Pet Anesthesia Safety

Tips from a Veterinarian’s Perspective

Anesthesia—it’s bound to happen at some point in your pet’s life. He or she will require some type of surgical or dental procedure and will need to be anesthetized. Whether it’s a planned common procedure like a spay/neuter, a dental cleaning and tooth extraction, or maybe an emergency surgical procedure due to illness or injury, there are numerous precautions that should be taken to lessen the chance of complications from anesthesia.

While there are no truly beneficial scientific studies that accurately document the anesthesia complication rate in veterinary medicine, the vast majority of surgical procedures today are performed with few complications. Advances in medical technology, safer anesthetic drugs, advanced monitoring equipment, as well as improved pre-anesthetic screening testing, all play a huge role in improving patient safety during the anesthetic period.

Additionally, adhering to the following checklist can help ensure your pet’s successful outcome when anesthesia is necessary.

1)  Pre-anesthetic Patient Evaluation

Whenever possible, any patient undergoing anesthesia—for any reason—should have a complete physical exam performed by a veterinarian. Additionally, the pet should have blood/lab tests performed before the procedure. These tests can identify underlying medical problems (i.e., kidney disease, blood clotting disorders) that are not easily discovered during a physical exam. Animals that are older or that have ongoing diseases will likely require more in-depth testing, including X-rays, ultrasound, etc., prior to their surgical or dental procedures.

2) Withhold Food Before Surgery

Just like people, animals tend to experience stomach upset with some medications. To help prevent patients from vomiting before or after surgery, it is advised that patients not consume any food for eight to 12 hours prior to surgery. Water, generally speaking, is safe up until the morning of surgery.

3) Comprehensive Anesthetic Monitoring

Veterinary patients experience the same types of anesthesia complications as people, including low body temperature, low blood pressure and decreased blood circulation. For these reasons, patients should have an IV catheter placed and receive IV fluids to help improve circulation and blood pressure. Additionally, monitoring of heart rate, EKG, blood pressure, oxygen and carbon dioxide levels are all vitally important to ensure patient safety during anesthesia.

4)  Recovery

We have all seen the hilarious viral videos of people waking up from surgical procedures and acting out of the ordinary; pets experience the same types of issues. Pets tend to exhibit disorientation during the recovery phase and need to be watched carefully to be sure they do not harm themselves, chew/lick at the surgical site or vocalize/howl loudly. Also, during this recovery period, the animal should be monitored closely to ensure that his or her body temperature is stable and to catch any signs of post-operative discomfort.

The above general guidelines can help pet owners understand the anesthesia process and provide them with information, so they can, in turn, have an informed discussion with their veterinarian before their family pet undergoes a procedure. Each pet and each surgical procedure is different and may call for different pre-surgical evaluation, different medications, etc.

Veterinarians today are highly trained in all areas of anesthesia and will be happy to discuss any questions or concerns you may have. Your pet is your family member. Please do not be afraid to ask questions, ensuring your peace of mind, before he or she undergoes surgery.