Even in healthy pets, some risk is always involved when anesthetics are given. Potential problems range from very minor (slight decreases in body temperature or elevated blood pressure) to very serious (cardiac arrest or even death).
Thankfully, the vast majority of anesthetic events go smoothly; however, your veterinarian should have safeguards in place to minimize complications should they arise. The following list is a good starting point when asking your pet's doctor about anesthetic safety for your pet.
- A physical examination should be performed on all patients before induction of anesthesia. This will alert the veterinarian to any problems warranting special consideration.
- Pre-operative blood work should be encouraged in all patients and required in patients over 5 years old -- these tests allow the veterinarian to assess your pet's ability to properly metabolize drugs, will help us assess the possibility of infection and may detect early organ disease or dysfunction.
- All anesthetized patients should have IV catheters placed prior to anesthetic induction -- this provides instant access to a vein to administer medications and IV fluids.
The drugs used on each patient should be chosen for that patient by the attending veterinarian based on that veterinarian's assessment of the patient and any blood work obtained.
- Most all patients undergoing anesthesia should have an endotracheal (ET) tube placed. ET tube placement lets us control the patient's airway during anesthesia. It facilitates the administration of anesthetic gas and oxygen.
- All anesthetized patients should be monitored when they are under anesthesia. Ideally, the veterinarian should employ a veterinary technician whose job is to monitor your pet during an anesthetized procedure (this is in addition to the veterinarian and the vet's tech). We will also use several monitoring devices to aid in assessing your pet: ECG monitors the heart's electrical activity; pulse oximeter is used to measure the amount of oxygen in the bloodstream; respiratory rate monitor; body temperature monitor; and blood pressure monitor.
- To help animals maintain their core body temperature (which can drop while under anesthesia) veterinarians should employ several methods. An insulated mat should be placed under the patient in addition to a towel or blanket. A warm water circulating blanket may be placed under the patient as a source of supplemental heat. This is a far safer method than using an electric heating pad, which can cause burns).
- Anesthetized patients should receive IV fluids while under anesthesia. IV fluids help the patient maintain normal blood pressure which, in turn, allow the organs to maintain normal perfusion and function during the anesthetic event. An IV fluid pump should be used to ensure the proper fluid dose is delivered to each patient. Exceptions would include exceptionally short duration procedures.
- Veterinarians should employ another veterinary technician whose job is to recover patients from anesthesia. This tech watches the pet until it is fully awake.
- The IV catheter remains in place until the patient is fully awake.
- Additional pain medications should be prescribed as necessary post-surgery.
Knowing the measures we, as veterinarians, can take to ensure a safer anesthetic event will, hopefully, allow you to make better choices for your furry friends.