Which is Better for Surgery: Scalpel or Laser?

Hi, Dr. Barchas, I recently adopted a 5 month old puppy that has not been spayed. I'm told that there are two different kinds of...


Hi, Dr. Barchas,

I recently adopted a 5 month old puppy that has not been spayed. I’m told that there are two different kinds of spaying–scalpel (which has a longer recovery period) and laser.

Which do you prefer and what are the advantages or disadvantages of both?

Boise, ID

Scalpels are extremely sharp surgical instruments. Veterinarians use scalpels to incise skin and tissue. Scalpels are cheap and universally available. They are a mainstay of surgery.

Certain types of lasers can be used in lieu of scalpels. Surgical lasers use high energy light to incise skin and tissue. The purported benefits of surgical lasers include reduced pain, decreased hemorrhage during surgery, and less swelling of surgical sites. Surgical lasers are quite expensive, and they are not in very common use among veterinarians.

In my experience laser surgery offers more hype than true advantage when it comes to spays. Although lasers may cause less pain than scalpels, laser surgery definitely has the potential to be painful. (If you doubt this, ask any vet who has accidentally zapped himself with the laser whether it hurt.) Hemorrhage is not common when a skilled surgeon spays a dog, and the type of bleeding that occurs as an infrequent complication during spays can not be stopped by a laser.

There certainly is nothing wrong with using a laser to perform a spay. But whether your vet uses a high-tech laser or cold, hard steel is less important than some other choices you and your vet must make together.

Regardless of the technique that is employed, your dog will need pain control during and after the procedure. Incredibly, some vets overlook this important fact. Also, you should ask your vet whether your dog will receive IV fluids during the procedure. IV fluids provide a number of benefits during anesthesia and surgery, but, surprisingly, not every vet gives them.

The answers to these two questions are, in my mind, more important than the vet’s choice of cutting instrument.

Image: Sharks with lasers, by Brian Ward.

1 thought on “Which is Better for Surgery: Scalpel or Laser?”

  1. Thank you for open discussion of the pros and cons of each type of surgery. I appreciate what you said about the benefits of surgical lasers despite their price and relative infrequency in veterinary practice. Now that I better understand the two options for surgery I’ll be able to move on to other considerations for the health of my dog.

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