What is Laparotomy?
A laparotomy is a form of exploratory surgery performed on the abdominal region. It is typically used as a last-resort measure to enable a vet to make a proper diagnosis of a serious abdominal issue if all other methods of determining the root cause of the problem have proven inconclusive. This is because the procedure allows direct examination of affected organs and as such can reveal tell-tale signs of an illness that might otherwise go unnoticed.
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Laparotomy Procedure in Dogs
Before performing the laparotomy, the dog will be placed under general anesthesia and have a large portion of its underside shaved (this is to allow the surgeon to elongate the planned incision if necessary). The procedure itself consists of making a lengthwise incision along the abdomen in order to be able to simultaneously view all the organs in the lower body. If no conclusive evidence is forthcoming at this stage, the surgeon may lift organs out of the body cavity for closer inspection. Additionally, cutting into certain organs for an internal view may be required to gain more information. Following the inspection, the wound is closed with sutures and cleaned. In all, the whole operation will often last no more than an hour.
Efficacy of Laparotomy in Dogs
Laparotomy is an extremely effective way of allowing vets to get to the root of a problem. Whilst many methods of diagnosis can miss certain factors, a laparotomy allows for a much more comprehensive analysis of the abdominal cavity and the organs therein. Usually, the procedure will be the last step required to make an accurate diagnosis.
Laparotomy Recovery in Dogs
Whilst it is only a diagnostic tool, a laparotomy is still a major operation to undergo and requires a corresponding amount of rest and aftercare. Immediately after the surgery, your dog will require painkillers to be administered on a regular basis and will be fitted with an E-collar to prevent them from tearing out their stitches. Follow-up visits will also be required, not just to remove any non-dissolving stitches and staples (usually done after two weeks), but also to administer treatment for whatever underlying issue was uncovered by the laparotomy. As with any large operation, it is best for owners to prevent their dog from exercising too vigorously in the aftermath, lest they re-open the surgical incision.
Cost of Laparotomy in Dogs
The cost of exploratory surgery for dogs can vary wildly depending on your location, with most surgeries costing between $500 and $1,000. Factors that can affect the price of the procedure include the age of the animal, the severity of the problem and if any further surgery will need to be performed whilst they are on the operating table.
Dog Laparotomy Considerations
Whilst a laparotomy is undoubtedly a great tool for determining the nature of a variety of unexplained health problems, there are some potential pitfalls. First is the risk associated with putting any dog under general anesthesia, which although small, may give owners of older pets pause for thought. Next is the small possibility that the laparotomy, being localized to the lower body, will not reveal the root cause of the problem (though this is very rare). Last is the risk of complications - although unlikely, unexpected developments during the surgery may pose a risk to the dog or incur further costs. That said, by the time a laparotomy is being considered, it is more often than not a necessary step in obtaining a diagnosis.
Laparotomy Prevention in Dogs
As the procedure is used to diagnose a large number of conditions, there is no catch-all way to decisively avoid requiring a laparotomy at some stage in your dog's life. Whilst making an effort to prevent them from swallowing foreign objects can prevent an intestinal blockage, it does not mean that dogs will not develop one of the other problems that can necessitate the operation. That said, making an effort to provide your pet with a good diet and healthy, active lifestyle will do much to prevent the development of the vast majority of common ailments that affect modern dogs.