If you feel nervous about your pet needing anesthesia for a veterinary procedure, you’re not alone. However, anesthesia helps to keep pets comfortable and free from stress or pain and is extremely safe. Our team at WesVet Animal Hospital explains pet anesthesia basics, benefits, safety, and risks to help you feel comfortable about your pet being anesthetized. 

Pet anesthesia: The necessity

Anesthesia is defined as a controlled unconsciousness that is necessary for many pet procedures to:

  • Eliminate pain and stress in the pet
  • Keep the pet still for their own safety, and the veterinary team’s safety
  • Allow the veterinarian to perform the procedure precisely and without complications

Different forms of anesthesia with specific purposes are administered prior to a procedure, including: 

  • Local anesthesia — Local anesthesia has numbing effects on a specific body region. 
  • Sedation —  Sedation alleviates your pet’s anxiety before they undergo general anesthesia.
  • General anesthesia — Administered prior to the actual procedure, general anesthesia ensures your pet is completely unconscious and feels no physical sensation or pain during their surgery. 

Pet anesthesia: The safety measures

Anesthesia safety is a top priority for our veterinarians, who follow The American Animal Hospital Association’s (AAHA) framework for safe anesthesia for pets before, during, and after a procedure. The steps include:

  • Physical examination — A complete physical examination can identify any potential health risks that could be exacerbated by anesthesia, so your veterinarian can take necessary steps to minimize these risks. 
  • Blood testing — A complete blood count and a chemistry profile help identify health risks that may not be detected on the physical examination, and ensure your pet’s kidneys and liver can safely metabolize anesthetic medications.
  • Diagnostic imaging — Your veterinarian will likely request X-rays or an ultrasound to identify lung changes or abdominal abnormalities.
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG) — An ECG monitors your pet for abnormal heartbeats or heart rhythm.
  • intravenous (IV) catheter An IV catheter is placed to deliver medications and fluids, and emergency treatment in the unlikely occurrence of cardiovascular or respiratory distress.
  • Pre-oxygenation — Before beginning our pet’s general anesthesia, your veterinarian will administer 100% oxygen for about five minutes to ensure your pet’s organs and tissues are working at full capacity.
  • Intubation — Once anesthesia is induced, your pet’s airway will be secured with an endotracheal tube to ensure continuous oxygen and anesthetic gas delivery, and prevent accidental airway closure or collapse.
  • Monitoring — Your pet’s vitals will be closely monitored during and after anesthesia, including their heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure. 

Pet anesthesia: The risk

Anesthesia is extremely pet-safe, and the majority of pets will experience a safe, successful surgery because of the pre-operative screening and constant monitoring. The rare problems that may occur include: 

  • Respiratory arrest — Anesthesia can depress the respiratory system and cause respiratory arrest, which can be fatal. Anesthesia must be performed only by a qualified veterinarian after they have first deemed the animal is healthy enough to be anesthetized. Our skilled team monitors each pet closely to detect any breathing changes, and address them before they become an emergency.
  • Drop in blood pressure — Anesthesia can cause blood pressure to drop dangerously low, which can lead to hypotension and cause organ damage or death. We monitor each pet’s blood pressure throughout anesthesia, and administer IV fluids to maintain a healthy blood pressure.
  • Seizures — Anesthetic medications can sometimes cause a pet to seizure, especially if they have had seizures in the past. If this should occur, emergency seizure control medications are administered immediately. 

Pet anesthesia: Preparation by pet owners

Your veterinarian will provide instructions for your pet’s preparation for their procedure. Following these instructions is important, because they will help ensure your pet’s surgery goes smoothly and that they recover faster. Instructions will likely include:

  • Withholding food and water — Your pet’s stomach should be empty and you should not feed them 12 hours before their anesthesia. But, you will not need to withhold their water until only a few hours ahead, to prevent your pet from becoming dehydrated.
  • Listing medications — Tell your veterinarian about all medications or supplements your pet is taking to ensure they will not affect the anesthesia drugs. 
  • Arriving on-time — You should strive to arrive on time for your pet procedure, to allow your veterinarian to not only stay on schedule but also to ensure they have the time they need.

Pet anesthesia: Post-anesthesia considerations

Your veterinarian will discuss your pet’s post-operative requirements, which may include activity restriction, a special diet, and medication. Your pet will not be discharged until they have completely recovered, but they will be tired and should be kept calm and quiet. Lingering anesthesia effects, such as grogginess and constipation, should subside in 24 to 48 hours. 

If you have questions about preparing your pet for anesthesia and surgery, contact our team at WesVet Animal Hospital. We can put your mind at ease about the anesthesia procedure and your pet’s safety.