can be prevented with good teamwork between veterinary staff and dog owners.
“Swelling at the incision site is not all that uncommon. It is usually a seroma – fluid buildup due to the tissue layers not opposing well… It is not serious and usually goes away… Keep her activity more limited and place a warm pack on the incision 5-10 minutes a couple times a day. Once the swelling is gone, you can put a cold pack on it for a couple days. If the swelling get larger, hot or painful; have your vet check it out immediately.”~Dr. John
- DVM360: 8 mistakes you’re making in surgical anesthesia
Vet Anaesth Analg. 2012 Jan;39(1):59-68. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-2995.2011.00686.x.Risk of anaesthetic mortality in dogs and cats: an observational cohort study of 3546 cases. Bille C, Auvigne V, Libermann S, Bomassi E, Durieux P, Rattez E.
DVM360: Preventing and managing spay/neuter complications (Proceedings)