Patty and Violet

Though I don’t speak for all veterinarians, I can offer you my personal take on an interesting experience singular to my profession: practicing medicine on my own pets.

For most of us, it happens relatively often. For me, perhaps, it happens a little more than just “relatively.” With five dogs, two goats, ten chickens and a bevy of marauding cats, I take my work home. More often, however, it’s more like I take my home to work — a lot.

Take last week, for example. That time it was all about Violet, my Belgian Malinois girl. After waiting 20 months, I decided it was finally time to spay her.

Why I waited so long has a lengthy explanation that deserves its own post, but suffice it to say that, in part, my reluctance to perform major surgery on my own dog played a significant role.

Performing Two Procedures at Once

Despite its pervasive reputation as a “simple” procedure, the canine ovariohysterectomy involves a complex bit of mental and manual manipulation — especially when performed on the seasoned bitch. I promise you: Removing mature ovaries along with the uterus is no piece of cake.

In Violet’s case, I performed an increasingly popular variation on the traditional American spay. Widely considered its European counterpart, the ovariectomy involves the removal of the ovaries alone. Despite its more limited scope, it’s really no simpler.

The ovariectomy has pros and cons that also deserve a separate post. In this case, one reason I chose the procedure was that it allowed for a smaller incision than the traditional spay, and that incision was closer to the stomach, where I needed to perform a second procedure. What’s more, a smaller incision is usually faster to suture, less messy and potentially less painful.

Given that Violet’s deep-chested breed is prone to a condition known as gastric dilatation-volvulus (aka, GDV or “bloat”), I elected to tack her stomach to its adjacent body wall. That way, her stomach would be way less likely to fill up with gas and twist in the future (not necessarily in that order).

Add a Few More Stresses

This meant I’d be working in Violet’s belly for at least 20 minutes. Not my least stressful workday activity, I assure you — even when it’s not my own dog. Plus, this day I had a supplier watching me perform the surgery.

What’s more, I’d taken this opportunity to try a new stitching technique for tacking the stomach (which was much easier than my past approach) and a new, pain-relieving premedication protocol (because when it’s my pet on the line, I am willing to take on a new challenge I’d be unwilling to apply to someone else’s pet). 

Not that any of this helped my state of mind. Though I’m a confident surgeon (20 years of practice will do that for you), I can’t help but allow unbidden irrational thoughts get in the way of my serenity. Not when it comes to the pets I call family.

After a great deal of sweating the details with shaky hands, the procedure was over. When I gratefully peeled off my cap, mask and surgical gown, I knew things had gone as well as could be expected, in spite of the nerves, my visitor and the coffee I’d forgotten to skip that morning.

Violet recovered uneventfully. Though she did remain loopy for much longer than I would have liked (turns out the new preop pain protocol isn’t for everyone), the rest went better than expected. Despite her ridiculous activity level and no cone of shame (I know, I know), five days later she’s healing perfectly.

Famous last words? I hope not. It would be just like a veterinarian to misjudge her own pet’s ability to keep away from an incision. As they say, “Do as I say, not as I do.” But given that my own pets get the best care I can manage, at least they can’t say that the cobbler’s son has no shoes.

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