From talking with pet owners, it has come to my attention that most people do not fully understand what happens when their pets undergo anesthesia. The most important thing to realize is that not all anesthetic programs are created equal. If your pet is going under anesthesia, there are some basic things you should find out. I’m going to highlight some of the important anesthetic safety information so that you can have the knowledge to ask the important questions that could save a pet’s life.
1. Does the veterinarian assess your pet before anesthesia?
It is important that the veterinarian check things like your pet’s heart, lungs, gum color, temperature etc. to make sure they are stable for anesthesia. Even if your pet was examined recently, it is important to check right before the anesthesia to ensure that nothing has changed that would make your pet unstable for anesthesia.
2. Are you offered the option of a blood work panel prior to anesthesia or is it recommended?
3. Is an intravenous (IV) catheter placed?
An IV catheter is an important safety precaution that allows us quick and easy access directly into the blood stream. If a patient’s blood pressure or heart rate drops, we can administer injections or fluids to help rapidly reverse this. The IV catheter is a port through which we could to give an emergency injection, antibiotic or additional pain medication if needed. In an emergency situation it can be the difference between life or death, so it is highly recommended for pets undergoing anesthesia. (It’s so important that we require it at North Lake Vet).
4. What type of anesthesia do they use? Injectable or inhaled gas?
If your pet is having a long or involved procedure, the answer is hopefully both. For most anesthetic procedures ( spays, neuters, dentals, orthopedic and soft tissue surgery) at North Lake, we give our patients a light sedative (called a premedication) first. This decreases their anxiety and starts pain control before the procedure begins. Then to start the anesthesia we give an injection into the vein (through the IV catheter) that makes the pet sleepy. This allows us to place a tube into their trachea (endotracheal tube) to deliver gas anesthesia to their lungs and keep them comfortably unconscious during the procedure.
Each pet should have an anesthesia log that details these aspects of your pet under anesthesia. In the above picture Jennifer is checking a blood pressure. She is also recording the patient’s oxygenation level, heart rate, and level of inhalant anesthesia in her anesthesia log. She monitors an ECG to make sure the patient is not having abnormal heart beats. If there are any abnormalities, she alerts the doctor immediately and we can respond to fix the problem.
6. What type of monitoring does the pet receive before, during and after surgery?
Pets undergoing anesthesia should be monitored from the time they receive their pre-medication until they are fully awake from anesthesia. At North Lake, we keep these patients in our main treatment room where we have multiple staff members present for monitoring. Also, a technician stays right with a patient until they are extubated (endotracheal tube is removed).
7. What type of post operative pain medications/modalities are used and dispensed?
In modern day veterinary practice, we have many options to keep your pet comfortable after a painful procedure. Ideally if your pet is undergoing surgery or tooth extraction, multiple modalities for pain control should be utilized together. Before even starting a painful procedure, a pre-operative pain medication should be given (mentioned above) that controls pain during the procedure. After the procedure, a post operative pain medication should be administered (such as an anti-inflammatory injection). Oftentimes, good anesthesia protocols also utilize additional pain control measures such a local block to numb a specific area of the body (like the lidocaine you receive at the dentist if you have a cavity filled or a root canal). You should also receive a pain medication to give your pet at home following a painful procedure to alleviate their pain.
Pets experience pain very similar to humans, although they usually don’t “tell” you about their pain by whining or crying. Since it is difficult to tell when a pet is in pain, imagine how you would be feeling after a similar procedure, or ask you veterinarian how many days the pet should receive pain meds. If you do not receive a pain medication for your pet, you may want to question that further.
At North Lake Veterinary Clinic our goal is safe anesthesia: to ensure the patient is as healthy (if not healthier) after anesthesia as they were before. To accomplish this, we take numerous precautions to ensure our patients have a safe anesthetic experience and are unwilling (as a practice) to cut costs by cutting out these safety measures. If you are quoted a very low price for an anesthetic procedure like a spay, neuter or dental, there is a small chance that you may be getting a deal; more often then not you are getting what you pay for and your pet is the one paying “the price”.