By Dr. Laura Higgins, DVM
Anesthesia is the drug-induced loss of feeling and/or awareness, and its use is a critical tool for modern veterinary medicine. Our ability to anesthetize veterinary patients allows for safe, pain-free surgery for elective procedures (spay, neuter, etc.), as well as correction of life-threatening emergencies. When your pet is to have a procedure requiring anesthesia, the focus is often on the procedure itself, and the anesthesia is more a less a “given.” However, it is important to understand that the anesthesia itself, while essential for the procedure to take place, has some inherent risks as well. In a clinical setting where the patient’s vital parameters are closely monitored, anesthesia is not only safe, but extremely valuable.
A thorough physical exam will help the veterinarian to determine how healthy a patient is prior to anesthesia, and therefore make adjustments to the anesthetic plan where needed. Even if a patient is elderly, or has a pre-existing condition such as a heart murmur, very rarely is anesthesia contraindicated outright. More likely, that patient may require a specialized combination of medications, advanced monitoring, or possibly a consultation with a veterinary anesthesiologist if the situation is complicated. The amount of anesthetic gas delivered can be continually and carefully adjusted by a dedicated nurse anesthetist. Additionally, fluids and medication given through an intravenous catheter are administered to combat the undesired effects of the anesthetics. The common pitfalls of anesthesia include lowered heart rate, lowered blood pressure, decrease in body temperature, and respiratory depression. A skilled veterinary anesthetist uses their clinical skills to guide constant adjustments to the dose of anesthesia, fluids, and pain control in order to keep the patient comfortable and the organs protected from damage.
In many instances, full general anesthesia may not be required. Heavy or light sedation, depending on the demeanor of the patient and the procedure required, may be all that is needed to keep the patient safe and comfortable. Many of the drugs used for inducing general anesthesia, can be administered at low doses, or in combination with other drugs, in order to keep the patient pain free, but not unconscious. Simple laceration repairs, deep oral or ear examinations, and other quick procedures are often handled very well with sedation alone. However, these drugs do still have cardiovascular and respiratory effects. Monitoring the patient’s vitals and administering supplemental oxygen is still part of the anesthetic protocol.
Knowing the risks involved in having your pet anesthetized is by no means cause for fear, but rather awareness. If your pet is going to be put under anesthesia, discuss these risks with your veterinarian. Ask them what types of monitoring occurs during anesthesia, and if problems should arise how will they be dealt with. Veterinary anesthesia is not something to be feared, nor taken for granted. Modern advances in veterinary medicine have allowed for skilled anesthetists to handle the various issues that may arise with ease and confidence, keeping your pets safely pain free.
AMVS is a 24-hour veterinary facility providing specialty internal medicine, surgery, emergency and critical care, physical rehabilitation, pain management, and blood bank services for pets. They are located in Longmont at 104 S. Main St. For more information, go to www.AspenMeadowVet.com.