Some pet owners look as if they're going into shock when their veterinarian tells them that general anesthesia is necessary to remove a tumor mass, perform a dental cleaning or operate on an animal. Just before we have to call the paramedics, they recover enough for us to explain that modern veterinary anesthesia is safe.
Many veterinarians follow the "as safe as possible" principle. We call it ASAP. Surgery that might be done on humans with a local anesthetic or no sedation, such as a dental cleaning, is impossible with pets. Many factors are included in keeping pets safe for anesthesia.
The first consideration includes a complete history and a physical exam. Making sure pets do not have a pre-existing condition is critical. History can include a current vaccination schedule and a review of medications a pet is on, including owner-administered products like aspirin that is often not recommended. Evaluating the heart and lungs is necessary to prevent a problem during the procedure.
As described in a recent Pet Points article, blood tests help to determine if all the organ functions are normal. Blood counts, liver and kidney issues can be important to know for a safe recovery.
Proper preparation for anesthesia is important. An empty stomach prevents vomiting and aspiration associated with anesthesia. Administration of intravenous fluids by a catheter helps to keep blood pressure from dropping during a surgery. Having access to a vein is also critical if a problem arises and emergency drugs are required.
Preoperative drugs will calm an animal and are helpful to control pain after the surgery. Drugs for the induction of anesthesia can vary and depend on the veterinarian and particular patient. Once the animal is under anesthesia, we almost always insert an endotracheal tube to keep an open airway and administer anesthetic gas and oxygen. Gas anesthesia is preferred for longer surgeries.
Proper use of pain medication before, during and after anesthesia helps a pet tolerate anesthesia and recovery. Close monitoring of indicators such as the percent of oxygen saturation of the blood and blood pressure, and an electrocardiogram help to detect complications before they become critical.
Some breeds of dogs and cats are a particular challenge. Greyhounds, Yorkshire terriers, pit bull terriers and other breeds of dogs can be difficult to anesthetize with a rapid recovery. Dogs and cats with shortened faces and small airways make the routine event more of a challenge.
The best way to ensure safety is to have trained veterinary assistants and certified veterinary technicians (who are licensed) helping to monitor the patient. Many a pet has been saved by the quick action of an alert staff member. From the initial evaluation, induction, maintenance and successful recovery of the animal, veterinarians and their staffs work together for a safe and successful anesthetic procedure.
Lawrence Gerson is a veterinarian and founder of the Point Breeze Veterinary Clinic. His biweekly column is intended to educate pet owners. Consultation with a veterinarian is necessary to diagnose and treat individual pets. If you have a question you'd like addressed in Pet Points, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name and municipality or neighborhood.