One of the most important tools available to veterinarians to thoroughly and painlessly treat pets is the advent of modern day anesthetics. These anesthetic agents allow us to sedate and anesthetize a wide variety of animals with negligible chance of serious side effects.
The lack of significant complications from anesthesia is due to a combination of expertise, thorough pre-anesthetic testing, and state of the art anesthetic and monitoring equipment. We are equipped to anesthetize any pet from a finch that weighs 15 grams (it takes 454 grams to make up one pound), to pets that weigh several hundred pounds. We are also particularly proficient in anesthetizing older (geriatric) pets, and those with medical problems like liver and kidney disease.
The goals of anesthesia are to minimize anxiety and eliminate pain. In addition, from the surgical point of view, anesthesia allows profound muscle relaxation. This is helpful in every surgery because the procedure will go quicker, and incisions can be made smaller, when the muscles are relaxed. In certain types of surgery like fracture repair, this muscle relaxation is crucial for success.
It is normal for you to have concern if your pet is about to undergo a procedure that requires anesthesia. Because of this fact, we invite you to be a part of our anesthetic team. Your primary responsibility is to let us know of your concern. You will have access to your doctor to discuss any of your concerns and to set up a custom protocol for your pet, taking its specific needs into consideration. Only when you are comfortable with the situation will we proceed any further. Also, to alleviate your concern on the day of actual anesthesia, we will call you immediately after your pet wakes up, if you so desire. Please leave a number where we can reach you on the day of surgery.
One of the best precautions we take to minimize the risk of anesthesia it to perform pre-anesthetic diagnostic tests. A pet can pass its pre anesthetic physical exam and still have significant internal problems, so it is important that we perform more than just a physical exam. This is because animals cannot tell us of their problems, have high pain thresholds in comparison to people, and have defensive mechanisms allowing them to hide symptoms. Pre-anesthetic diagnostic tests are designed to alert us to internal problems that are occurring without any symptoms.
Those pets that have infections (especially tooth infections) are put on antibiotics ahead of time. They make pets feel better, and help support internal organs.
Older pets, or those with medical problems, are given intravenous (IV) fluids prior to and during the anesthetic procedure. Giving fluids prior to the surgery greatly reduces anesthetic risk. This is particularly important in older pets and those with kidney or liver disease. Most pets that have significant dental disease will also be given IV fluids.
No matter what our pre-anesthetic diagnostic tests reveal, our surgeon always performs a physical exam, emphasizing the heart and lungs, just prior to surgery
Injectable anesthetics are used for many purposes. One of their primary uses is to sedate pets before giving the actual anesthesia (called pre-anesthetic). By sedating ahead of time we dramatically minimize anxiety, cause a smoother recovery, and minimize how much anesthetic we need to administer during the actual procedure. In addition, some injectable anesthetics minimize vomiting, a common problem when waking up from anesthetic.
Injectable anesthetics are also used to give complete anesthesia for short periods of time. This is used for C-sections and minor surgical procedures. Injectable anesthetics are ideal to sedate a pet for radiographs (x-rays).
Some of our anesthetics are given intravenously. In this case, Propofol is being used for induction, and we will place a breathing tube and put this pet on inhalant anesthetic.
There are many different injectable medications used for sedation, induction, or actual surgical procedures. Many times we use them in combination, which gives us the best of both worlds. Each pet is different, has a different cardiovascular and metabolic status, and is undergoing different procedures of differing durations, so we customize our anesthetic for each pet. Here are some of the medications we use:
The mainstay for general anesthesia is gas anesthesia because it is very safe and highly controllable. Gas anesthesia requires specialized equipment and training. Several precision components are used to administer and monitor anesthesia:
All pets put under gas anesthesia are given 100% oxygen from the moment they are anesthetized until they wake up, dramatically increasing the safety of the procedure.
We have a special machine in surgery that generates 100% oxygen
As a backup, oxygen is stored in large tanks under high pressure. The oxygen in the tanks is delivered to the anesthetic machine via special piping throughout the hospital. This allows us to have anesthetic machines in several hospital locations. A pet can be brought into radiology after its surgery and still be kept under gas anesthesia while the surgeon reviews post operative radiographs to ensure everything is in order. This is especially helpful when orthopedic surgery is performed.
