Companion Animal

Is Anesthesia Safe for Pets?

Sep 22 • 3 minute read

In animals and humans, anesthesia inhibits pain and keeps the patient stable during medical procedures. Medical procedures in pets such as surgery, diagnostic imaging, and dentistry are carried out under anesthesia. While it’s understandable to feel nervous about your pet undergoing anesthesia, in most cases, there is little cause for worry. Many healthy and aging pets react well to anesthesia and are not at risk of post-operative complications after its use.

Vets follow a careful process to ensure the risks of anesthesia are reduced as much as possible. Here are the steps your vet will take to evaluate your pet for anesthesia and prepare a safe, successful procedure:

1. Assessment

In the assessment stage, the vet studies the pet’s medical history through lab results and physical examination. You will be asked several questions about your pet. At this stage, you should ask questions and share any concerns so the vet can consider them before administering anesthesia. The vet will inform you of your pet’s body temperature, heart rate, breathing rate, and pressure and how they can change after anesthesia.

2. Pre-Medications

The vet will administer pre-anesthetic medication to relieve stress, manage pain, and minimize the required dose of anesthetic drugs. The pre-meds are specialized and differ from one pet to another depending on their medical profile.

3. Administering IV Catheter and Pre-Oxygenation

The IV catheter will help the vet to administer fluids and anesthesia medication. Although some vets use masks to administer anesthesia, an IV catheter is less stressful for the pet. If your pet faces a complication during the medical procedure, it will be easier to use the catheter to administer an emergency drug. The vet then administers oxygen to help the pet safely transition into unconsciousness.

4. Endotracheal Intubation

The vet places an endotracheal tube to protect your pet’s airway and lungs from unanticipated inhalation of unwanted materials like saliva, blood, or water. The tube also helps to maintain anesthesia and oxygen.

5. Monitoring

When your pet is unconscious, the vet will monitor their vital signs and ensure any potential complications are quickly noted and managed. They will try to keep your pet warm and prevent lowering the body temperature. The vet will also administer pain medication while the pet is still under anesthesia.

6. Recovery and Discharge

After the anesthesia wears off, the endotracheal tube and the IV catheters are removed. The pet is then transferred to a recovery area where they are kept warm and comfortable. The vet will monitor and assess them for any complications until they are stable enough to return home. You will be given instructions to follow while your pet recovers at home and then be discharged.

Is My Pet at Higher Risk for Anesthesia Complications?

Pets with certain medical problems, particularly those affecting the heart or airway, may be considered high-risk under anesthesia. Very young pets, senior pets, and certain dog and cat breeds may also be at a higher risk of complications. Be sure to consult your vet, and they will inform you of risks and strategies to counter them. Your vet can conduct a wellness exam and blood tests to detect any health concerns that could complicate successful anesthesia.

Effects of Anesthesia on Pets

After your pet wakes up from anesthesia, they might show some side effects. However, these effects are only short-term and will go away after a few minutes. The most common effects are:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Grogginess and disorientation
  • Shivering
  • Whining, barking, or meowing
  • Restlessness

As with any medical treatment or procedure, putting a pet under anesthesia comes with risks, especially if your pet has a medical problem. However, if your vet has recommended a medical procedure using anesthesia, you can trust that the benefits outweigh these risks. Your vet might sometimes refer you to a hospital with an on-staff anesthesiologist or a specialist to ensure your pet receives all the necessary care.

If your pet needs anesthetic treatment, don’t be afraid to ask questions and seek more information. The more you understand about the situation, the more comfortable you are likely to feel about the care your pet receives as your vet works to help them improve and maintain their health.

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