Safety is a top concern when your pet is scheduled for an anesthetic procedure. Advances in anesthesia medications and techniques have made these procedures extremely safe, but our Columbia Pike Animal Hospital team still takes many precautions to ensure your pet remains safe while they are anesthetized. We provide information about pet anesthetic safety to put your mind at ease in case your pet has an upcoming procedure.

Anesthetic risks for pets

Most medical procedures, including anesthesia, involve some risks, and these problems can be minor, such as nausea following recovery from anesthesia, to life-threatening, such as cardiac arrest. However, anesthesia-related deaths are rare, and our veterinary team goes to great lengths to ensure your pet remains safe during their procedure. While any pet can experience an anesthesia complication, certain pets are at higher risk. These include:

  • Senior pets — While healthy senior pets can safely undergo anesthesia, older pets are at higher risk for underlying health conditions that can increase their anesthetic risk.
  • Small pets — Cats and toy-breed dogs have a high surface area to body mass ratio, making them more susceptible to hypothermia. In addition, their extremely small blood vessels make intravenous catheter placement challenging.
  • Brachycephalic breeds — These breeds, such as pugs, bulldogs, Pekingese, and Himalayan cats, have a facial structure that predisposes them to respiratory difficulties during anesthesia, and special precautions are necessary to keep these pets safe.
  • Greyhounds — Greyhounds are sensitive to certain anesthetic drugs, which can prolong their recoveries. 
  • Obese pets — Most anesthetic medications are fat-soluble, and in an overweight pet, the excess fat absorbs more anesthetic, which may leach back into the pet’s blood stream for days after anesthesia. 

Pre-anesthetic precautions for pets

Before anesthetizing a pet, we take several steps to ensure they can safely undergo the procedure. These include:

  • Taking a thorough history — We investigate your pet’s medical history to ensure they don’t have a pre-existing condition that would increase their anesthetic risk.
  • Assessing weight status — We weigh your pet and assess their body conditioning score to determine their weight status, so we can calculate an appropriate anesthetic regimen.
  • Examining your pet — We perform a comprehensive physical examination to ensure your pet has no physical abnormalities that would increase their anesthetic risk.
  • Performing blood work — We perform pre-anesthetic blood work, including a complete blood count (CBC) and a biochemistry profile, to ensure your pet is healthy enough for anesthesia. 
  • Placing an intravenous (IV) catheter — We place an IV catheter so we can easily administer medications and provide fluids to maintain your pet’s hydration and support their cardiovascular system. 

Anesthetic monitoring for pets

A trained veterinary professional observes and monitors your pet’s vital signs throughout the anesthetic procedure to ensure your pet’s safety. They adjust your pet’s anesthetic levels as needed, and remain with your pet until they are fully recovered. Monitoring techniques include:

  • Temperature — Many pets lose body heat during anesthesia, and we closely monitor your pet’s temperature to ensure their values remain normal (i.e., 101 to 102.5 degrees). We use warming blankets and warm IV fluids, to help keep your pet’s temperature at a normal level.
  • Heart rate — A heart rate increase or decrease can indicate a need for anesthetic level adjustment, and we monitor your pet’s heart rate, so we can change your pet’s anesthesia accordingly.
  • Echocardiogram (ECG) — We use an ECG to monitor for heart arrhythmias.
  • Blood pressure — Low blood pressure is a common anesthesia complication, and we monitor your pet’s blood pressure so we can address this issue, if necessary.
  • Pulse oximetry — We use a pulse oximetry device to monitor your pet’s blood oxygen levels. We also use an end-tidal CO2 monitor to ensure your pet receives adequate oxygen.
  • Visualization — We observe your pet’s mucous membranes, and their eye position and reflexes, to monitor their condition and anesthetic plane.
  • Pain management — We administer appropriate pain medications to reduce the anesthesia amount needed during the procedure and to ensure your pet is as comfortable as possible when they recover.

Anesthetic recovery for pets

A trained veterinary professional closely monitors your pet’s vitals after an anesthetic procedure until they are fully recovered. We remove the endotracheal tube only when your pet recovers their ability to swallow, and we administer eye lubricating ointment until they blink normally. In some cases, we may administer a reversal agent to facilitate recovery, and we assess your pet’s pain level once they are recovered, to determine if we need to adjust their postoperative pain management plan.

Steps to lower your pet’s anesthetic risk

Risk is involved with any medical procedure, and cannot always be prevented, but you can  decrease your pet’s risk. Take these steps:

  • Divulge your pet’s medical history — Ensure you tell our veterinary professionals about every health condition your pet has experienced, especially reactions to medications or anesthesia. In addition, ensure we know what medications and supplements your pet is taking.
  • Keep your pet at a healthy weight — Feed and exercise your pet appropriately to keep them at a healthy weight, so their weight won’t be a factor if they are anesthetized. 
  • Follow directions — Before an anesthetic procedure, we will provide detailed instructions, such as removing food and water and administering medications. Ensure you follow these directions carefully.

We understand your concern if your pet is scheduled for an anesthetic procedure, and we hope this information will put your mind at ease. If your pet needs a procedure that requires anesthesia, contact our Columbia Pike Animal Hospital team, so you can be assured they are in good hands.