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What does “dedicated operating suite” mean on a vet’s website and is it important?

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When searching for a suitable veterinary clinic online and browsing what facilities a practice might have, the term “dedicated operating suite” may well show up. But what exactly is such a suite and why is it an important feature of any modern small animal first opinion or, indeed, referral practice?


It is highly probable that at some stage in your pet’s life, they will have to undergo an operation. This may be a planned and routine procedure (such as a neutering) or may be an emergency situation where surgery is required urgently. Regardless of the operation taking place, all surgery would ideally be carried out in an aseptic (sterile or very clean), safe and efficient location, which is purpose built, with all appropriate and available facilities and equipment within it. Such a location would fulfil the criteria of a dedicated operating suite.

The room itself (perhaps once more commonly known as “theatre”), should only have sterile procedures performed within it. And any so called “dirty” surgeries (such as dental procedures and dealing with infected wounds for example), would be preferably performed in a separate area of the practice. 

Adjoining rooms to an operating suite are likely to be an induction or “prep” area; for a patient’s essential pre-operative preparation, a scrub area; for the surgeons to aseptically prepare themselves (get into appropriate clothing and clean their hands and arms, put on a pair of sterile gloves, mask and hat) and a recovery area; and for patients coming round from their surgery, where they are closely monitored by the veterinary and nursing team.


As mentioned above, a dedicated operating suite was historically better known as a “theatre”. Such a suite will have no other purpose, other than to provide a clean facility for ensuring that efficient surgery can be undertaken. The operating suite should, therefore, only contain equipment that is essential for anaesthesia and surgery. The surfaces will all be easily wipeable, so that they can be easily disinfected between patients. Having a theatre situated away from any hospitalisation area can help to ensure a minimal risk of postoperative infections.

Whilst it may not be obvious at first glance to the casual outside observer, any operating suite has almost a strict “etiquette” associated with its working pattern. The suite represents a complex working environment. And there are certain dos and don’ts associated with the day to day running. 

The design

Any operating suite is typically well-lit, usually with many background bright lights which are enhanced by powerful, movable/directional overhead surgical lights. There may be viewing screens within the walls, although this is typically much less common with modern construction. There will also likely exist many and various pieces of anaesthetic monitoring equipment within the room. Typically, there would be minimal windows, and even if these are present, they will remain permanently sealed. The temperature and humidity of the suite will usually be carefully and closely controlled.

Anaesthetic gases and oxygen will be provided through either gas bottles, or increasingly common these days, piped gases. Some practices may use oxygen generators. The bulk of the room will be occupied by the operating table itself.

Common surgical supplies (such as instruments, drapes and suture materials) will be stored in proximity within the operating suite, for swift access during surgery. Certain clinical waste containers for consumables and disposables, will also be discreetly situated within the room.

Surgeons will typically enter the theatre already prepped and surgically dressed, wearing gloves, masks, hats and gowns. Sterile clothing will have been put on immediately prior to any surgery.

Other equipment a Small Animal Operating Suite may have

You may also question what types of monitoring equipment may be found in the operating suite, to facilitate smooth and trouble-free delivery of an anaesthetic. Whilst many practices make use of specialised equipment such as multi-parameter monitors, which can assess a range of different vital signs it is always crucial and imperative that the nursing team keep a close “hands-on” look at the patients. And also rely on their clinical skills to ensure that readings being obtained by any piece of equipment are realistic. Veterinary nurses may be directed to assist veterinary surgeons with the maintenance and monitoring of patients under anaesthesia; and play a crucial role in the care of our pets during this time.

Multiparameter monitors may assess (together or with different machines), a patient’s heart rate and rhythm (ECG), blood pressure, end tidal CO2 (which equates to the adequacy of respiration/ventilation), respiratory rate, core temperature and peripheral tissue oxygen saturation.

What if a practice doesn’t have an operating suite?

In most cases, they will – although they may call it something else. Generally, only small branch practices, or limited service providers (e.g. vaccination clinics) won’t have these facilities at all.

However, if a practice you are looking at doesn’t have these, try and find out what their protocol is if your pet does need surgery. Do they have a bigger practice that they are linked to, and transport animals there? If so, how far away is it? Or do they refer all their surgical cases to a hospital? If that’s the case, consider whether that’s something you would be happy with, if your pet was to suddenly need emergency surgery.

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