Written by: Alison Laurie, Senior Consultant, Crown Vets Inverness
Most owners are understandably worried about the thought of their pet having a general anaesthetic. Hopefully we can put your mind at rest and answer some of the questions you may have. Our Vets and Vet Nurses will also be happy to discuss any particular concerns that you may have prior to any arranged general anaesthetic for a planned procedure.
A general anaesthetic is given to make an animal unconscious for and to relieve any pain throughout a surgical or a dental procedure or to allow for accurate careful positioning for Xrays and Ultrasound imaging or for other clinical procedures such as tissue sample biopsies, ear examination and flushing, catheterisation etc. Anaesthetics are used every day in Veterinary practices to allow for such procedures to be done safely and without pain or discomfort on your pet.
a) You will be given a date and an admission time for your pet to be admitted for the planned procedure. Before the planned anaesthetic you will be asked to withhold food from your dog or cat generally from the evening before (however for some pets e.g. rabbits and guinea pigs this isn’t necessary). This pre anaesthetic fasting is necessary to avoid the animal bringing up food during the anaesthetic which can irritate their throat or more worryingly be inhaled.
b) All patients are examined by a Vet prior to any planned anaesthesia to make sure that they are healthy and to document any concurrent problems that may affect the pending anaesthetic. In some cases, particularly with elderly pets, a blood test is recommended prior to anaesthesia to check general organ function and intravenous fluid therapy is advised prior to and during the procedure and until the pet recovers. Your pet will be admitted for any anaesthetic procedure after going through a consent form with you for your signed consent and permission for the procedure to go ahead. On admission your pet will then be settled into a clean kennel with a comfortable bed.
c) Pre-medication – this is an injection given soon after your pet is admitted to the surgery, which usually consists of a sedative and a pain-killer. This helps calm the patient and it also reduces the dose of anaesthetic drugs needed later. The vet will select particular drugs and dosages depending on your specific pet's age and stage. Additional pain-killers may be given at this point as well, if required.
d) Intra-venous (IV) cannulation – most dogs and cats having a general anaesthetic generally have an intravenous ‘IV’ cannula placed. This is usually placed in a vein in the front leg, and requires a small patch of fur in this area to be clipped up.
e) Induction – to induce a full general anaesthesia in most cases a carefully measured injection is given by a Vet into the IV cannula to induce an adequate anaesthetic ‘plane’.
f) Anaesthetic Maintenance – usually general anaesthesia is maintained using an inhalant anaesthetic gas. In most cases this gas anaesthesia, along with oxygen, is delivered via a soft tube, which passes down the patient's wind pipe to allow safe maintenance of the anaesthetic for the time required for the whole procedure.
g) Anaesthetic Monitoring - your pet will be carefully monitored throughout the entire anaesthetic procedure by a trained Veterinary Nurse. Regarding the monitoring during an anaesthetic, all anaesthetic drugs have some effect on the patient’s heart and breathing systems, so these effects are carefully monitored and checked regularly by a trained Veterinary Nurse throughout the anaesthesia. As well as monitoring the basic parameters such as heart rate, breathing rate and the depth of anaesthesia, we can also make use of other measurements such as: the oxygen content of the patients’ blood, we can measure the carbon dioxide content of the air the pet breathes in and out to assess the adequacy of breathing, also blood pressure can be checked to ensure that this does not fall too low during a procedure, fluid therapy is also usually given to any elderly and compromised cases to support their blood pressure throughout the anaesthesia, your pet's body temperature is always monitored regularly and heat pads are used before during and after the procedure to keep the patient's body temperature up, your pets heart can be checked regularly using a stethoscope and also an ECG can be done before and during the anaesthetic to measure the electrical activity of the heart and to ensure that there are no sudden changes in the heart ECG ‘traces’. All these monitored parameters are carefully recorded throughout on an anaesthetic chart set up only for your individual pet to allow the Vet Nurse to look for any trends and to allow for a close tailored review of your pet's anaesthetic and to check the quality and depth of anaesthesia and on how settled he is.
h) Recovery – After the anaesthetic your pet patient is still carefully monitored after their procedure until they are awake and swallowing, their breathing tube safely removed and until they have fully recovered from their anaesthetic. During recovery in the Vets surgery ward patients are continued to be monitored and checked regularly to ensure that they are kept stable, comfortable and warm, additional pain relief can be administered then as may be required.
i) Discharge Appointment - Once we are happy that they are fully recovered from their anaesthesia and we have checked that they are stable then your pet can be discharged home .They will be discharged home with a Vet or Vet Nurse with advice and instructions given regarding their after-care after their procedure. Once home generally we advise keeping your pet well rested somewhere quiet and warm. Usually you can offer a small, light, easily digested meal after a few hours of the patient returning home. At the discharge appointment we will normally also arrange to check your pet again within a few days as a post procedure clinical exam check-up.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding anaesthesia for your pet, or you have any questions regarding neutering procedures or any pending procedures that have been advised, please don’t be afraid to discuss these queries with your Vet or Vet Nurses. It is important that you are reassured and are made well aware of what is to be involved with both the general anaesthesia and the procedure ahead before your pet comes into our care. We do understand your concerns and we are here to help, advice and support you during what can be a worrying time for you.