When we recommend a surgical or dental procedure that will require general anesthesia, fear of anesthesia is frequently paramount in the owner’s mind. Fear of anesthesia is universal. In people, patients often fear anesthesia more than the procedure itself. This is true even though patients often are at a greater risk of dying from the procedure than from the anesthesia. For example, women have about the same risk of dying from an uncomplicated pregnancy as they do from having anesthesia. The fear of anesthesia is much greater than the real risk. Though we can’t ever take the risk of anesthesia to zero, the risks are very minimal in animals and people.
The first anesthesia was used by a doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital in 1846. Ether was the first agent used; later chloroform was introduced. In the 168 years since the beginnings of anesthesia, veterinary and human medicine have worked and struggled to improve safety. We long ago stopped using drugs that were explosive. Current agents also do a much better job of protecting vital functions. New drugs are constantly on the horizon and we are always fine tuning monitoring parameters and techniques.
During anesthesia in our hospital, veterinary surgical staff monitors blood pressure, oxygen content of the blood, ECG and blood carbon dioxide levels, among other parameters. In addition to mechanical monitors, we know, and have always believed, that the best monitor is well-trained staff. At the Lien Animal Clinic, every patient is assigned a licensed veterinary technician who is with that patient from the time they are prepped for surgery until they wake up. The technician administers drugs that relax the patient and provide pain relief, induces the patient and places an endotracheal tube, enabling the patient to breathe oxygen as well as the anesthetic gas. The same technician monitors anesthesia throughout the surgical procedure and is with the patient until it is fully awake following surgery. Our belief is that the technician should act as an advocate for the patient, including requesting additional pain control or other techniques to provide patient comfort and safety.
Most patients have a blood test before anesthesia ensuring that they are normal metabolically. All patients have intravenous catheters that supply vital fluids throughout surgery and give us constant access to their blood stream. All patients are intubated so they can breathe oxygen along with anesthesia gas. This provides additional safety in cases where it becomes necessary to offer respiratory support.
We hear quite often that certain breeds are sensitive to anesthesia or specific medications. This is rarely true. Each patient is unique and our drug and anesthesia protocols are based on what is best for that patient, not on their breed. A multi-drug approach is the most effective and safest approach. We add the benefits of certain medications while decreasing the negatives by using anesthesia cocktails with lower doses of individual medications. Typically, animals receive pain medications with sedative medications prior to anesthesia. This relaxes them, pre-treats for pain and removes the stress from their experience. Then, an IV catheter is placed and the patient receives anesthesia-inducing medications. The endotracheal tube is then placed enabling them to breathe anesthesia gas and oxygen. Following the procedure, the patient is given oxygen until they eliminate the anesthetic gas from their body. If appropriate, pain medication is repeated on recovery.
This scenario is exceptionally safe and is our standard protocol. Know that the care-giving team providing your pet’s anesthesia is skilled and focused on your pet for the duration of its procedure and attentive to its needs through discharge from the hospital.
Always feel free to discuss any concerns with us about any care your animal may need, including anesthesia or other procedures.