Veterinary Anesthesia

If your pet is about to undergo a procedure requiring sedation or anesthesia, you are likely wondering (and yes, even worrying) about its associated risks.

It is important that you are told and understand that although there’s always a risk with sedation or general anesthesia, those risks are minimal if done properly and by an experienced, knowledgeable team. Veterinary medicine has come such a long way in the past few decades and continues to improve by leaps and bounds on a regular basis. In high-quality veterinary practices, every pet undergoing anesthesia is closely monitored using specialized equipment, and every team member involved with the procedure is knowledgeable on how to properly use, monitor, and maintain the equipment and administer proper doses of medications.

To help you better understand anesthesia, the impact it has on your pet’s health, and to help alleviate your fears, here is some basic information on how these procedures are performed here at Harmony Animal Hospital. If you are still concerned about anything, we welcome you to talk to us before your pet’s scheduled surgery. We’ll be happy to put your mind at ease by answering any questions.

Anesthesia for PetsChoosing the Right Anesthesia for Every Patient

When determining if anesthesia is appropriate for a pet, all risks and benefits are discussed and assessed to ensure this is in the patient’s best interest. The most common need for anesthesia, where the benefits clearly outweigh the risks, is when pain, infection, and life-threatening conditions are present within the pet. Other reasons to consider anesthesia for a patient are to improve the quality of life for the pet and/or owner, extend the animal’s life, and prevent pain, disease, or illness.

Anesthesia comes in many different levels and forms. Drugs used to sedate and maintain anesthesia for animals are usually either injected or inhaled. A combination of both is used for most procedures to minimize the amount of each drug needed to complete the procedure successfully. Choosing which drugs and how much to use is based on many factors, such as your pet’s condition, the type of procedure, the amount of expected pain/discomfort, previous history with anesthesia, current medications, age, breed, and size. Anesthesia should never be one size fits all. It needs to be tailored to each and every individual pet. While general protocols and guidelines exist, the final anesthetic and surgical plan is only completed and ready once all the necessary factors have been reviewed and adjusted to that individual pet.

While heart or lung problems, current health issues, previous experiences with medications or anesthesia, and many other factors affect the decision to perform anesthesia on a pet, please understand that “age” alone is never a reason to forgo a much-needed procedure for a patient. While age is always a consideration in making the proper anesthesia plan for a patient, it should not be the reason to automatically deny a pet a much-needed procedure due to fear or misunderstanding of the actual versus perceived risks. At Harmony Animal Hospital, we successfully anesthetize many senior pets for much-needed procedures regularly to drastically improve their quality and quantity of life.

As with all patients scheduled for anesthesia, we need to ensure the best anesthetic plan is made and performed. Therefore we will conduct a series of tests in advance. While the recommended testing is based on your pet’s needs, all animals undergoing anesthesia are required to have a baseline blood panel which includes a complete blood panel and a chemistry panel. For pets that are older, have significant medical issues, or have a history of drug reactions or illness, additional tests such as thyroid testing, urinalysis, urine culture, an electrocardiogram (ECG), chest and/or abdominal x-rays, an ultrasound, or a consult with a specialist might also be needed. We will discuss any additional testing recommendations for your pet prior to scheduling the anesthetic procedure.

How Anesthesia Works

As mentioned above, most pets receive a combination of injectable and inhalant anesthetics during surgery. To limit the amount of anesthetic used and to minimize stress for our patients, we typically begin by giving your pet an injectable sedative. Once our patient is relaxed and calm, an IV catheter is placed into a vein to ensure access for administering IV fluids and needed medications (i.e., pain medication, antibiotics, emergency drugs, etc). Only after all equipment is checked, needed supplies gathered, and the anesthesia plan is reviewed, then general anesthesia is administered via the IV catheter.

After the pet has fallen asleep, an endotracheal tube is gently inserted into the airway (trachea). This tube is connected to a machine that provides controlled amounts of ongoing inhaled anesthesia and oxygen for the rest of the procedure. Then all monitoring equipment is attached, IV fluids are begun, the patient’s eyes are lubricated, and a heating blanket is used to keep your pet snug and warm.

Monitoring Your Pet While Under Anesthesia

During the induction, maintenance, and recovery from anesthesia, your pet is constantly and thoroughly monitored by our doctors and veterinary nurses to ensure the highest level of safety. Our state-of-the-art machinery continually monitors your pet’s vital signs while under anesthesia. We consistently monitor every pet’s heart rate and rhythm with an ECG, blood oxygen level with a pulse oximetry machine, carbon dioxide level and respiratory rate with a capnograph, blood pressure, temperature, and depth of anesthesia during the entire procedure and well into recovery. Being able to check your pet’s vital signs continuously means we can take action quickly and early if changes or complications arise.

While precise monitoring is important for all pets, we understand that it is exceptionally important to monitor and minimize anesthesia for critically ill or older pets who can have a more challenging time metabolizing anesthetics drugs due to the added burden on the heart and lungs. We assure you with the proper veterinary anesthesia monitoring and the expertise of a veterinary surgical team who understands anesthetics, even critical and senior pets should be able to be anesthetized safely with minimal risks.

What Happens After Anesthesia?

How soon your pet wakes up from vet anesthesia depends on many factors. For example, inhalant anesthetics tend to wear off more quickly, while injectable drugs typically take longer to leave the body. In general, most patients are awake, alert, ambulatory, and considered stable within 1-3 hours after surgery. As your pet wakes up, they may feel confused, cold, painful, and wobbly, so our surgical team is always by their side, closely monitoring every patient until they are fully recovered, comfortable, warm, and stable. Once this is established, we will call you to let you know your beloved pet is awake and update you on how the procedure went.

While most of our patients go home the same day as the procedure, it is sometimes a good idea or necessary to leave the pet overnight at the hospital for continued monitoring and recovery. Of course, we will discuss this with you and determine the best option for your pet. Our primary concern is ensuring your pet will be safe, comfortable, and completely recovered when they go home.

Anesthesia lowers the body temperature, so keep your pet warm and comfortable even after he’s completely awake. Please understand that it is critical for you to follow all directions in the post-operative period closely. Every patient will go home with written detailed instructions about the procedure, medications, and restrictions which will be discussed by a doctor or veterinary nurse at discharge.

Pets might also exhibit unusual behavior for a few days after general anesthesia. They might feel tired or seem confused. They may also experience lethargy, decreased appetite or thirst, and sometimes agitation, vocalization/whimpering, or restlessness. Some might have unusual reactions or be upset for several hours or even days; however, this usually goes away on its own as their bodies return to normal. If you have any concerns or feel there’s something wrong with your pet, call us immediately.