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ice, ice, baby: cryosurgery for pets

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Dr. Kim Smyth
Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on Jun 28 2013
aussie shepherd dog | cryosurgery for pets | Petplan


If you’ve ever had the experience of having a wart frozen off, then you’re already familiar with the procedure known as cryosurgery. Our pets can also benefit from cryosurgery, which is an effective non-invasive way to treat small skin and eyelid masses, as well as another common eye condition called distichiasis.

Cryosurgery uses liquid nitrogen or nitrous oxide to freeze the affected tissue. Because cells are made up of mostly water, ice crystals form inside of them when they are exposed to the freezing temperatures provided by cryotherapy. The frozen cells then rupture and die, and over time, the affected tissue will slough off. As a treatment option, it is especially useful in small benign skin masses, which are common in older dogs. It is quick and non-invasive, and while sedation is sometimes needed, often a local anesthetic is all that is required for most skin masses. This saves time and money, and removes the potential risks that can be associated with general anesthesia.

While cryosurgery works well for small skin masses, larger masses are generally not considered good candidates for removal in this way. Also, cryosurgery often does not leave intact tissue adequate for biopsy submission, so if malignant masses are suspected, traditional surgery with a scalpel is preferred to allow for proper biopsy samples.

One of the other most common uses for cryosurgery is the treatment of distichiasis. Distichia is a condition we see in many breeds of dogs (and very occasionally cats) where extra eyelashes grow out of or next to the Meibomian glands on the eyelids. These extra lashes are often stiff or sharp and can easily cause inflammation of the cornea. Excess tearing and blinking are common in these pets, and we often see corneal pigmentation from chronic irritation. Severe cases involve corneal ulcerations that are difficult to treat due to continued irritation from the tiny hairs.

In cases of distichiasis, cyrosurgery is used to freeze a section of the eyelid where the abnormal hairs are growing. Because hair follicles are more sensitive to the effects of cryosurgery, the tiny offending hairs fall out while the normal eyelid tissue is not permanently affected. The lids may be subject to depigmentation, but this is usually temporary.

Cryosurgery provides a quick way to remove small masses and treat distichiasis. Most of the time, the procedure is considered outpatient and can be performed during your normal office visit. In this way, cryosurgery saves time and will cost less than traditional surgery as pre-anesthetic work-ups are not needed and anesthetic costs are avoided (of course, if you have pet insurance, cost need not be a factor). If your pet is plagued by small skin tags or warts, or has eyelashes that cause him trouble, ask your veterinarian if cryosurgery is an option.