Working at a clinic, you find that a lot of owners tend to freak out just a little bit when their animal comes out with their leg shaved. I think they perceive it to mean something bad happened to their animal during what they thought was a simple spay/neuter procedure, and that the clinic is hiding something. So many owners get concerned and ask, worried, "Why is their leg shaved?" At adoption events, more often than not the Pyrs there all had little rectangular patches of missing hair on a forelimb. "Is he healthy?" They'd ask me. Of course. I have too many memories of them scrutinizing the missing patch of hair on their legs as if I were lying. They'd lean down, armchair experts, and ask condescendingly "then why is their leg shaved?"
The forelimb of your pet is shaved for the placement of a catheter. Catheters are placed, ideally, for any procedure under which your animal is anesthetized. This includes procedures as simple as dentals and spay/neuter, and of course larger procedures. The hair is shaved, because dog hair is dirty.. no matter how clean you think your pet is. By shaving it, we can ensure that when the catheter is placed into the vein, no unwanted cooties are also placed into their blood stream. While the area is cleaned & prepped with things like alcohol, the cleanest, most sterile condition is what needs to be achieved.
Catheters are placed because even the simplest of procedures requiring the use of anesthetic gas coupled with any degree of blood loss holds potential risks to your pet. Any degree of blood loss can put your animal at the risk of their blood pressure going down. By administering IV fluids during procedures, we ensure their blood pressure remains optimal. If your animal's body cavity is opened during a procedure, they can be at risk of dehydration due to evaporation of certain body fluids. Administering IV fluids helps prevents dehydration. We never want to imagine something going wrong, but if it did, a catheter will be there to ensure your veterinary team has quick access to a vein to administer the needed meds. Additionally, often when we put our dogs "under", it is not just gases used. Typically IV drugs are administered prior to anesthetic gas, to sedate your animal and possibly give them some pain medications.
Don't freak out if your dog was hospitalized, or had any kind of surgery, and came back with a shaved arm. Additionally, don't be fearful of the shelter or rescue animal with evidence of a procedure; it was likely their spay or neuter. The unsightly loss of a small patch of hair pales in comparison to not placing a catheter. Also, often times your vet or tech will also shave their leg or neck prior to taking blood to run blood work. Again, the same reasons... to reduce the chance of bad things entering their blood stream from the needle picking up cooties from their hair. jkjjj (my cat just typed that as he walked over my laptop. I am leaving it, because it's cute:)