Anesthesia for Your Pet

Anesthesia for Your Pet

It can be an anxious time for a pet owner when their pet undergoes an anesthetic procedure. The Animal Dental Care and Oral Surgery team makes every effort to reduce the stress associated with these procedures for both the pet and their owner. Unfortunately, it is not possible to provide quality veterinary dental care to our patients without general anesthesia.

Prior to every anesthetic procedure a complete physical examination and review of patient records is performed. An individual anesthetic plan is then made based on the pet’s examination and medical history. This plan will include:

  • Anesthetic drugs and doses
  • Anticipation of any potential problems and their resolution based on the patient’s examination and history
  • Required monitoring of physiologic parameters
  • Post-anesthetic recovery plan, including needed pain relief

Anesthesia Process at Animal Dental Care & Oral Surgery

All patients have a pre-anesthetic blood panel performed prior to the procedure. These panels will evaluate a complete blood count (CBC) and chemistry panel that includes kidney, liver, protein and electrolyte values. Evaluation of all of these values is one more way that the anesthetic plan is formulated for each individual patient. Abnormalities of these blood values and pre-existing medical conditions do not necessarily mean anesthesia cannot be performed, but they allow us to better tailor a plan for each patient. We work closely with our referring veterinarians to manage any bloodwork abnormalities before and after procedures.

Pets are most often pre-medicated 20-30 minutes prior to a procedure with a combination of different sedatives and pain medications. Pre-emptive pain relief (analgesia) for a potentially painful procedure will allow lower doses of other anesthetic drugs and help keep a pet comfortable in their post-operative recovery. These pre-anesthetic medications will also greatly reduce stress for a cat or dog prior to the procedure.

All cats and dogs at Animal Dental Care and Oral Surgery have a dedicated anesthesia technician who will work with the veterinary dentist in maintaining the safest anesthetic procedure possible. This dedicated technician will only be responsible for the monitoring and care of your pet while they are under anesthesia. The anesthesia technician’s sole function is to help ensure the ongoing health and safety of your pet during the procedure.  Under the supervision of your veterinary dentist, the veterinary anesthesia technician continuously assesses your pet’s physical response to the anesthesia and the procedure being performed and makes adjustments to the type and amount of anesthetic and analgesic agents being administered.

IV catheterization will be performed for all patients. This allows for the administration of anesthetics and intravenous fluids before, during and after a procedure. Different types of IV fluids will help to maintain blood pressure and hydration for your pet. IV catheters also provide a quick access route for emergency drugs in the rare event they are needed.

Prior to induction of general anesthesia our patients are pre-oxygenated for 5-10 minutes to help maintain their blood oxygen levels at the start of a procedure. This is particularly important for pets living in Colorado at our higher elevation. During pre-oxygenation the patient has our state-of-the-art anesthetic monitoring devices applied so that critical physiologic parameters are monitored continuously before, during and after a procedure. They include heart rate and rhythm (ECG), respiratory rate, pulse oximetry (blood oxygenation), blood pressure, capnography (expired carbon dioxide) and body temperature.

Is My Pet Too Old for Anesthesia

Old age is not a disease and general anesthesia can still be very safe for older patients. Many of our anesthetic patients are between 10-18 years of age. While older age pets have a higher incidence of medical conditions, this does not mean they cannot undergo anesthesia. For any patient, old or young, that may have medical conditions, such as heart, liver or kidney disease, anesthetic protocols can be formulated that will allow them to be safely anesthetized. If a patient is dealing with a medical condition, such as advanced heart disease, that puts them at increased risk for potential complications, we frequently employ the services of PEAK Veterinary Anesthesia Services ( to maintain anesthesia for these patients. PEAK’s veterinary anesthesia technician specialists are specially trained to manage the risks that are inherent in anesthetic procedures, especially for those pets with underlying health conditions.

I've Heard My Pet's Breed is Sensitive to Anesthesia

“Breed sensitivity” to anesthesia is a common misperception that has spread through the pet community for years. There is no such thing. The rumors have become more rampant since the advent of the internet, with a lot of incorrect information being posted on internet sites. None of these sites quote medical literature, but often refer to anecdotal incidents of anesthetic complications. Usually, these stories end with some version of  “don’t let this happen to you;  Make sure that your vet knows that __________s (fill in the blank for your breed) are more sensitive to anesthesia”.While the loss of any pet during an anesthetic procedure is horrible, these incidents rarely have anything to do with a dog or breed being “sensitive” to anesthesia.

So where does the idea of breed sensitivity to anesthesia come from? Surely there is some basis for so many people to be spreading this misinformation. I think there are likely two reasons for this, detailed below:

  1. 15-20 years ago barbiturates were routinely used for general anesthesia in veterinary patients. While barbiturates are inherently safe drugs when used properly, they are associated with a slower recovery from anesthesia when compared to many of the newer drugs used for veterinary anesthesia. Some barbiturates (pentobarbital) are particularly long lasting. Recovery from barbiturate anesthesia depends partially on the drug moving into the patient’s body fat, where it is slowly metabolized. Patients with low body fat, including greyhounds, whippets, salukis, and other members of the “sight hound” breeds are slow to recover from barbiturate anesthesia because they have no body fat for the drug to move into. As a result, it stays in their bloodstream longer, leading to slow recovery. In some cases these patients can remain groggy for days, leading to a variety of complications, including unfortunately, a higher risk of anesthesia associated fatality. This becomes even more of a problem when the anesthetic is not accompanied by appropriate patient support such as warming blankets, IV fluids, and monitoring equipment. Modern anesthetic drugs are short-acting and/or reversible, leading to much more rapid recovery. Most patients, including members of the sight hound family, are walking within 15-30 minutes of the completion of the anesthetic episode.
  2. Unlike human medicine, in veterinary medicine there is very little oversight regarding the quality of the anesthesia used on patients. Anesthesia can be done very cheaply, or it can be done well. While most clinics and veterinarians use modern drugs and techniques, many are substandard. When problems inevitably arise, these can be dismissed as the pet being “sensitive to anesthesia”. Owners are not generally capable of assessing what level of care their pet received, and accept the statement that their pet “was sensitive”. They tell other people and the myth is propagated.

There really is no such thing as “sensitive to anesthesia”. No two patients are created equal, and anesthetic protocols should be tailored to each pet’s individual needs. To be board-certified in dentistry, our board certified veterinary dentists were required to obtain a large amount of additional training in anesthetic procedures. We are happy to discuss your pet’s individualized anesthetic protocol with you. For those owners wishing the ultimate in anesthetic safety, we have access to a board-certified veterinary anesthesiologist in the building, who can administer and monitor your pet’s anesthesia.

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