It is important to note that general anesthesia for pets has come a long way in the past several years. As we better understand drug mechanisms of action, have access to newer and safer medications, along with improved monitoring by well-trained veterinary team members we are able to make general anesthesia for your pet safer than ever. As with any medical procedure (for humans or for pets), there is always some risk. Fortunately anesthesia-related complications and deaths are very rare as a result of all of the precautions we take to ensure that a pet is healthy enough to undergo anesthesia.
Now let’s review what general anesthesia entails. In simple terms, general anesthesia is CONTROLLED unconsciousness aimed at ensuring that your pet does not feel pain and is unable to move so that certain procedures may be safely and accurately performed. Anesthesia is necessary to prevent pain in your furry companion and is important to prevent movement during delicate procedures. An example is the process of cleaning the hard tartar and plaque off of the surface of their teeth (including under the gum line) with a high powered scaler that could
traumatize sensitive gum tissue if an animal were to move.
Prior to anesthesia, one of our veterinarians will perform a thorough physical examination of your pet, review his/her medical history, and assess for the presence of any potential risk factors. Some risk factors may include kidney disease, liver disease, certain heart conditions, obesity, or a known history of sensitivity/reactions to medications or anesthesia. Depending on your pet’s age, pre-surgical blood work will either be highly recommended or required to assess
your pet’s internal body systems and organ function. You can think of this blood work as an “internal physical examination.” If, based on the physical examination or blood work results, your pet is determined to be at a higher risk for adverse effects from undergoing anesthesia, your veterinarian will discuss these risk factors. With your pet’s best interest in mind, you and your veterinarian will weigh the potential risks versus the benefits of undergoing anesthesia.
This is a good time to mention that age alone is not a risk factor for anesthesia - as you may have heard, “old age is not a disease.” However, we know certain disease processes are more likely to occur in our older patients so we do screen their overall health even more carefully prior to anesthesia.
On the day of your pet’s surgery, he/she will again be examined to ensure there haven’t been any changes in his/her physical health. Next, they will be given some medications as a pre-anesthetic to relax them, remove potential stress they may be feeling while in the hospital, and to preemptively prevent any pain that may be caused by the surgical procedure. An area of hair is shaved and an intravenous (IV) catheter is placed in one of your pet’s limbs to allow for fluids
and medications to be administered during and after the surgical procedure. An anesthetic medication is then given though the IV catheter to “induce” general anesthesia and to allow for an Endo-tracheal tube to be placed in your pet’s trachea (“windpipe”). This allows oxygen and anesthetic gas (Isoflurane) to enter their lungs. At this point, we have full control of your pet’s airway, respirations and circulation, all of which are essential to ensure your pet remains at an ideal level of anesthesia and that their cardio-pulmonary system remains stable throughout the surgical procedure.
During general anesthesia, your pet’s heart rate, oxygenation status, respirations, body temperature and blood pressure are continually monitored by one of our Licensed Veterinary Technicians. The Technician is also physically monitoring your pet’s depth of anesthesia and the anesthetic gas is adjusted accordingly to maintain a safe and effective response.
Intravenous fluids are given to support your pet’s circulation and blood pressure, maintain hydration status of the internal organs and to hasten recovery from general anesthesia. Warming surgical tables/blankets are used to prevent hypothermia (low body temperature) which additionally hastens recovery from general anesthesia. Once the surgical procedure is completed, your pet is placed in a quiet recovery area with additional warming blankets and is monitored closely by a dedicated recovery assistant to ensure they awaken from anesthesia without complications. Once your pet is awake enough to swallow and is breathing normally, the Endo-tracheal tube is removed. Your pet will remain in the recovery area until he/she is stable enough to walk back to the general kennel/hospitalization area. Depending on the procedure performed, the need for further monitoring or support, your pet may or may not stay on IV fluids overnight.
If you have ANY questions or concerns prior to your pet undergoing general anesthesia please ask one of our Veterinary Health Care Team members for clarification. If you would like to see where your pet’s procedure will take place and who will be caring for them, please give us a call and we will be happy to set your mind at ease with a tour of our treatment room and surgery suite! Or check out our Take a Tour page for photos of our facility.