Is Veterinary Surgery and Anesthesia Really Safe?

It is never easy to drop off your pet at the veterinary hospital for a procedure that requires anesthesia. There is always the worry there will be complications associated with the anesthesia and your pet may not do as well as expected. However, with advancements in veterinary medicine and the use of human-style monitoring equipment in many practices, the safety of anesthesia has improved and continues to improve.
During the pre-operative period your pet is evaluated to ensure there are no hidden illnesses that could lead to complications under anesthesia. A thorough physical exam is performed that includes listening for abnormal lung sounds, checking heart function, checking the color of their gums and checking the quality of their pulse and palpating their abdomen. Many problems can be detected with a physical exam alone.
If the exam is normal, then bloodwork should be performed to allow the doctor to evaluate the function of the internal organs (liver, kidney, blood proteins), check for infections or anemia and evaluate the electrolyte balance and the platelet count. Pre-surgical bloodwork is recommended for every pet, but it is especially important for older pets and pets with chronic conditions. Pre-anesthesia bloodwork also provides a baseline, or reference point, for the doctor if your pet has complications during anesthesia or any future medical issues.
If all of the pre-surgery testing is normal, the veterinarian proceeds with a light sedation for anesthesia that begins pain control and lowers the pet’s anxiety level. This also allows the veterinarian to pass an endotracheal tube through the pet’s mouth to allow for the delivery of gas anesthesia and also to prevent the patient from aspirating — or breathing in — any harmful bacteria released during a dental cleaning or vomit if the pre-anesthesia makes the patient nauseous.This continues to keep the patient under anesthesia and prevents the animal from sensing pain. Gas anesthesia is the safest form of anesthesia available because once the pet breathes it out of its lungs, the anesthesia gone and the animal is awake. This very closely parallels anesthesia procedures in human medicine.
Throughout the anesthesia process the patient’s vital signs are monitored electronically and physically by veterinary technicians. The human component of the anesthesia monitoring is the most important; therefore, the patient’s assigned veterinary technician does not leave its side while the pet is under anesthesia. It is being monitored constantly. Machines monitor heart rate and rhythm, blood pressure and amount of oxygen in the blood. This close monitoring allows veterinarians to prevent problems before they even occur. With the slightest change in the pet’s vital numbers, adjustments are made and the potential complication can be avoided or at least prepared for.
As the patient’s procedure ends, the gas anesthesia is discontinued and the patient breathes pure oxygen for a few minutes. This allows it to exhale the remainder of the gas anesthesia and allows for a faster and smoother recovery. Pain medications also may be administered at this time so the pet wakes up without pain. The patient wakes up with a technician by its side to provide it with anything it may need and to closely monitor its recovery. After the recovery period, the pet is up and outside for a short bathroom break within a few hours. It remains closely monitored and pain medications are given when needed.
Veterinary anesthesia has advanced by leaps and bounds over the last two decades. We are proud of the care today’s technology allows us to provide, but it is also important to understand there is no established protocol for anesthesia and monitoring in veterinary medicine, nor are there any laws about how a patient must be anesthetized and monitored. This means the anesthesia protocol can vary from practice to practice. Anesthesia for your pet always will be something that can make pet owners nervous; however, with the protocols available today you should feel safer than ever before. Consult with your veterinarian about the anesthesia and pain control protocols used at their hospital.

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