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January 9, 2011

Laparoscopic surgery becoming veterinarian tool

By Brian J. Lowney – Contributing Writer

<strong>Laparoscopic surgery becoming veterinarian tool</strong>

Willey is one lucky little schnauzer.

Last month, Dr. Tom Burns of Veterinary Associates of Cape Cod in South Yarmouth discovered through routine medical tests that the 9-year-old miniature schnauzer had bladder stones, formed by calcium deposits. As in humans, the stones can block an animal's urinary tract.

"He never indicated any pain," recalls the dog's owner, Marjorie Meyer of Brewster, who noted the only problem she observed was that the small dog was frequently dribbling.

Burns removed the stones by performing laparoscopic surgery, one of the most recent innovations in veterinary medicine. As with human surgery, this technique uses a small camera-like device to record and magnify surgical elements onto a television monitor for the veterinary surgeon to observe.

"Instead of a large incision in his abdomen and bladder, days in the hospital and bloody urine following a traditional procedure, his outcome was much different," Burns reports. "He had two incisions the size of a dime, went home the same day and never had a single drop of bloody urine postoperatively."

"The next day he wanted to play with his sister, but I had to keep him calm. I was so pleased with the outcome," Meyer says.

Burns, who has been performing laparoscopic surgery since 2004, has taken basic and advanced courses using this technique at the University of Georgia and completed additional studies in minimally invasive surgery at the University of Colorado.

"Not only is specialized training required, but the latest technology is also employed," Burns says, adding that he uses the same equipment often found in a hospital operating room.

While laparoscopic surgery is finally becoming more commonly performed in veterinary medicine, it is still not widely available. The advance training required and the considerable cost of the equipment are major factors contributing to the slow implementation in veterinary medicine.

"Most clients know that this is what they would want for themselves — in fact, many of my clients have had a similar procedure," Burns notes. "They already know the many benefits of the laparoscopic technique over the traditional open procedure."

Laparoscopy can be used to spay female canines and retained-testicle neuters on male dogs, remove bladder stones, perform exploratory surgery and intestinal, liver or kidney biopsies.

"Exploratory surgery used to mean incisions 'stem to stern' that now can be accomplished in two incisions the size of a dime," Burns says. "Instead of long hospital stays, increased risk of infection, and postoperative pain, these same cases explored with laparoscopy are going home the same day."

The experienced veterinary surgeon notes that laparoscopy can also be successfully performed on cats, some as small as 5 pounds. He adds that the technique has been used to spay large cats, too, such as the Bengal tiger owned by an area zoo that was recently operated on at the Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine.

"The animal was able to return more quickly to normal function," Burns reports. "This is especially important for large cats housed with other large cats, and for which follow-up care is problematic."

Burns notes that when a dog or cat is spayed laparoscopically, only the ovaries are removed and the uterus is left intact. Ovary removal through a larger open incision has been the primary technique employed by most European veterinarians for the last 30 years.

"To the surprise of many, comparison studies have shown little benefit to removing the uterus," Burns says. "In fact, it has shown increased risk of postoperative complications. As a result, several veterinary colleges are now teaching ovary removal alone as the primary means of sterilization, whether open or laparoscopic."

In rare instances, such as when a uterus needs to be removed because of infection, the laparoscopic technique would not be used.

Burns says that male animals, with both testicles descended, have an easier time during routine sterilization than their female counterparts.

"Normal testicles are external, not internal like abdominal organs," he says. "Consequently, there is no need to go in with a laparoscope. The testicles are just exteriorized with a small incision."

Burns says a laparoscopic spay costs about $200 more than a traditional procedure.

"Clients often comment that this is a small price to pay for the much smaller incisions, reduction in pain and quicker return to normal function."

Swansea resident Brian J. Lowney has been writing about pets for more than a decade. He is a past president of the Wampanoag Kennel Club, an active dog show judge and shares his home with two shelter-adopted cats. All of Brian's columns are available online in our new pet section. Visit