With rare exceptions, oxygen is delivered to your pet by a breathing tube (endotracheal tube) in its windpipe. It is the preferred method to administer oxygen because it is very efficient, will prevent any vomitus from entering the trachea (vomiting rarely happens because of fasting and pre-anesthetic sedation), and allows us to gently inflate the lungs during surgery so that work at maximum efficiency. Besides oxygen, the anesthetic gas (Isoflurane) is also administered through the endotracheal tube. Medications can even be administered via this special tube.
The endotracheal tube in place prior to a dog with a removal of a growth behind its left canine tooth. We remove it with the laser.
We can easily inflate your pet’s lungs by gently squeezing the bag connected to the tube and monitoring the amount of pressure we are exerting with a gauge on the anesthetic machine. Each size and species of pet requires a different sized endotracheal tube. The tube is not removed from your pet until it is literally waking up. This ensures that the swallowing reflex is present and your pet is now safely able to breathe on its own.
This x-ray shows the breathing tube (follow the arrow) as it passes over the tongue and down the trachea (windpipe)
An instrument called a precision vaporizer is used to deliver the anesthetic gas within the oxygen. It is a very precise instrument, allowing us to make fine adjustments in anesthetic level. Without this vaporizer we would not have the wide safety margin that we currently enjoy.
This machine has given us the ability to anesthetize a wide range of species with a wide range of sizes
For most surgeries we administer the anesthetic at a setting of 1-2 %. This small percent of anesthetic, added to the oxygen the pet is breathing, is all that is needed to achieve complete surgical anesthesia. Before the surgical procedure is finished the anesthetic is lowered before it is turned off completely. This is another way we minimize anesthetic risk.
During the procedure your pet will be monitored in several ways. One of the best monitors is the surgeon because he is literally visualizing the blood in the circulatory system. Any change in the blood is readily noticed because pets that are breathing 100% oxygen should have bright red blood.
Also, we have an anesthetist in the room monitoring anesthesia. She monitors oxygen flow and anesthetic settings on the precision vaporizer, along with heart rate and respiratory rate.
Our anesthetist is in the room at all times monitoring your pet
Our anesthetists keeps a detailed log of the procedure
She also uses several tools to aid her in keeping a close watch on important anesthetic parameters:
All of our patients, especially the smaller ones like this guinea pig, are kept on warm water water blankets to prevent hypothermia before during, and after any anesthetic procedure.
This highly accurate and sensitive monitor gives us detailed information on your pets physiologic status while under anesthesia.
It is calibrated prior to surgery to ensure accuracy
Our anesthetist technician can also use an esophageal stethoscope to listen to the heart. This sensitive instrument is passed into your pet’s esophagus while under anesthesia and placed right at the level of the heart, thus greatly enhancing our ability to hear the heart and detect any problems.
The portable pulse oximeter is an instrument that measures the oxygen saturation of you pet’s red blood cells (to be more specific, its hemoglobin). It is an extremely sensitive instrument that gives us an indication of problems that may be arising long before your pet suffers any ill effects. In addition to measuring oxygen saturation, it measures heart rate, pulse character, and respiration.
This instrument does its magic by measuring the hemoglobin that is oxygenated and comparing it to the hemoglobin that is not oxygenated. It does this by shining a light on an artery, and then measures how much of this light is absorbed. It gives us an answer in PaO2– the partial atmospheric pressure of oxygen
We like the pulse oximeter oxygen saturation number to be in the mid 90’s or more. This number depends on the species and its physiologic state.
Our human volunteer is showing how it works on her. The number to the left is the oxygen saturation, the number to the right is her heart rate. It looks like she is alive!
The pulse oximeter has several different types of sensors that can be attached in various locations depending on the procedure being performed. The pulse oximeter can also be used on pets that are not anesthetized. It is useful for pets that are having difficulty breathing (dyspnea) from many different causes. It is also used to monitor pets that are in a state of shock. One of the most common reasons for pets to be presented to us in a state of shock is from trauma, especially being hit by a car (HBC).
The esophageal stethoscope and the pulse oximeter can be used simultaneously. In this dog, undergoing a neuter operation, Denise, our anesthetist, is taking a reading with both instruments.
The blue tube on the anesthetic machine suctions exhaled gases from our patient and vents them outside the building. The white particles in the canister absorb exhaled carbon dioxide, and the round gauge measures the pressure at which oxygen is being introduced into the endotracheal tube when the technician inflates the bag.
