In veterinary medicine, it is sometimes necessary to use anesthesia when pets need surgery, diagnostic procedures, and certain physical examinations. Understandably, many pet owners become anxious when anesthesia is mentioned. However, you can take comfort in knowing that your veterinarian considers many different factors before ever recommending an anesthetic procedure.
As veterinarians, we always first consider the pet’s overall physical condition and medical history. We look at any previous experience the pet has had with anesthesia to see if there were complications and we review all current medications. We also consider known drug reactions and preexisting medical conditions.
A veterinary exam can help identify any physical abnormalities that may affect a pet’s anesthetic risk. Examples of these abnormalities include heart murmurs, arrhythmias, altered respiratory effort, organ enlargement, or other markers that can signal systemic disease. Blood work and a urinalysis are often preformed in advance to assess organ function, cell counts and heartworm status.
Age is another very important variable when considering the use of anesthesia. Younger patients may be at risk for hypoglycemia, hypothermia, or a congenital condition. Older pets may have other risk factors associated with age.
Breed considerations also come into play. “Smoosh-faced” breeds like English Bulldogs have specific respiratory considerations. Sighthounds, like the Greyhound, often have very little body fat, which can alter drug metabolism. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and Maine Coon cats are also known for specific cardiac conditions.
The pet’s temperament is a primary factor in the anesthetic risk assessment. Animals that are very anxious, fearful, or aggressive may require larger doses of anesthesia, while patients that are already subdued will likely need less. The final risk factor we consider is the length and extent of the surgery or procedure. Is it an internal or external procedure, and what is the risk for blood loss?
It’s natural to be concerned about anesthesia and your pet. Understanding and discussing the anesthesia benefits and risks with your veterinarian are important for your pet’s well-being and your peace of mind.
Originally published in the June 2016 Huntersville Herald.