Why Pre-Surgical Testing Is Vital for the Safety of Your Pet

Vet examining radiograph
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Despite what I sometimes hear pet lovers say, my colleagues and I don’t typically suggest things your pet doesn’t need. But sometimes I think we fall short in explaining why what we’re suggesting is good medicine.

That’s often the case when it comes to diagnostic tests in advance of an anesthetic event.

These tests are necessary to help spot health problems that could cause difficulty when a pet is anesthetized. As veterinarians, we want to know what those health problems are and resolve them before surgery if we can. And if we can’t, we want to be prepared as best we can to handle any issues during surgery.

What Pre-Surgical Testing Involves

For young pets, the testing is pretty minimal. We start with a complete physical exam, which includes checking temperature, heart rate and respiratory rate. We’ll likely recommend bloodwork and possibly a urinalysis. For older pets, chest radiographs are often added. In younger pets, we’re usually looking for anemia or congenital problems, while in older ones, we’re watching for problems with the liver, heart and kidneys.

Do these precautions seem excessive to you? If they do, let me put it in perspective. What would you think if you were going to have surgery and your medical team offered you the option of skipping pre-anesthetic screening? Or never mentioned the tests at all, just did your surgery? You can’t imagine it, can you? And I’d bet if you did have surgery under such conditions, the state medical board would have something to say about it afterward.

If you wouldn't want to have surgery under those conditions, why would you want any different for your four-legged family member? You wouldn’t, and neither does your veterinarian. These recommendations are good medicine; by requiring pre-surgical testing, your veterinarian is doing her job to take the best care possible of your pet by lowering the odds of any surgery-related complications.

A final note: Don’t take your veterinarian’s pre-surgery instructions for granted. Typically food and water are withheld from pets the night before surgery to help prevent aspiration pneumonia. If your pet gets food or water by accident, call the vet that morning and fess up. Your veterinarian may wish to postpone, and while that’s not convenient for anyone, it is a decision made in your pet’s best interest, just like all the rest. (And don't forget to keep an eye on your pet after surgery!)

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