To complement these high tech methods of monitoring, our anesthetist technician uses several hands-on techniques as a backup. One of the easiest of these is called capillary refill time (CRT). By pressing on the mucous membranes in the mouth, and noting how long it takes for the blanched area to turn pink again, we get a basic assessment of your pets cardiovascular status. A normal pet’s pink color returns within 2 seconds. This technique is used in other situations besides anesthetic monitoring. It is especially helpful when a pet is in shock or is dehydrated.
Gently pushing on the gums to blanch a small area
The whitish area is the blanching
If the whitish area returns to the original pink color in 1-2 seconds, like in this picture, then the CRT is normal
This test is easily done, and you can do it at home. You can learn more about this test, and how you can monitor your pet for problelms, in the In Home exam page of our web site. It’s under the heading of Learning Center.
Blood Pressure Monitor
We also monitor the blood pressure when pets are under anesthesia for the longer surgical procedures. This is done with our anesthetic monitor. Our hypertension page has a video of the doppler blood pressure monitor in action when we use it in an exam room.
We complete the anesthetic process by giving your pet a pain injection before it wakes up from the anesthetic. Since the gas anesthesia has a small amount of residual analgesia (ability to kill pain), the pain shot kicks in as the gas anesthetic is wearing off. This allows for a very smooth and pain free recovery. Those of us that have had even minor surgery know how important pain medication is after a procedure. This pain injection will keep your pet calm its first night home from any surgery.
Another excellent way to prevent the pain encountered when your pet first wakes up is to use a long acting local anesthetic at the incision site. We administer it prior to completion of the surgery, and its affects last for 6 hours.
We use the long acting version of this drug which eliminates pain for up to 8 hours.
We even have a local anesthesia patch that is used in some cases to bring long term relief for several days if needed.
We also use Duragesic patches for general pain control in the more serious cases. It is preferable to apply it 12 hours before the surgery for maximum effect postoperatively. The patch is applied in different locations depending on the surgery. Wrapped around one of the legs and between the shoulder blades are common locations. It provides pain relief for 3 days. It is important to make sure that no children or other pets are allowed to contact the patch in any way. Bring your pet back to us for proper removal and disposal.
This is the Duragesic patch
One of our technicians is applying it in this picture using gloves to ensure she does not come into contact with the active ingredient
If we put it on the leg it is covered with a bandage. We will commonly staple the patch to the skin if we put it between the shoulder blades. It will be bandaged for protection, and to minimize the chance of contact with other pets and children.
To ensure your pets complete safety, it will stay with us for at least several hours after it is awake. We will verify the pain medication is working and there are no ill effects from the anesthetic administered. It will also allow your pet to completely wake up and walk normally in a controlled environment where it cannot hurt itself. Our technical staff monitors your pet post operatively until we are certain it is ready to go home.
Long term pain control at home is also important during the next several days. We will routinely send you home with an anti-inflammatory medication or pain suspension for long term pain control. The two most common medications we use are Rimadyl and Torbutrol suspension.
Even though it is not an actual pain medication, using our carbon dioxide laser when indicated during a surgical procedure dramatically minimizes pain because it decreases inflammation, swelling, and cauterizes nerve endings. By using the laser and stopping the pain cascade before it even begins there is a dramatic influence on decreasing post operative pain.
Cold Laser Therapy
We go overboard on pain control, and in addition to all the pain medications already mentioned, we use the cold laser to minimize swelling and post operative pain at the incision site while your pet is still under anesthesia. This cat is getting this treatment after its spay (OVH) surgery.
Here it is in action after a dog neuter
Returning Home after anesthesia
When you bring your pet home after anesthesia it is helpful to follow some common sense suggestions:
Keep contact with other pets and children to a minimum for at least the first 12 hours. Confine it to an area where it cannot hurt itself because it may not be steady on its feet for up to 24 hours. It might be groggy the first night due to the pain injection it was given in the hospital, and also the pain medication you will be giving at home..
Use pain medication as prescribed and keep your pet in a warm and quiet area. You can spend time giving unlimited TLC
Even though your pet has probably been fasted for the anesthesia, feed it only a small amount of food and water when first returning home. Give it more later if it eats well and does not vomit (emesis). Most pets return to a normal appetite within 24 hours. If your pet has not fully recovered from the anesthetic by the next day then please call our office.
Please call us in the evening if you have any questions when your pet returns home from surgery or any anesthetic procedure.
We have a page on Home Care of the Surgical Patient for more information.