Anesthesia is the controlled unconsciousness of your pet to ensure they don’t experience pain or move during certain veterinary procedures, such as surgery, dentistry, and diagnostic imaging. Many pet owners are anxious about their pet undergoing anesthesia, and our Town and Country Animal Hospital team answers frequently asked questions to ensure you are informed in case your pet has an upcoming procedure that involves anesthesia. 

Question: What are risk factors for pets undergoing anesthesia?

Answer: Advances in veterinary anesthetic medications and techniques have made anesthesia extremely safe. While pets may experience mild complications, anesthetic-related deaths are rare. The most common anesthetic complications include low blood pressure, heart arrhythmias, post-procedure regurgitation, and aspiration pneumonia. Any pet can experience an anesthetic complication, but certain pets are at higher risk. These include:

  • Pets experiencing a veterinary emergency — Pets in a medical crisis have health issues that put them at higher risk for complications.
  • Small pets — Pets weighing less than 10 pounds are at higher risk because they are more prone to hypothermia, challenging to intubate, and more easily overdosed. 
  • Older pets — Pets older than 12 years of age carry a slightly higher risk than younger pets, studies show. One reason is that senior pets are more likely to have underlying health conditions.
  • Overweight pets — Pets who are overweight can be more difficult to calculate accurate anesthesia doses for because the doses are determined based on lean body mass. 
  • Brachycephalic pets — Flat-faced pets, such as bulldogs, pugs, and Persian cats, are predisposed to conditions that make them more likely to experience a respiratory complication during anesthesia.

Q: Why does my pet need blood work before anesthesia?

A: Preanesthetic blood work is important to ensure your pet doesn’t have an underlying health condition that could put them at higher risk for an anesthetic complication. Many pets affected by a disease don’t show clinical signs until their condition is advanced. Blood work, such as a complete blood count (CBC) and a biochemistry profile, is helpful to detect conditions such as anemia, infection, kidney disease, diabetes, and liver disease. If your pet’s health is compromised, this information is important for the veterinary team to know before they develop an anesthetic plan . If your pet has risk factors, other diagnostics, such as a urinalysis, chest X-rays, an electrocardiogram (ECG), or an echocardiogram, may be recommended before they can be anesthetized safely. 

Q: How is my pet anesthetized?

A: Each pet is unique, and an anesthetic protocol will be formulated based on your pet’s individual needs, but a typical anesthetic process involves:

  • Weighing your pet — We weigh your pet and determine their body condition score so we can accurately calculate an anesthetic dose.
  • Administering preanesthetic medications — We administer a sedative and analgesic combination to help ease the induction process.
  • Administering the induction agent — We administer medication to induce anesthesia. 
  • Placing an endotracheal tube — We insert an endotracheal tube into your pet’s windpipe to deliver anesthetic gas and oxygen to maintain their anesthetic plane. This tube also seals their airway so they don’t aspirate fluids or other foreign material while they are unconscious.

Q: How is my pet monitored during anesthesia?

A: Every pet is assigned a veterinary professional who is trained to observe and monitor anesthetized patients. This individual remains with your pet to closely monitor them from the time they are induced until they are fully recovered. Specific monitoring techniques include:

  • Eye position — Your pet’s eye position and reflexes are monitored to determine if their anesthetic level is appropriate, and eye ointment is administered to keep your pet’s corneas lubricated while they are unconscious.
  • Body temperature — Body heat is commonly lost during anesthesia, so your pet’s body temperature is monitored. Heated blankets, hot water bottles, and heated intravenous fluids are used to help prevent your pet’s temperature from dropping.
  • Heart rate — An elevated heart rate can indicate your pet’s anesthetic plane is too low, and a decreased heart rate can indicate their anesthetic plane is too high. Your pet’s heart rate is monitored closely and their anesthetic plane is adjusted as needed.
  • Electrocardiogram — An ECG is used to monitor your pet’s heart for arrhythmias.
  • Blood pressure monitor — Low blood pressure is a common complication during anesthesia, and your pet’s blood pressure is measured to ensure their readings remain within normal parameters.
  • Pulse oximetry — A pulse oximeter and an end-tidal carbon dioxide (CO2) monitor are used to ensure your pet receives adequate oxygen during anesthesia.

Q: What should I expect when my pet comes home after an anesthetic procedure?

A: After an anesthetic procedure, you will receive detailed discharge instructions explaining what happened during the procedure, what medications your pet requires, instructions about feeding your pet, and information about nursing care. Most pets are quieter than usual after anesthesia, and their appetite may be a little decreased. If your pet was anesthetized for a dental or a diagnostic procedure, they should be back to their normal self by the following day. 

Feeling anxious about an upcoming anesthetic procedure for your pet is normal, but knowing what to expect can help alleviate your worries. If you have more questions about their anesthetic procedure, contact our Town and Country Animal Hospital team so we can ensure you have all the information you need.