Helping you understand what your pet's surgery day might be like

Our Wednesday Surgery Team explains what a typical surgery day looks like.

Dr. Coleman and Gwen in our surgery suite.

Dr. Coleman and Gwen in our surgery suite.

It is often an emotional and scary thing to leave your pet with us for the day. We want to share with you what our typical day looks like and who cares for your pet. Dr. Kraabel and Sarah work in surgery on Wednesdays along with Dr. Coleman and her assistant Jess.  Kelsey, Gwen and Lindsay are our talented Licensed Veterinary Technicians in surgery on Wednesdays.  As has been blogged before, Gwen is also a Certified Veterinary Pain Practitioner.

Surgery days can consist of a wide range of procedures, from spay and neuters to dental cleanings and dental surgeries, growth removals and exploratory surgeries. Admission appointments typically occur in the morning.  Surgery days are notoriously unpredictable.  Procedures can take hours longer than anticipated and time set backs are common.  Dr. Kraabel’s career long attempts to tame these realities have been unsuccessful.  

The receptionist, who has scheduled the appointment, compiled an estimate for the owner and put all the paperwork together, leads owner and patient to an exam room.  Diane, Celine, and Kristen commonly help you on our surgery morning.

Kelsey or Lindsay typically perform the bulk of Wednesday admissions and go over any questions or concerns about the planned procedures. Once all the paperwork is completed and the owner has said their “See you soon”, patients go for a ride in the elevator and head upstairs.  We let them push the elevator buttons.

Sarah and Jess holding Hendrix and Chico after their procedures

Sarah and Jess holding Hendrix and Chico after their procedures

Upstairs, Sarah, Jess, or the technicians record the temperature and weight and set up a kennel for them. As intimidating as this process can be for our patients we take pride in doing our best to console the patient with calming touch, tone, and words of comfort. Cuddling is common. Each kennel is covered with a soft towel or blanket where the patient waits for the procedure, sometimes more patiently than others.  They often receive calming medication at this point, even if their procedure is later in the day.  For our extra worried cats, we place hide away boxes in with them and a towel on the front of the kennel. They need to have a safe and private place to retreat. We also use calming pheromones like Feliway for cats and Adaptil for dogs to help calm their mood.

Each patient receives a pre-surgical exam from the doctor where they look at gum color and listen to the heart. The technician or assistant draws blood, if the patient needs preoperative blood work. Blood work makes sure their kidneys and liver are working normally. The anesthetic machine and monitors are prepared and set up and materials are collated for the planned procedure. A combination of sedative and pain medication are given into the patient’s muscle.  Typically, the assistant gives the patient a big hug or wraps them in a towel for restraint and sedative is injected into the thigh or muscles alongside the spine. Then, we wait for our patient to relax and fall asleep.

Once they are sleepy, their technician places an intravenous catheter. It is always important to have venous access while a patient is under anesthesia. Intravenous anesthesia is given until they are completely asleep to allow the placement of an endotracheal tube. Gas anesthetic and oxygen are turned on and intravenous fluids are started.

Dr. Kraabel shows Lindsay a tooth that needs to be removed.

Dr. Kraabel shows Lindsay a tooth that needs to be removed.

At this point, they are prepared for their surgery and the procedure then takes place. As we said, it may vary greatly how long a patient is under anesthesia but there is not a time limit. The patient’s vital signs are monitored closely throughout surgery by one of the technicians who stays with the patient throughout their procedure. Once the surgery is complete, the support staff will sit with the patient, vigilantly monitoring vital signs until they are able to sit up and swallow. Technicians also focus on pain management and administer post-operative pain medication as needed. At times, internal temperatures may drop during surgery.  The assistants and technicians wrap the patients in warm blankets often cradling and cuddling with them creating a comfortable and smooth recovery period. While the assistant aids in recovery, the doctor records the surgical notes and the technician finishes up filling post-op medications and discharge instructions. 

This is when we will call and let the patient's people know that everything went fine.

Performing surgical procedures is complicated with an intricate collaboration of talented and empathetic caregivers. Each team member is part of the puzzle and has a role in making sure every patient receives the best standard of care and comfort. Be consoled in knowing that when you leave your pet with us, we strive to treat them as our own. 


Sarah Kwon, BS, DVM candidate class of 2021

Timothy R Kraabel, DVM, DABVP (Canine/Feline Practice); Vice President, American Board of Veterinary Practitioners

How Do You Say “It Hurts” If You Can’t Talk?

Molly was a beautiful Yellow Lab that loved to run and play with her family. But when her owner brought her into the clinic, she was barely able to move. Every step, every movement hurt and she coped by refusing to move. Her veterinarian diagnosed severe arthritis. Molly’s joints were so inflamed that she felt nothing but hurt.

In spite of the best medical care, Molly’s spirit was declining. She had stopped eating and would lie in her kennel looking at me with the saddest eyes. She appeared ready to give up, but her medical team was not. We knew that if Molly was to recover, we had to break her pain cycle.

Veterinary medicine has a legal and ethical obligation to err on the side of the safest treatment, but sometimes the best medicine is not found in books but in a clinician’s heart. Molly’s doctor listened to his patient and put her on a course of the strongest pain medication available to veterinary medicine.

I left our hospital that night broken hearted, not knowing how I would find Molly in the morning. You can imagine the joy I felt when I walked into the hospital and saw Molly prancing in her kennel, eager to go for a walk after eating a good breakfast. She had finally stopped hurting and the spark had returned to her eyes. She went home the next day on a new pain management protocol and continued to improve. While she will never be as active as before, she loves life again and that’s the best result ever!

Animals suffer from pain just like we do, but they say “Ouch” in very different ways. The sooner that pain is recognized and treated, the more likely our pets can return to a good quality of life. As loving caretakers of our family pets, we can learn animals’ unique language of pain and trust our instincts when we see behavior that says our pet is in pain. All pain damages your pet’s quality of life and can be hazardous to its health. Pain causes release of stress hormones, delaying healing and possibly damaging your pet’s internal organs, especially in cases of long-term chronic pain.

Common Signs of Pain in Dogs

  • Decreased social interaction
  • Anxious expression
  • Refusal to move; difficulty rising from a sitting or lying down position
  • Whimpering
  • Howling
  • Growling
  • Guarding behavior
  • Aggression; biting
  • Decreased appetite
  • Self-mutilation (chewing)


Common Signs of Pain in Cats

  • Hiding
  • Reduced activity
  • Loss of appetite
  • Quiet/loss of curiosity
  • Changes in urination/defecation habits
  • Hissing or spitting
  • Lack of agility/jumping
  • Excessive licking/grooming
  • Stiff posture/gait
  • Stops grooming/matted fur
  • Weight loss

The good news is that veterinary medicine has many ways to alleviate your pet’s pain.

Once your doctor has diagnosed what’s causing the pain, he or she can prescribe the best medication and the best treatment to reduce that pain. Your pet also may benefit from physical modalities such as acupuncture, laser treatment, medical massage and therapeutic exercise.

Early and aggressive treatment of a pet’s pain can return your furry family member to a great quality of life.

Read Dr. Kraabel's blog to learn more about Gwen: And, Not To Be OutDone

Gwen Francisco, Licensed Veterinary Technician, Certified Veterinary Pain Practitioner