Anesthesia-Is It Safe For Your Pet?

by | Mar 1, 2019 | News

As the veterinarian finishes her physical exam she sits back on the stool and says, “Well, I think little Fluffy here should have a periodontal cleaning procedure.  She has a fractured upper premolar tooth that you can see here.”  You nod your head as she points toward the broken tooth all the while thinking, “I can’t put her under anesthesia, she’s too old for that.” The doctor goes on to explain the reasons why she should have the tooth extracted vs leaving the tooth there.

For some pet owners, the thought of having their pet undergo an anesthetic procedure is very unsettling.  Many owners are under the impression that their pet is too old for anesthesia or have heard other people’s experiences after having their pets undergo anesthesia.  While there is always some sort of risk involved with any procedure that requires sedation or general anesthetic, these procedures have become much safer than people realize.  Most times the benefits of having the procedure performed outweigh the risks of not having them done.  Recent advances in the veterinary field with general anesthesia and monitoring processes make these procedures the safest that they can be.  Let’s take a look at what steps are taken to keep your pet’s anesthetic experience as safe as possible from the time your furry family member comes to the hospital to the time that they go home. 

Presurgical Exam

The presurgical exam is one of the most important parts of the procedure itself.  Many times owners feel their pet is doing great and they have no concerns.  At this appointment, the doctor will do a full physical exam which includes looking at the eyes and ears and listening to the heart and lungs. All of the body’s systems are looked at.  This appointment can sometimes reveal issues that are not apparent to the owner such as lumps and bumps or even weight loss which may seem minor, but could be an issue.  This evaluation along with bloodwork, is done prior to the day of anesthesia to make sure that we can address any issues before the surgery itself. 

Presurgical Bloodwork

Presurgical bloodwork runs hand in hand with the physical exam.  This diagnostic tool gives the doctor a wealth of information regarding your pet.  It not only tells them whether or not the anesthetic drugs typically used in these procedures can be tolerated by your pet, but also alerts us to any underlying issues that they may have.  The liver, kidneys and other values are all checked to make sure that each system is healthy enough for the procedure.  After the presurgical evaluation and bloodwork have been completed, the doctor is then able to determine whether or not any other diagnostics should be done prior to having the procedure completed.  This can also help the doctor determine if any treatments should take place prior to the procedure such as intravenous fluids.  Each patient receives an individualized anesthetic plan according to their needs and this bloodwork will play a role in that.  

Day of Surgery

PreSurgical Period

The day of the procedure itself, you will present your pet at the hospital where a veterinary technician will do the patient intake.  At this time you will discuss any changes, concerns, or special requests that you may have for your pet.  The surgical consent form is also discussed to make sure that both you and the veterinary team know your wishes for the procedure.  Your pet is given a brief exam to make sure there have been no changes.  At this time, an intravenous catheter will be placed.  This will allow us to administer intravenous fluids to help maintain blood pressure and also give intravenous access for medications.  Once the exam is complete and the IV catheter has been placed, your pet will be given a premedication which makes them slightly sedate, provides pain management, and prepares them for the next steps of their procedure. After the allotted time has passed, vitals are taken, an induction agent is given, and an endotracheal tube is placed down its airway to assist with breathing while under anesthesia.  Your pet is then prepared for the procedure itself including clipping and cleaning of surgical sites. 

Surgery-General Anesthesia

During the procedure, many steps are taken to make sure that your pet is well taken care of and monitored.  The patient is placed on a gas anesthetic and oxygen and monitored very close.  Per AAHA guidelines, each individual pet has a technician in the surgical suite to monitor vitals every 5 minutes and physically monitor your pet the entire time.  The patient is hooked up to monitoring equipment that gives the technician patient vitals and information on how the heart is working (ECG).  Heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure, SpO2 (blood oxygen saturation) and temperature are some of these vitals that are monitored extremely close.  Other measures are also taken to help prevent your pet from becoming hypothermic such as heated water blankets, heated surgery tables, etc. 

PostOperative Period

While general anesthesia is generally very safe, the postoperative period is many times one of the most risky periods of the procedure itself.  Many pet parents would like to take their pet home right after the procedure but it is crucial that the patient stay in hospital for monitoring.  At this time the veterinary technician and veterinarian monitor your pet to make sure that they wake up from the procedure with no complications and that their pain is managed well which is a very important factor after having a procedure.

Discharge/Go Home

Another crucial part of any surgical procedure is the patient’s discharge.  This is when the doctor or technician goes through any postoperative instructions with you.  It provides you with the information that you need to make sure that your pet heals from its procedure appropriately and gets back to its normal everyday life.  Instructions for medications, physical therapy, and any treatments such as bandaging or cold packing are very important to follow.  Without these, the healing process will be delayed. 

General anesthesia for your pet may be a scary topic to think about.  With all the precautions above and more however, it has become a typically safe thing to do.  With the advances in diagnostic equipment, monitoring equipment and surgical techniques, we are able to do whatever is possible in our own hands to make sure that your pet has the safest procedure that is possible.  Hopefully with the above information, you will be able to make a more informed decision as to whether your pet should have that surgical procedure vs waiting. If you would like more information regarding anesthetic procedures and the guidelines that Bismarck Animal Clinic & Hospital follow, please take a look at the AAHA website  This website is a great tool in learning the requirements that we as a clinic follow to make sure that your pet has to safest experience possible in any appointment or procedure that we provide. 

Amy Duchsherer, Office Manager, Lead LVT