Laparoscopic Spay: The Best Way to Spay a Dog (benefits, recovery + complications)
A regular spay involves making an incision, a cut, into the abdomen of a dog to manually remove either the ovaries alone, which we call an ovariectomy, or the ovaries and the uterus, which is known as an ovariohysterectomy.
It doesn't really matter which technique is performed in the majority of female dogs, in the sense that the end result is the same. We removed the ability to get pregnant, the risk of pyometra, and we have all of the other risks and benefits of a spay surgery (which you can read in the linked article).
A more modern technique is laparoscopy, but is a keyhole spay superior to the traditional approach?
Is a laparoscopic spay better than regular spaying in a dog? - Katka
Traditional Spay Surgery
In a traditional spay, incision size actually varies. The wound on your dog does vary and that depends on what type of surgery your dog is undergoing. It depends on the size and body condition of your dog.
If your dog is thin, they'll need a smaller incision. If they are fat and overweight, we will often need to make a larger incision because there is so much fat in the way. As a surgeon, I need to see what I’m doing and handle the tissue appropriately.
It is also going to vary based on the surgeon. A younger veterinarian is likely going to have a larger incision than a more experienced surgeon. In general though, there is going to be around a three-inch incision made into your dog in a traditional, regular spay surgery.
Removing the ovaries and uterus
The ovaries and uterus are then clamped off and suture material ligature is used to close off the blood supply so that we prevent any bleeding. We remove the likelihood of any bleeding before we make our cut to remove the ovaries and the uterus (is a full ovariohysterectomy is being performed).
Laparoscopic Spay Surgery
Let's compare this traditional technique to a laparoscopic spay.
Laparoscopic surgery is known as minimally invasive, or keyhole surgery. It involves one to three small half-inch incisions being made into the body wall that then go into the abdomen. The exact technique is again going to depend on the technique and the preference of the veterinary surgeon.
Carbon dioxide is then used to inflate the abdomen. This helps separate all of the organs for visualization with a camera. The camera and the instruments are passed through those small incision ports, and the surgery is carried out without the surgeon’s hands entering the abdomen.
A screen is used by the surgeon to perform the surgery, the camera is connected to a television screen. Rather than suture material being used to block the blood vessels, electrocautery is used to seal them which prevents blooding once the ovaries are removed.
This is another big difference. In a laparoscopic spay, only the ovaries are removed (an ovariectomy). A difference I’ll discuss in more detail in just a minute.
Benefits of a Laparoscopic Spay
There are some clear benefits of a laparoscopic spay in dogs.
Your dog is going to have a smaller incision. It’s not called keyhole spay for nothing!
In a traditional spay, they have a three-inch incision compared to one-three much smaller incisions.
Dogs have been shown to feel up to 65% less pain after laparoscopy than they would feel after traditional spay surgery. They will have a faster recovery because they are more comfortable.
Lower Complication Rate
There is also a lower complication rate with laparoscopic spay compared to routine spay surgery.
In one study, there was a complication rate of around 20% with laparoscopy. This compared to 40% of dogs suffering complications with a traditional spay. That being said, complications were mainly inflammation alone, which required no further treatment.
Faster Recovery Time
A smaller incision, less pain and lower chance of complications all add up to a dog recovering from their spay surgery faster if it performed laparoscopically.
Laparoscopic Spay Drawbacks
What are the downsides of a laparoscopic spay compared to a traditional spay in dogs?
First off, they are more expensive, and understandably so.
The training that needs to go on before this surgery can be performed is quite extensive. Most general practitioner veterinarians won't be familiar with laparoscopic equipment before they start performing laparoscopic spays and so the learning curve can be high.
Also, the equipment that we need is much more expensive than with a traditional spay. Traditional spay uses very simple hand instruments, but laparoscopic spays require a more complicated, expensive setup.
Conversion to Traditional Spaying
If we do get a problem during surgery, your surgeon is going to need to convert into a traditional open spay. You can't deal with any bleeding or other more serious complications with the laparoscopic equipment alone.
You need to open up the abdomen traditionally, using your hands to fix the problem.
Laparoscopic spay cannot be carried out if there is a uterine infection or any other uterine pathology present. Remember that only the ovaries are removed in a keyhole spay.
If there is cancer of the uterus, or any other problem, then a laparoscopic spay procedure is not going to be the best option for your dog. This is not likely to be a problem in a young dog, but if you have an older dog there is an argument that a traditional approach is going to be best, given the potential for an unknown problem with the uterus being found.
Laparoscopy is also more challenging in small dogs, those less than about five kilograms. For much smaller dogs, it is likely that a traditional spay is always the best solution and technique to use.
The incision is not likely to be very different in size, and the equipment used in laparoscopy is really too big. There is smaller equipment available, but this will not be available to the majority of veterinarians.
Spay Surgery Complications
Vomiting + diarrhea
I’ve already mentioned that the majority of surgical complications involve little more than a bit of inflammation that requires no further treatment. There are however several other potential complications you should be aware of.
Minor surgical site infections are not common but are the next most frequently experienced complication.
There is a slightly increased risk of infection in a traditional spay along with a slight delay in wound healing. In general though, very few of these infections need any major treatment apart from a course of antibiotics.
Other complications that are frequently seen, and are the same with both surgical techniques, are diarrhea and vomiting.
These are likely due to the anesthetic and the pain medication given, rather than the specific surgical technique performed.
This is the severe complication risk. Spaying a dog involves cutting some really big blood vessels. If they have not been securely blocked the severe bleeding can happen, and this can even be life-threatening.
The risk is slightly higher with a traditional spay. If the suture material ligature is not tied tightly enough, or the knot is not tied securely, then it has the potential to slip. The result of this can be rapid blood loss into the abdomen.
With laparoscopic spay technique, electricity is used to effectively seal the blood vessel. There is no potential for slippage, and so long as the appropriate technique is used, and there is no equipment failure, the risk of bleeding is minimal.
Thankfully, this severe complication is very rare regardless of technique used. It is a very uncommon risk with a traditional spay, but there is a slightly higher risk nonetheless.
Laparoscopy is (marginally) safer
Overall, there are benefits of a laparoscopic spay compared to a traditional spay in dogs when it comes to the risk of complications. But it's important to remember that safety is very high in both procedures.
The likelihood of side-effects varies just as much with surgeon experience as it does by the actual technique preformed.
A laparoscopic spay is the superior technique for the majority of female dogs.
That said, even with the standard, traditional approach, our dogs are still pretty comfortable and are back up and running very quickly after surgery. Especially considering how major the surgery is.
In fact, keeping your dog quiet after surgery might be your biggest challenge!
If laparoscopy is not available in your area, or if the cost is too high, then you should have no qualms at all about having your dog spayed traditionally. This is a technique that is performed in veterinary practice daily, and so a procedure that your veterinarian is going to be very comfortable performing.
Laparoscopy will become more common in time, but there will always be a place for the traditional approach.
The above is a transcript taken from “The Dr Alex Answers Show”.
If you would like me to answer any question you have about your pet’s health, simply fill in this form and I’ll try and get you the information that you need. It’s that simple!