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Elective Surgery—Is it worth it?

Posted November 08, 2013

As animal lovers, we always want what is best for our pets. From the most nutritious food to the very best in veterinary care, a lot goes into making our furry friends happy. For many pet owners, there comes a time when a difficult decision must be made: Does my pet really need this surgery? Will they be happier and healthier because of it?  Deciding whether the risks outweigh the benefits for Fido’s elective surgery can be a trying task, but having all of the relevant information can make the decision a bit easier.

Unlike surgeries that are necessary to save an animal’s life, elective surgeries are deemed “not vital” or sometimes merely cosmetic: they are, in other words, optional. Surgeries that lie within this gray area leave pet owners with a careful choice to consider. “A few common elective surgeries are spaying/neutering, declaw removals, and gastroplexy,” said Dr. Mark Stickney, Clinical Associate Professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.

The timing of an elective surgery can revolve around several various factors. Usually, the sooner an orthopedic problem is corrected, the less long-term damage will occur. If the surgical repair will be just as effective regardless of the duration of the issue, the decision of when to go ahead with surgery depends on how the animal’s quality of life will be affected.

“Your pet should have pre-anesthetic blood work done, be up to date on vaccines, and should fast for 8-12 hours before surgery,” said Stickney. Veterinarians highly suggest that pre-anesthetic blood screening be done before the surgery because although most surgeries have minimal risk of complications, it isn’t rare to find an underlying health problem that doesn’t surface until the animal is already under anesthesia. In the midst of surgery is not the best time to discover your pet has a detrimental heart problem.

However, if the reason for the elective surgery is merely cosmetic and doesn’t aim to improve your pet’s quality of life, it is not usually recommended nor justified. For instance, various surgeries to “lift and tuck” your pet in order to meet a certain breed’s standard are becoming increasingly popular among pet owners. When considering these cosmetic procedures for your pet it is important to keep in mind the possible pain inflicted and risks associated merely to achieve a certain look. Putting a pet under anesthesia can be dangerous even under the best circumstances, and to do so for cosmetic reasons alone can be considered unethical.

Each elective surgery is unique, and speaking with your veterinarian to thoroughly evaluate the pros and cons of surgery beforehand is a necessity.  After thoroughly researching information specific to the surgery for Fido, the ultimate decision lies with the pet owner. Though there may not be a clear yes or no answer on whether or not to go ahead with surgery, you will have more confidence knowing that you did the best you could to improve the quality of life for your pet.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at Suggestions for future topics may be directed to

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