Pet owners are often scared when told that their pet needs anesthesia for a surgical or dental procedure. After all, your pet is your baby, and you’d be devastated if anything went wrong. Rest assured—modern anesthetic protocols and drugs have made the process extremely safe for most pets, and at Cherry Knolls Veterinary Clinic, we take every possible precaution to ensure your pet’s procedure goes smoothly. We’d like to share how we keep your pet safe during anesthesia. 

What is pet anesthesia?

Anesthesia is required for most surgery and dental procedures, and involves injectable and inhaled medications to induce controlled unconsciousness and inability to feel pain. The steps for anesthesia in pets include:

  • Intravenous (IV) catheter placement — Your pet may receive calming medication prior to IV placement in a leg vein to provide venous access for medications and fluids.
  • Induction — We administer short-acting medication through the IV to induce unconsciousness, place a breathing tube, and hook up the gas anesthetic.
  • Intubation — Once your pet is unconscious, we place a tube in their airway to allow gas and oxygen delivery, assist in breathing, and to protect the airway from fluids. 
  • Gas anesthetic maintenance — Anesthesia is maintained with inhaled gas that we can adjust quickly and precisely, as needed. 
  • Extubation and recovery — Once your pet’s procedure is complete, we turn off the gas and allow your pet to wake up. We remove the tube when their swallowing reflex returns, and then monitor your pet closely during recovery.

Pet anesthetic risks

The risk of dying under anesthesia is less than 0.1% for healthy pets, and around 1% for sick pets. Anesthesia complications, such as depressed breathing, heart arrhythmias, blood pressure abnormalities, low body temperature, and slow recovery, occur more frequently, but are relatively rare. For young pets, thin or overweight pets, pets with short noses, or pets with medical conditions, the complication risks increase, depending on the condition, but we can usually still perform anesthesia safely in these pets by adjusting protocols to their individual needs. To understand anesthetic risks, our team performs comprehensive pre-anesthetic testing to identify any underlying conditions that could compromise breathing, circulation, or drug metabolism. 

Pet anesthesia pre-testing

We recommend several tests prior to anesthesia to provide a complete health picture. Older pets, or those undergoing lengthy procedures, may require more intensive testing. Tests may include:

  • Blood work — Organ function affects drug metabolism, and compromised kidney function can increase the risk for blood pressure problems. Blood work can also identify infections, electrolyte imbalances, hormonal issues, and potential bleeding risks. 
  • Urinalysis — Urinalysis complements the blood work to identify kidney or metabolic problems. 
  • Chest X-rays, heart ultrasound, and EKG — We will recommend these tests if your pet has a heart murmur or suspected heart disease, to determine how we must adjust your pet’s protocol for optimal heart function and safety.
  • Blood pressure measurement — High blood pressure, which can indicate other underlying diseases that may need treatment, should be under control prior to anesthesia.

Sometimes, a pet needs anesthesia for emergency, life-saving surgery, but their body function is already compromised and a full anesthetic workup may not be possible. In such cases, we will discuss with you the risks of not performing surgery versus anesthetic risk, so you can make the most informed decision for your pet’s wellbeing.

Pet anesthetic monitoring

Once we’ve identified your pet’s individual anesthesia needs and adjusted our protocol to reduce risks, an experienced veterinary technician will use sophisticated equipment to closely monitor your pet’s vital signs, watching for trends and concerning changes, and physically assessing heart rate and rhythm, oxygen levels, blood pressure, body temperature, and breathing. If complications arise, or these parameters fall outside normal ranges, our team can intervene and correct them. If corrective measures fail—which is extremely rare—we’ll wake your pet up as soon as possible for their safety. 

Other pet anesthetic precautions

In addition to constant monitoring, we take other safety precautions during anesthesia, including:

  • IV fluids — We run fluids through your pet’s IV catheter to help stabilize blood pressure and maintain optimal kidney function. We can also administer medications through the fluid line.
  • Warming — Pets can’t regulate their body temperature under anesthesia. Cold pets recover more slowly and experience more complications, so we provide supplemental warming to maintain normal body temperature.
  • Intubation — Your pet also can’t swallow under anesthesia, so we place the breathing tube to protect their airway from saliva and other fluids, and to prevent airway collapse.

Pet anesthetic recovery

During recovery, your pet will stay in a quiet, warm area, and be closely monitored. Anesthetic drugs can alter normal heart and body functions, so we check your pet frequently to ensure their vitals are returning to baseline, and administer medications to control post-operative pain and calm your pet, if necessary. We will provide post-operative care instructions when your pet is ready to go home.

Anesthesia isn’t scary when you understand the process and know the steps our team takes to keep your pet safe. If your pet may require an anesthetic procedure and you have questions, call us to schedule a visit with your Cherry Knolls Veterinary Clinic team.