Many people are concerned about anesthesia and allow this concern to prevent their pet from getting needed treatments and diagnostics. While there is always some risk with any general anesthetic procedure, there are many things both you and your veterinarian can do to dramatically lessen the risk.
What you can do: You are your pet’s advocate and are directly responsible for making decisions to provide your pet with a safer anesthetic procedure. Some of these decisions include:
- – Choosing to have the procedure preformed with your regular veterinarian rather than the low cost clinic down the road. This is important for a few reasons, but most importantly is that your doctor knows your pet and therefore is better able to predict potential problems and pick the best anesthetic protocol for your pet. Additionally, while many low-cost clinics practice excellent medicine, unfortunately some are able to provide lower cost because they cut corners in other ways such as less expensive anesthetic gas, few injectable anesthetics, less pain control, reduced staffing and less (or no) monitoring of the pet under anesthesia.
- – Choosing to have pre-anesthetic blood work completed on your pet.
Some hospitals will require that pre-anesthetic blood work be completed on all pets, some will only require it on geriatric (senior) pets, and some will leave the decision entirely up to you. Pre-anesthetic blood work provides the veterinarian with a picture of the health of your pet at the time of the procedure. The picture includes information on general organ status, potential infections, ability to clot blood, and anemia. Frequent problems identified include diabetes, liver disease, kidney disease and clues to infections or parasites. Young pets are generally assumed to be healthy and therefore owners often elect to forgo blood testing. Most of the time this is a relatively safe bet, but it is a gamble and occasionally even a young pet will have unidentified disease that will increase the anesthetic risk. If disease is identified the anesthesia may be postponed or the anesthetic protocol may be altered to increase the margin of safety for your pet. When asked to choose pre-anesthetic blood work for your pet, always ask yourself if you would want this checked on you prior to surgery.
- – Choosing to have an IV catheter placed and have your pet maintained on IV fluids
Again, many hospitals require the pet be placed on IV fluids during the procedure, but you may be asked to make this decision for your pet at some hospitals. An IV catheter provides an immediate entry to a vein in the case of an anesthetic emergency and allows for the immediate administration of potentially life saving medications. Additionally, the catheter allows for the administration of IV fluids which support the pet’s blood pressure during general anesthesia and this helps to keep good blood flow to the kidneys which is important for all pets, but essential for those pets with early kidney disease.
- – Allowing for safer types of anesthetics recommended by your veterinarian
We are fortunate in veterinary medicine to have a large variety of anesthetics available to us which allows us to choose the safest anesthetic for your pet. As an example, some anesthetics are just inhaled and others are injectable. Often a combination of the two is used. Even the injectable drugs have large differences between them that can alter the safety of the procedure. Some anesthetics cause longer periods of anesthetic before the pet can awaken, some cause much more suppression on heart function and respiration, some have more of an affect on the liver or kidneys, and some shouldn’t be used in particular breeds of animals at all. At the time of this writing one of the safest and most adjustable anesthetic gasses is Sevoflurane. It is considered a human grade anesthetic gas and allows for very rapid changes in anesthetic depths.
Many times, if the veterinarian determines that your pet needs a specific type of drug it will just be implemented. However, occasionally a specific anesthetic will result in a higher expense and again you may be asked to make a decision depending upon the hospital olicy. Your veterinarian should always explain why a particular drug is recommended and provide you with the correct facts to help with the decision.