One of the scariest situations for many pet owners is the thought of putting their beloved companion under anesthesia. But, most pets will require general anesthesia at least once in their lifetime, such as during a spay or neuter, or a dental cleaning. When your pet is under anesthesia, we control her consciousness level, to ensure she does not feel pain and does not move, which are crucial elements of surgery. Pet owners often fear general anesthesia when, in fact, the risk to your pet’s health if you fail to have an important procedure performed can be much more dangerous than anesthesia itself.

If your pet needs to undergo anesthesia, we take every precaution possible to ensure your furry pal remains healthy, and pain-free, and recovers well from an anesthetic procedure. To accomplish this potentially challenging task, our Pet Emergency Clinic and Referral Center team takes steps to help ensure your pet’s health and safety. 

Step #1: Keeping your pet safe before anesthesia

Before we begin creating an anesthetic protocol for your pet, we first run preanesthetic blood work. A complete blood count can tell us if your pet is anemic, battling infection, or dehydrated. A chemistry panel checks your pet’s organ functions, glucose level, and electrolyte balances. If your pet’s kidneys or liver aren’t functioning properly, we need to take special precautions, and ensure we tailor her anesthetic protocol to account for decreased organ function. 

In addition to preanesthetic blood work, we place an intravenous (IV) catheter in pets undergoing anesthesia. This direct port to your pet’s vein provides many benefits, including:

  • Stabilization of blood pressure by administering IV fluids
  • Aiding the kidneys in metabolizing anesthetic drugs
  • Providing instant access to your pet’s bloodstream, in case of an emergency, and we need to administer life-saving drugs

Once we have completed your pet’s preanesthetic blood work and placed her IV catheter, we formulate an anesthetic protocol based on her organ function, health status, and the procedure we are performing. After we have calculated her pain medication, sedation, induction agent, and emergency drug doses, we administer her premedication cocktail of pain medication and sedation, allowing the pain medication to take effect before putting her fully under general anesthesia.

Step #2: Keeping your pet safe during anesthesia

Once your pet’s pain medication has taken effect, and the sedative has relaxed her, we inject the induction drug, closely monitoring her heart rate and rhythm, respiratory rate, and blood pressure. During your pet’s procedure, we connect her to monitoring equipment, to evaluate her pain, anesthetic depth, temperature, heart function, oxygen level, and blood pressure. 

After administering your pet’s induction agent, we place an endotracheal tube (i.e., breathing tube) down her trachea. This tube allows us to provide pure oxygen and anesthetic gas, to help her breathe and remain unconscious throughout the procedure. Correct placement is critical for your pet’s safety and respiratory function, which is why our skilled team has been trained extensively in every anesthesia step. 

Step #3: Keeping your pet safe after anesthesia

We continue to closely monitor your pet’s vital signs after our surgeons have completed her procedure. Your pet naturally loses some body heat while under anesthesia, so we ensure she is kept warm and pain-free during her recovery period, as we evaluate pain indicators, such as an increased heart rate, increased respiratory rate, and vocalization. We stay with your pet every moment of her recovery until she is alert enough to pick up her head on her own, and we then follow up with periodic checks of her vital signs and comfort level. 

How you can help make anesthesia safe for your pet with at-home changes

While we do everything we can to keep your furry friend safe under anesthesia in our hospital, you can help to ensure your pet is in excellent health for anesthetic procedures. By following these steps at home, together we can make anesthesia as safe as possible for your four-legged pal:

  • Withhold food and water from your pet before anesthesia — Follow our team’s instructions, which will vary, depending on your pet’s age and species, and also on the procedure being performed. Many of the pain medications we give your pet can make her vomit, so she cannot have a full stomach while undergoing anesthesia.
  • Give your pet’s medications appropriately — If your pet is on chronic medications for heart disease, diabetes, or arthritis pain, ask us what you should give her the morning of surgery.
  • Maintain a regular preventive care schedule — Schedule routine wellness visits with your family veterinarian, who will perform baseline blood work to monitor your pet’s normal values, and administer year-round parasite prevention.
  • Keep your pet at a healthy weight — Each additional pound over your furry pal’s ideal weight makes anesthesia and surgery more difficult—for example, the heart and lungs must work harder to function properly in an overweight pet, and maintaining an appropriate body temperature is more difficult. Recovery from surgery can also be slowed if your pet is overweight.

We understand that the thought of putting your beloved pet under anesthesia can be frightening. Rest assured that we will take every precaution possible to eliminate risks and keep your best friend safe. If you have any questions regarding anesthesia and the potential risks for your pet, contact our clinic.