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Written by leading veterinarians to provide you with the information you need to care for your pets.

The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.


In last week’s post, we talked about AAHA’s new guideline mandating anesthesia for all dental procedures. I know that a lot of pet owners are frightened to allow their pets to be anesthetized. And I can understand that fear. But I also think it’s important to realize that pet anesthesia, though not totally risk-free, carries minimal risk for most pets.

Let’s talk about the modern practice of anesthesia for pets. What exactly does it entail?

The anesthetic protocol used for your pet should be individually tailored to suit your pet’s needs. Anesthesia is not a one-size-fits-all procedure. Your pet’s health, risks, and the procedure itself must all be considered in determining the best anesthetic protocol.

Anesthetic agents available today are much safer than those we had available to us years ago. And advances keep being made in this field on a regular basis. Today, we even have anesthetic agents that can be reversed when and if necessary.

When your pet is anesthetized, a tube will be passed into the trachea in a process called intubation. This tube protects your pet’s airway. It can be used to provide supplemental oxygen to your pet when necessary. It is also important to prevent your pet from inhaling foreign substances into the lungs.

A catheter may also be placed, usually in the vein in your pet’s front leg. Intravenous fluids and other medications may be injected through this catheter. In the rare event of an emergency during the anesthetic event, this intravenous catheter will also be used to deliver life-saving drugs to your pet.

Your veterinarian and her staff will also monitor your pet carefully during the anesthesia period. During the procedure, a trained technician will be delegated to monitor all of your pet’s vital signs. Some of the parameters monitored include respiratory rate, heart rate, temperature, the oxygen saturation of your pet’s blood, the amount of carbon dioxide your pet is breathing out, and your pet’s electrocardiogram. Monitoring will continue throughout the anesthetic event and after, until your pet is recovered from the anesthesia.

A drop in body temperature is not uncommon during anesthesia. This is particularly common in small animals, such as cats and small dogs. It is also common during extended surgical procedures that require your pet to be under anesthesia for a prolonged period of time. To combat this drop, your pet may be placed on a heating pad or another type of supplemental heat may be used to keep your pet warm.

Pain medication is an important part of anesthesia for most procedures as well. Any type of surgical procedure or any procedure that causes pain for your pet requires pain medication. In the case of surgical procedures such as a spay or neuter, or a dental procedure, this pain medication is normally administered prior to the surgical procedure and pain control is continued throughout the procedure. In many cases, pain medication will need to be continued for at least a few days after the procedure as well.

Dr. Lorie Huston

Image: Thinkstock

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  • Surgery on Seriously Ill
    09/23/2013 06:50pm

    My Darlene (RIP) had multiple serious health problems including congestive heart failure and chronic kidney failure when she developed a tooth abscess. Thank goodness I trust my vet completely because I was nervous about the surgery that she HAD to have.

    She was given antibiotics to get the swelling down and the vet let me know that they'd only keep her under as long as absolutely necessary. They were especially careful with the fluids due to her congestive heart failure and monitored her very closely before, during and after the surgery.

    She sailed through like a champ and I have no doubt the vet was relieved she did so well.

    I'm not sure I would have trusted just anyone to do the surgery, but I know she got excellent care from the doctor and entire staff.

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