REVIEWS: The Wellman Procedure: A Surgical Technique for the Complete Gonadectomy in the Dog and Cat

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 1995:

The Wellman Procedure: A Surgical Technique for the Complete
Gonadectomy in the Dog and Cat, promoted by William K. Wellman,
DVM, c/o All Creatures Veterinary Surgery (70234 Phoenix, South Haven, MI
49090; 616-637-3929).
According to William K. Wellman,
who advances “The Wellman Procedure” with
mailers, a videotape, and online postings,
“This revolutionary approach to spaying and
neutering cats and dogs promotes less inva-
sive surgery, far less time in surgery, much
shorter recovery time, outpatient surgery for
the pet, increased safety as result of the
above, lowered costs for pet owners, and
higher productivity for veterinarians.” Thus,
Wellman argues, widespread adoption of his
procedure could mean, “The possibility of
millions less unwanted animals, the possibili-
ty of greater affordability, and greater reduc-
tion in the mounting costs of animal control.”

Calling to introduce himself,
Wellman further claimed that despite the
potential benefits of his procedure, he hadn’t
been able to get the veterinary establishment
to take a serious look at it.
ANIMAL PEOPLE did. We sent
Wellman’s materials to the Tufts University
School of Veterinary Medicine, one of the
best regarded and most innovative veterinary
schools in the world. Three faculty members
reviewed it, including Mike Paveletic, DVM,
who teaches veterinary surgery; Andrew
Rowan, Ph.D., head of the Tufts Center for
Animals and Public Policy; and Franklin
Loew, DVM, Dean of the School of
Veterinary Medicine.
“The Wellman procedure is nothing
more than an ovariectomy,” reported
Pavletic. “Individual ovaries are removed
through two separate incisions created lateral
to the mammary chain. Each skin incision is
approximately two centimeters long. The vet-
erinarian gains entry into the abdominal cavity
by dissecting through the three musculofascial
layers comprising the abdominal wall. A
spay hook is used to pull the uterus out of the
incision and expose the ovary. The ovarian
pedicle and proper ligament are ligated and
the ovaries removed.
“Many veterinarians can perform a
standard midline ovariohysterectomy in a cat
or dog within a 15-minute time frame. You
do not have to be a skilled general surgeon to
become adept at spaying animals. The
Wellman procedure may be technically easier
to perform in large breed dogs; in small dogs
and cats there is no significant time saving. It
would appear, however, that Dr. Wellman
prefers small patients, those very patients
most amenable to quick spays.
“Ovariectomy,” Pavletic continued,
“has been performed experimentally in ani-
mals before Dr. Wellman discovered it. The
primary reason why it has not been advocated
by veterinarians is the concern that the
retained uterus could later become infected
(pyometra) or fill with mucous or other fluids
secreted by the uterine lining (mucometra).
Both conditions can be life-threatening, and
are preventable by the standard ovarihysterec-
tomy spay. Because these conditions may not
develop until later in the patient’s life, it
would be somewhat presumptuous to state
that all pets sterilized by the Wellman
ovariectomy are happy and healthy following
this procedure, without long-term follow-up.
No follow-up
“If Dr. Wellman has performed this
procedure in thousands of small animals,
where are his published results?”, Pavletic
wondered. “It is necessary to perform a long-
term follow-up study to determine what the
risks are in retaining the entire uterine tract.
These results should be published in a refer-
eed journal, to establish the safety, efficacy,
and complication rate of this technque.
Testimonials provided by Dr. Wellman,
happy owners, and shelter employees cannot
be used as the sole guideline for advocating
this procedure.
“If you have a revolving-door neuter
clinic for destitute owners,” Pavletic conclud-
ed, “who accept the potential risks of a
retained uterus in their pet, then this proce-
dure may be a logical option.” However, he
cautioned, “It also must be noted that early
spay programs in puppies and kittens have
greater merit than the Wellman ovariectomy.
In these small patients, I would guess that a
standard spay can be accomplished more easi-
ly than the Wellman procedure, with the
added advantages noted above.”
Added Rowan, “There may be
instances where a simple ovariectomy is
called for, but without appropriate data, it is
unclear what sort of risk/benefit trade-off will
be borne by the animals.”
As your grandmother probably
warned, if something sounds too good to be
true, it usually is.
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