Kelly Serfas, a Certified Veterinary Technician in Bethlehem, PA, contributed to this article.
If you are starving for sushi or a salad bar, how do you choose a restaurant? If you are looking for a car with great gas mileage, where do you turn? If your dog needs surgery, who should you trust? You can probably think of a few places for answers to the first two questions, but the third is probably more difficult to answer. Fortunately, this article can help.
When your dog needs surgery, you have a choice: you can use your family veterinarian or you can enroll the help of a surgery specialist. If your veterinarian recommends a surgery specialist, how should you decide? You probably shouldn’t pick a surgeon the way you choose a restaurant or a car dealer. After all, we are talking about your beloved pet.
What is a surgeon?
A surgeon is someone who only performs surgery. Technically, the only person who can claim to be a surgeon is somebody who is board-certified in surgery. In the US, a veterinary surgeon has undergone additional training after college (4 years) and vet school (4 years) in order to become a specialist. This training consists of a minimum of a 1-year internship followed by a 3-year residency. So that’s at least 12 years of training! Then they need to pass the difficult exam of the American College of Veterinary Surgeons (ACVS).
Here are 10 suggestions to help you find the right person to perform surgery on your pet.
1. Ask your vet
Can your veterinarian perform the surgery? Or should a surgeon do it? Assuming a surgeon should do it, which surgeons has your vet had a good experience with? What kind of results has your vet heard about? Were previous clients happy with their decision? Feel free to ask questions.
2. Ask other pet parents
Your veterinarian should be able to put you in touch with other pet parents who have experience with the prospective surgeon– with their permission of course. They would be an ideal source of information since they have already lived what you will go through.
3. Ask friends and family
Similarly, if you know of friends and family members who have used a local surgeon for their pet, ask for feedback.
4. Beware of social media
Don't trust Yelp and other social media ratings blindly. The Internet can be a great resource for useful information, but it can also be a cesspool of complaints. Remember, more people will post about negative experiences than positive ones. Also beware of people who have more opinions than experience.
5. Visit acvs.org
The American College of Veterinary Surgeons (ACVS) offers an online directory that lists all board-certified surgeons. This is the only way to make sure that your surgeon truly has the credentials claimed. You can search by location (worldwide) or by name. There is some basic information about each surgeon, and usually a link to the clinic’s web site.
6. Visit the clinic’s web site
The web site of the clinic where your prospective surgeon works will also give you some valuable information: you can verify the surgeon’s credentials (do they have the letter DACVS after their name?). You can also get a feel for the clinic in general and the surgery service in particular.
7. Visit the surgeon’s page
Within the clinic website, there may be a page dedicated to your surgeon. You can look at their biography and learn more. You can tell where your surgeon studied, where your surgeon specialized and how long your surgeon has been in practice. You can read about professional and personal accomplishments.
8. Does the surgeon understand your needs?
Do you have any special requirements? Does your surgeon understand your goals with your pet? Do you and your surgeon have the same expectations? Expectations may or may not be realistic, but can always be discussed.
9. Does the surgeon answer the tough questions?
Ask about your surgeon’s success, failure and complication rates. Nobody likes to talk about failure, but it should be discussed honestly. Do you truly understand exactly what your pet will go through? Do you understand what you will need to do after surgery? How generous is your surgeon with pain medications? Who will monitor your dog during and after anesthesia?
10. Trust your intuition
During the consultation, ask questions, and decide if you feel comfortable with the surgeon. Did the surgeon explain things well? Did the surgeon use simple words? Has the surgeon performed the surgery your dog needs multiple times? Keep in mind that some conditions are rare, and therefore that particular surgery may be performed rarely.
Bonus: a traveling surgeon
There is one more solution you may find convenient. Your family vet may work with a traveling surgeon. In this case, the surgeon comes to your vet’s hospital to perform specialty surgery. You don’t need to travel anywhere. This instantly fulfills several of the criteria above. Clearly, your vet would trust the surgeon they work with!
Ultimately, your decision has a lot to do with trust. You need to find a surgeon you trust to operate on your beloved dog. Once that happens, you can in turn help other pet parents and their pets.
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.