Anesthesia for Pets: How Do We Do It?

If your pet needs a procedure, such as surgery, x-rays or dental treatment, often the vet will need to use pet anesthesia to be able to perform the procedure.  But how do we anesthetize pets? Well, we do it much the same as in humans!

Prior to sedation or anesthesia, your vet will examine the pet, paying particular attention to its cardiovascular and respiratory system to ascertain whether it is fit for an anesthetic.  If there are any abnormalities detected on examination, the vet may suggest other tests prior to performing the anesthetic.  Many veterinary practices offer a pre-anesthetic blood test to check basic function of major organs, such as the liver and kidneys.  This test is particularly advisable in elderly pets or those with ongoing disease.

In the case of a general anesthetic, the first step is what we call pre-medication, which essentially a sedative given to calm the pet down.  This step allows for a smoother anesthetic, more effective pain relief and smoother recovery.

Anesthesia is induced with a short acting intravenous induction drug.  An endo-tracheal (ET) tube is placed into the trachea (windpipe) and connected to an anesthetic machine which delivers oxygen as well as a gaseous anesthetic into the pet’s lungs to maintain the anesthetic.  In some cases, an intravenous catheter is placed and intravenous fluids are given during the anesthetic.

When the patient is under anesthetic, there is a risk that he/she will vomit and aspirate some of the vomit into his/her lungs, causing pneumonia which can be life-threatening.  It is for this reason that we ask you to fast the patient (withhold food) for at least 10 hours prior to an anesthetic.

Once the procedure is complete, it is time to recover the patient. The gaseous anesthetic is switched off and the ET tube is removed when the patient has sufficiently recovered.  Pain relief is given if needed and the pet is left in a warm place and monitored while he/she recovers.

If your pet is discharged from the hospital the same evening as a general anesthetic, we usually recommend that he/she is not fed that night or is fed a very small meal only.  Feeding from the following day will depend on your veterinarian’s instructions.  Your pet will most likely want to ‘sleep it off’ that evening, so exercise is not recommended.

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