Helping pets through surgery
Most of our animal companions will undergo surgery and/or general anesthesia at some point in their lifetimes—during spaying or neutering, dental procedures, ear cleansing, or trauma repair, for example.
Surgery (or any medical procedure that requires general anesthesia) can be a major disruption to a pet’s life, physically and emotionally. To be honest, I’m often amazed how quickly most animals recover from their surgeries, no matter how severe. However, while most critters seem to have little or no problems due to surgery or anesthesia, some seem to take forever to recover from seemingly minor surgical procedures, and others, especially the aged, are knocked for a complete loop with even short-acting anesthesia.
I think all patients benefit from herbal (and other) therapies, whether they will be undergoing major surgery or will simply be subjected to a minor medical procedure requiring anesthesia. There are several particular herbs and some other therapies that I like my clients to know about and consider using for their pets when surgery or anesthesia is being contemplated.
Give your pet her/his best chance to fully recover after surgery with the following supplements. Beta-carotene helps heal tissues. For the average (twenty-pound) dog, give 5,000 IU daily, preferably divided into twice-daily doses for one week before and after surgery. (Adjust the dosage for the size of the animal.) Continue giving 5,000 IU three times weekly for six weeks afterward. Vitamin C and bioflavonoids help with tissue repair and with decreasing inflammation. Give your pet 250 to 500 mg of each (again, per approximately twenty pounds of pet), twice daily for one month before and after surgery. Zinc hastens wound and tissue healing. Patients should receive 5 to 20 mg (depending on the size of the animal) daily for two weeks pre- and post-surgery.
Nearly any major surgery will cause a disruption in the normal intestinal flora, probably as a result of the stress from the operation. And, if antibiotics have been used, there will almost certainly be an intestinal change from good-guy bugs to disease-causing yeasts. Give your pet an acidophilus supplement for one month following the operation. Unsweetened yogurt (one heaping teaspoonful per twenty pounds) mixed into a pet’s daily food seems to be readily accepted by most dogs and cats; alternately, you may want to try one of the many probiotic products available in capsule form. Herbs can be an important part of the nutritional component of surgery support. Nutritional herbs including dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale), nettle (Urtica dioica) and yellow dock (Rumex crispus) are all excellent sources of a variety of vitamins and minerals, especially iron, which helps the animal regenerate new red blood cells. In addition, dandelion root helps support the liver in its ability to detoxify byproducts of anesthesia and/or tissue destruction, and it is a diuretic herb that also helps eliminate bodily toxins.
Any major stress such as surgery will have an adverse impact on the immune system. A balanced immune system going into the surgery will have a better chance to react to the stress, and if you continue to support your pet’s system for a few weeks after the surgery, you’ll help prevent the diseases that take advantage of a weakened immune system.
In addition to balancing the immune system, echinacea (Echinacea spp.) has mild antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory activities, and it promotes tissue regeneration. Berberine, a biochemical constituent found in many herbs, enhances the immune system and increases the activity of the macrophages (the scavenger cells of the blood). Berberine-containing herbs include goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) and Oregon grape root (Mahonia aquifolium).
Use small amounts (about 1/4 teaspoon per twenty pounds) of the fresh or dried herb sprinkled over your pet’s food for a week pre- and post-surgery. These herbs are also readily available in capsule or tablet form—adjust the dose on the label for the size of the animal patient.
Whenever inhalant anesthetics are used, your pet may hack and cough for a few days afterward due to the irritating effects of the anesthetic itself and from the mild physical trauma the endotracheal tube may produce. Mullein (Verbascum spp.) is my herb of choice to help soothe minor tracheal and lung irritations. I like to make a tea from the leaves and pour the tea over a pet’s food daily for about a week after anesthesia.
To help rid a pet of lingering effects of gas anesthesia, I like to see the pet up and about as soon as the type of surgery allows. (For example, most spays and neuters can be ambulatory mere hours after the surgery; however, some joint surgeries require that the patient be confined for several days or even weeks. Check with your surgeon.)
Some anesthetics can be damaging to the liver, and the liver may already be working overtime to help the body rid itself of the toxic byproducts of tissue breakdown from the surgery. Milk thistle seeds (Silybum marianum) and/or dandelion root (about 1/4 teaspoon per twenty pounds of animal), ground up and mixed with your pet’s food, will help support the liver in its detoxification efforts.
Pain in critters is difficult to evaluate. Much like the human animal, our animal companions have highly variable pain thresholds: some critters will cry and howl at the slightest little ouch, and others can endure what most of us would consider severe pain with nary a whimper. However, your pet’s anxiety and restlessness can help you evaluate the amount of pain your pet feels. If your pet can’t seem to get comfortable—up and down out of bed, sighing, and perhaps panting, pacing the floor, unable to sleep or eat, he/she is likely in pain.
I like homeopathic remedies for pain because they can be tremendously effective and they won’t interfere with any other medications being given. The following are my usual choices. Arnica, for all injuries—to reduce soreness, bruising, and tissue damage. Bellis perennis, when bruising and trauma occur to deep internal tissues after surgery. Hypericum perforatum, when the surgery or trauma involved tissues richly supplied with nerves. Ledum palustre, for any penetrating wound. Rhus toxicodendron, to relieve stiffness, soreness, and restlessness after surgery. Staphysagria, when pain or irritation persists at the site of the incision. This remedy is indicated for any surgery involving reproductive organs.
For acute pain, X potencies (3x, 6x, or 12x) can be used every thirty minutes or so for a total of five to six doses. If need be, these potencies can be continued two to three times a day for five to six days.
There are many herbs that aid healing when applied directly to the suture area. Calendula (Calendula officinalis) in an ointment or spray-on and the essential oil of lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) are my favorites. Both of these are soothing and effective against a variety of microorganisms, and calendula actually enhances healing.
The normal manipulations that occur during surgery and surgery prep often throw the patient’s spinal alignment out of whack. I recommend at least one chiropractic treatment to help realign every animal that has undergone surgery. Acupuncture has been shown to enhance healing, and some select cases can benefit greatly from a series of four or five post-surgery treatments.
There are some additional therapies that are about as unconventional as they come, but then I’ve never been known for being conventional. Nature is the ultimate healer. Get your pet to reconnect with the natural world as soon as possible after any surgery. If at all possible, let your pet roll in the herbs (weeds), sniff the natural aromas of the healing essences of the plants, and feel the breezes wash away any lingering effects of the anesthesia.
Randy Kidd holds doctorates in veterinary medicine and veterinary and clinical pathology. After practicing traditional veterinary medicine for ten years, he opened Honoring the Animals, a holistic practice in Kansas City, Missouri.
Information provided in “Pet corner” is not intended to replace the advice of a qualified veterinarian.