Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Minimally Invasive Surgery Brings Speedy Recovery for Pets


Pet Column for the week of June 17, 2002


Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Jennifer Stone
Information Specialist

In the past, surgery has often meant a long, painful recovery, especially when surgery was performed on highly sensitive areas such as the tissue found in a joint. Even with the most scrupulous care, infection was often a danger. Today "minimally invasive surgery"-including laparoscopic, thorascopic, and arthroscopic surgery-can help animals recover more quickly.

Dr. Dianne Dunning, a specialist in small animal surgery at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana, says, "Minimally invasive surgery has brought big improvements in care for patients that need surgery. The advantages of minimally invasive surgery come from minimizing the trauma of access to internal organs and joints. By avoiding a long incision through the muscles, many post-operative problems are eliminated and pain is markedly reduced."

Following minimally invasive surgery combined with medical therapy, such as drugs that reduce inflammation, pets can be up and around more quickly than they are after conventional surgery.

Laparoscopic, thorascopic, and arthroscopic surgery are very similar. They all involve small incisions through which are passed pencil-sized instruments that contain a small lens and lighting system to magnify and illuminate the structures inside.

Endoscopy, another procedure that uses small cameras passed inside the body, has long been used at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital, for example, to view the lungs or gastrointestinal system. Rather than entering the body through an incision in the skin, endoscopes are inserted through natural openings, such as the nose or mouth.

Laparoscopic surgery is performed after inflating the abdomen with gas, usually carbon dioxide, to create a space between the wall of the abdomen and the organs inside. Narrow tubes are inserted into the abdominal wall through short incisions in the skin. An instrument called a laparoscope is passed through the tubes to perform the operation. A video camera attached to the laparoscope sends images of the procedures to a monitor, which enables the surgeon to see. Laparoscopic surgery is performed on the gallbladder, intestines, kidneys, and other organs.

Whereas laparoscopic surgery is performed in the abdomen, thorascopic surgery, or VATS (video assisted thorascopic surgery), is surgery performed in the chest.

Arthroscopy is a surgical procedure used to view, diagnose, and treat problems inside a joint. Coming from the Greek words "arthro" (joint) and "skopein" (to look), "arthroscopy" literally means "to look within the joint."

Diagnosing joint injuries and disease begins with a thorough medical history, physical examination, and usually radiographs (X-rays). Additional tests, such as an MRI or a CAT scan, may also be needed. Through the arthroscope, a final, more accurate diagnosis is made.

Before arthroscopy was available, joint surgery involved opening up the whole joint. While this method can be effective, it results in the increased possibility of infection because the entire joint is exposed. Arthroscopy was at first used as a diagnostic tool for planning standard open joint surgery. With the development of better instrumentation and surgical techniques, many conditions can now be treated arthroscopically, without opening the joint.

Using these scopes in surgery not only improves surgical outcomes for the patient, but will also be a great learning tool for students of surgery at the University of Illinois.

Dr. Dunning says, "In the past the only people who were able to view a surgery were those few people who could crowd around the surgery table. Even then, the view was not always good. Now because of the endoscopic equipment that we have, an entire procedure can be seen very easily as it is projected on a monitor." Not only can many more students view the entire surgical procedure, but the surgery can also be recorded for use in future instruction.

To find out more about endoscopy or minimally invasive surgery, please discuss this option with your veterinarian or call the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital at 217/333-5300.