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Animals and Anesthesia

What is anesthesia?

A state of amnesia, analgesia, unconsciousness, and muscle relaxation that can be induced with medication and reversed upon discontinuation of the same. Physiological functions are also altered and must be evaluated and supported.

What is pain management?

Pain is an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage. Pain can take on many forms, like acute as in the case of a surgical patient or chronic as in the case of osteoarthritis. Because our patients cannot communicate the source of their pain, our staff is trained to assess and assist in the management of pain and ensure the animal’s comfort. We employ both systemic medications and regional techniques in the management of pain.

What is sedation?

Administration of drugs to induce a calm and comfortable state for the patient. Sedation may be used to perform minor procedures. Pain medications may be added to sedative drugs to maximize the animal’s comfort. While sedation can be quite safe, drugs used to provide sedation can have side effects so supportive measures (e.g., administration of oxygen) may be needed.

What types of anesthesia, sedation, and analgesia do you use?

Depending on the patient’s procedure and individual needs there are several different protocols your pet may receive. We often use a multimodal approach, where we may administer multiple drugs that act by different mechanisms of action to produce the desired analgesic effect.

  • Preemptive analgesia: prevention or minimization of pain by the administration of analgesics before the production of pain, to provide a therapeutic intervention in advance of pain.
  • Local anesthesia: the blocking of sensation in a specific location of the body, like a tooth.
  • Regional anesthesia: blocks pain in a larger area of the body, like the entire lower half of the body. This occurs by blocking nerve impulses between the brain and the specific region of the body (i.e. an epidural).
  • General anesthesia: renders the patient unconscious, as nerve impulse transmission is inhibited in the brain. This “blocks” pain for the patient throughout the entire body.

How does veterinary anesthesia compare to anesthesia used on humans?

In most ways veterinary and human anesthesia are the same. Similar techniques and medications are used, although doses may differ. One of the biggest differences is that in veterinary medicine we frequently need to use general anesthesia for procedures that are routinely done for humans while they are awake. Examples of these include dental procedures, radiographs (X-rays), and complex imaging such as CT scans and MRIs.

What are potential side effects of sedation and anesthesia?

While general anesthesia and sedation are generally considered safe, there are some associated risks. When developing a plan for your animal we try to choose the most appropriate drugs and develop a plan for anticipated complications. We will closely monitor your animal and try to anticipate and treat problems before they become life threatening.

I’m nervous about my pet having general anesthesia. How can you help me?

We understand that there are a lot of fears and misconceptions when it comes to general anesthesia. Perhaps you, a friend, a family member, or your pet have had bad experiences with anesthesia in the past. We are here to listen to you and help you make informed decisions about your animal’s care.

Please inform the veterinarian managing your case if you have specific concerns about anesthesia or if you would like to speak with an anesthesiologist.

How do you handle aggressive, anxious, and stressed animals?

Often veterinary patients are stressed and anxious when visiting their animal’s veterinarian. We work to accommodate an individual animal’s needs by considering their unique fears and stressors to improve their experience and minimize risks. For example, calming medications may be prescribed for you to administer to your animal prior to or upon arrival at the hospital.

Many of our staff are Fear Free® certified and are specially trained to observe animal behaviors and make every experience as comfortable as possible.

How long does it take for my animal to recover from anesthesia?

Different animals awaken from anesthesia at various rates. Some animals may be fully alert upon arriving in the recovery area, while others may be groggy for hours after surgery. Because procedures, medications, and hospitalization can cause stress, side effects (e.g., nausea) may be occasionally observed during the recovery. Some animals, just like humans, can take a few days to return to normal. If at any point during the recovery you have any concerns, please contact your veterinarian.

Do you need to clip hair to administer anesthesia?

Yes, in addition to at the site of the procedure, your animal will return home with at least one leg clipped to place an intravenous catheter. Clipping hair is important to prevent infections and area contamination.

Several legs or the neck may be clipped if multiple IV catheters needed to be placed or if we had difficulty getting a catheter into a vein. We may need to clip additional areas on the leg, ear, or tail to place an arterial catheter to allow direct blood pressure monitoring. Additionally, we may need to clip hair to administer local or regional anesthesia, the most notable being an area of hair over the back if we have done an epidural. The hair at the epidural site may be slow to grow back and may grow back different colors or textures.