Phantom anesthetic sensitivity syndrome in purebreds
If only I had a dollar for every time I heard this line…“This breed is sensitive to anesthesia. You need to be extra-careful with them.”
I know the words are well intentioned and born of fear, not the I-know-more-than-your-vet-about-these-things breeder snarkiness we vets are too often exposed to. But you should still know that it drives us nuts sometimes.
For starters, we’re extra-careful with every breed, every pet, every single one (scary photo I've supplied notwithstanding). Anesthesia isn’t anything any of us take lightly—at least none of us I know. (Though I’m willing to believe there are exceptions out there. Slackers exist in every profession, right?)
But that’s not what these purebred owners want to hear. They’ve been expressly warned (by their breeder, usually) to take special precautions with their breed. And they want to make sure we’ve heard of this unique sensitivity and which, in many cases, has kept them from seeking care for the severe periodontal disease their pet suffers…or steered them away from the spay their pet needed four years ago.
In my twelve years as a vet, I’ve been informed by breeders and owners of most every breed that their dogs or cats harbor singular sensitivities which make them less likely to survive an anesthetic procedure. Dalmatians, Goldens, Himmy’s, Chesapeakes, Scottish folds, Cavaliers, Shar-peis, Lhasas, Berners, flame-point cats (of all breeds), Dobies, Rotties, Boxers…shall I go on? I’ve heard it all…
Can all these breeds suffer from the same sorts of extraordinary needs when it comes to getting anesthetized? If so, where’s the bell shaped curve? If these breeds are so “sensitive,” don’t you think that’s a big bad thing your breeder should be attending to in his or her breeding program? After all, anesthesia is a basic for well cared for pets of all stripes.
The truth is, all breeds, mixed or pure, are sensitive to drugs. Indeed, that’s the point of anesthetics (otherwise we’d be pushing injectables and vapors to no effect). That’s why we’re so careful about how we treat all our anesthetic cases. And that’s why good docs tailor their protocols to their patients’ needs (one drug does not fit all). But drug decisions are almost always based on age, bloodwork, clinical disease and other considerations…not breed distinctions.
It’s true that Greyhounds seem to suffer more side-effects from barbiturate administration. Yet even with there (now-seldom-used) drugs on board, sight hounds manage almost every bit as well as other breeds. Epileptics require special consideration, as do liver and kidney patients, among others. And sure, I’m more likely to use opiates with the older guys and medetomidine with my young bucks—but I like to think I’m equally cautious with all.
Today, one of my colleagues called to chat and dish about his recent stresses. He informed me that he’d had a breeder call from Wisconsin (far, far away from Florida) requesting that he spay her “anesthetically sensitive” bitch. Apparently, she’d been informed that he lectures on the use of a particular anesthetic, so she wanted him to perform the surgery using this drug only. He said he was happy to spay her dog but that no one drug was going to be used on a dog of any breed in his hospital. Apparently that got her off the phone right-quick.
What is it about anesthesia that makes us all act like this? I can understand the fear, but I can’t understand its personalization—not to this degree. Maybe some of you can enlighten me on this issue…before I get myself into more trouble than I already have.