I have performed many surgeries and other procedures that require general anesthesia, and a common thread that ties them together is the concern pet parents feel about anesthesia– “What if my pet doesn’t wake up?”
Whether a procedure is elective – like a spay/neuter procedure – or life-saving surgery in an emergency, there are risks that anesthesia poses to our pets. But as it turns out, those risks are fairly low – studies have shown that only 0.1% of pets undergoing anesthesia don’t wake up. Rest assured that your veterinarian is as concerned about making sure your pet’s procedure goes well as you are. Because there is no “routine” surgery, your vet should conduct a thorough assessment to design a specific anesthetic protocol for your pet, thereby reducing risks.
Here’s a “behind the scenes” look at what happens when your pet needs to undergo general anesthesia.
First, your pet will have a pre-anesthetic exam. Even if he was just in the office last week, your veterinarian will exam him again to make sure that nothing has changed. During this time, your vet will probably also perform blood work to assess major organ function and may run an EKG to assess heart function, especially if your pet has a heart murmur.
After the results of the exam and additional diagnostics are compiled, your vet will plan your pet’s anesthetic protocol. Factors she will also consider include your pet’s age, general health and the length and type of procedure involved.
On the day of surgery, your pet will generally start out by getting an intravenous catheter. The placement of a catheter allows not only for the administration of anesthetic drugs, but also allows your veterinary team to provide intravenous fluids to support your pet’s cardiovascular system during surgery. In the rare instance that emergency drugs are needed, having an IV catheter in place saves valuable time.
Your pet’s anesthesia will start with pre-medication drugs, which will calm him and allow your veterinarian to actually use less of more potent induction drugs. Once your pet is relaxed and feeling the full effects of the pre-medication drugs, your veterinarian will administer the IV dose of your pet’s induction drugs, or the medications that will render your pet unconscious for his procedure.
After your pet has received his induction drug, an endotracheal (breathing) tube is inserted into your pet’s airway to allow for the delivery of gas anesthesia and oxygen. This is called the “maintenance” portion of the anesthetic event, and during this time, the surgery (or other procedure) is performed.
While under anesthesia, your pet’s veterinary team is very busy monitoring your pet. Body temperature is regulated using heated tables, warm water bottles and warming blankets. In addition to monitoring your pet’s temperature, his heart rate, respiratory rate, blood oxygen levels and blood pressure are regularly assessed during the procedure.
Even when the procedure is finished, these parameters continue to be measured well into the recovery period. Generally, a member of your pet’s veterinary team will sit with your pet through the recovery period until the breathing tube is removed. Even after this time, your pet will be monitored closely until he is ready to go home. At discharge time, your veterinarian (or a member of her team) will go over discharge instructions and answer any questions that you may have about the post-operative period.
Remember, though the thought of anesthesia may be scary to you, thorough examination and careful monitoring help ensure that your pet has a safe procedure.