The words “general anesthesia” can be unsettling for pet owners—and understandably so. The anesthetic process (i.e., intentional, controlled unconsciousness) is a bit other-worldly, and causes many owners to think twice about consenting to a procedure their pet needs. Fortunately, with strategic safety measures, customized anesthesia protocols, and advanced monitoring technology, veterinary anesthesia is generally a safe, smooth, pain-free experience for pets. Here are five key aspects of anesthetic safety that we follow at Colony Veterinary Hospital

#1: Preanesthetic examination and testing for pets

Prior to any anesthetic event, each pet receives one final physical assessment. Pet health can change rapidly, so evaluating the pet’s health on the day of the procedure—not the day or week before—is critical to ensuring safe anesthesia. If lab work has not previously been performed, our team will collect a blood sample for analysis. Lab results provide insight into critical body functions, including:

  • Organ function
  • Clotting ability
  • Hydration
  • Oxygenation
  • Metabolism 

If your pet’s blood work is abnormal, we’ll notify you to determine the next steps, which may be as simple as providing intravenous (IV) fluids for rehydration, pre-oxygenating your pet prior to anesthesia, or postponing the procedure to pursue additional testing.

#2: Anesthetic premedication for pets

If your pet’s results are in the normal range, the veterinarian will authorize the technician team to proceed with premedication. Premedication is typically one or two medications—often an analgesic (i.e., pain reliever) and a sedative—given by injection approximately 10 to 20 minutes before anesthesia begins to reduce pet anxiety, promote relaxation, alleviate pain, and allow the anesthetic team to use less inhalant (i.e., gas) anesthesia during the procedure. Reduced exposure is safer for both the patient and the veterinary care team.

After your pet has been premedicated, they’ll rest in a quiet but cozy cage where our team has added blankets and heat support to prevent a decrease in body temperature—which is normal after premedication. 

#3: Secure airway and vein access for pets

Once your pet is relaxed and sleepy, they are transported to the prep area, where a dedicated veterinary technician and assistant team initiates the anesthetic process by securing access to the patient’s circulatory system and airway via an IV catheter and an endotracheal tube.

  • The IV catheter — An IV catheter creates a reliable and patent access point for intravenous medications and fluids. Should an emergency occur, the IV catheter saves precious time and allows life-saving medication to instantly enter circulation. The IV will be placed in your pet’s front or back leg, depending on their conformation and health history. 
  • The endotracheal tube — Anesthesia depresses the body’s respiratory drive and can cause stomach contents to flow backward into the airway. Intubation (i.e., the placement of a flexible plastic tube into the trachea) prevents airway collapse and allows continuous free-flow of oxygen and gas anesthesia. The tube’s snug fit also prevents your pet from aspirating stomach contents into their lungs, which can lead to pneumonia.

#4: Continuous vitals monitoring for pets

Your pet’s vital signs provide continuous information about their comfort level and anesthetic depth. From the start to finish of your pet’s procedure and throughout their recovery, their vitals are measured electronically, with high-tech equipment, and manually, by a licensed veterinary technician. Our monitoring includes:

  • Blood pressure
  • Blood oxygen 
  • Heart and respiratory rate
  • Heart rhythm and electrical activity (i.e., electrocardiogram [ECG])
  • Body temperature

If your pet’s vital signs change, the veterinarian will be notified by an electronic alarm or—more often—by our attentive veterinary technicians, who often anticipate a change by watching for trends and patterns. Based on the veterinarian’s orders, your pet’s anesthesia will be adjusted (e.g., additional pain medication, lower or higher anesthetic flow rate, increased IV fluids to remedy low blood pressure). Our detailed and dedicated monitoring allows us to identify abnormalities and react thoughtfully to ensure your pet stays safe, relaxed, and pain-free.

#5: Dedicated recovery team for pets

The post-operative or recovery anesthesia stage can be particularly precarious for pets because, as the body metabolizes the remaining medications and inhalant anesthetic, they can experience sudden blood pressure changes, decreased body temperature (i.e., hypothermia), or confusion (i.e., dysphoria). To ensure the utmost safety during this time, the Colony Veterinary Hospital team provides one-on-one support and attention to recovering pets, including continuing vitals monitoring, heat support, and pain assessment. Once your pet can hold themselves up and maintain their body temperature without external assistance, they are through the most tenuous time of recovery, and we will contact you to schedule a discharge appointment later in the day. At that appointment, we’ll advise you of any post-operative care instructions and answer any questions you may have about your pet’s procedure.

For healthy pets, anesthesia generally carries minimal risks which are made smaller with thoughtfully designed safety protocols, comprehensive training, and our desire to care for every pet as though they’re our own. If you have additional questions about anesthesia, or would like to schedule your pet’s surgical consultation, contact Colony Veterinary Hospital.