Advances in medications, techniques, and equipment have made anesthesia safe for pets today, and your concerns should not stop you from scheduling a procedure your pet needs. When pet owners worry about the anesthesia risk, they are likely thinking of veterinary medicine in the 1950s when, among sick pets, 1 out of 400 dogs and 1 out of 200 cats did not survive anesthesia. Today, the chance of an anesthesia fatality for a healthy dog is 1 out of 2,000. That’s only five-hundredths of one percent! 

To decrease these chances further, Animal Internal Medicine and Specialty Services uses the most progressive anesthesia practices, and provides pain control tailor-made for each patient. For every pet, including healthy pets, and those with well-managed health problems, certain breed characteristics or disease issues must be considered for safe anesthesia. Read on to learn about factors that make anesthesia higher risk for some pets, and how our protocols address these situations.

Anesthesia in brachycephalic pets

Boston terriers, bulldogs, and Persian cats are examples of brachycephalic pets, whose shortened snouts create abnormal breathing because of small nostrils, long soft palates (i.e., extra tissue at the back of the throat), and smaller tracheas (i.e., windpipes). In addition, some brachycephalic breeds are more likely to be obese, which makes breathing harder.

When a short-nosed pet needs anesthesia, we choose medications that are less likely to cause a major decrease in respiratory function. The pet is given flow-by delivery of oxygen before the procedure begins, to help keep oxygen levels normal. We place an endotracheal tube (i.e., breathing tube) to secure the pet’s airway, and administer oxygen and anesthetic gas. We use special monitoring equipment, including a pulse oximeter and capnography, to measure oxygen levels and monitor breathing throughout the procedure. We remove the tube when the procedure is complete, but we can continue to administer oxygen with a flow-by method until monitors show normal oxygen levels. We carefully monitor anesthesia and recovery in all pets, and doubly so in brachycephalic pets, to ensure the safest procedure possible.

Anesthesia in diabetic pets

If your pet is diabetic and on insulin, we will tailor a plan specifically for them, to maximize their anesthetic safety. The protocol may include not feeding your pet after midnight the night before the procedure—always leaving free access to water—and administering a half meal and a half-dose of insulin in the morning. Most non-diabetic pets are fasted before anesthesia, because they are less likely to experience nausea and vomiting on an empty stomach. But, since diabetics must eat two to three hours before anesthesia, we can administer anti-nausea medication to help prevent vomiting. We monitor the pet’s blood glucose (i.e., blood sugar) levels closely, often as soon as anesthesia begins, and then every 30 minutes until the pet is awake and able to eat later in the day. Dextrose can be administered intravenously (IV) if the pet’s blood sugar gets too low. At our specialty center, anesthetized pets have IV catheters in place—a crucial policy, especially for diabetics. The IV access means we can treat and correct any problems without delay.  

Anesthesia in geriatric pets

Senior pets commonly need anesthesia for procedures to address problems such as dental disease or tumor removal. Small dogs and cats are considered seniors when they reach 7 years of age, whereas large-breed dogs have shorter life spans, and enter their senior years at the age 6. Preanesthetic blood work is helpful for any pet, but crucial for safety in older pets. Anesthesia plans can be modified based on the blood test results—for example, if decreased kidney function is found, fluid therapy before, during, and after anesthesia becomes critical. If preanesthetic blood work reveals decreased liver function, we can administer medications that are easier on the liver. Senior pets benefit from continuous blood pressure monitoring throughout anesthesia, and appropriate IV fluid administration. We work hard to control all pets’ pain without increasing the complication risk. If your senior pet has health issues, we will modify our plan to make anesthesia as safe as possible.

Anesthesia in pediatric pets

Anesthesia for any pet under 4 months of age brings several special considerations. Their small body size and lack of fat mean they can become cold quickly, so our team monitors pets’ temperatures throughout anesthesia, and we use the best, safest warming devices. Young pets may not handle medications as well as mature pets, so we use the safest medications in our protocols. Pediatric patients also are at risk for low blood sugar, so we ensure they go no more than one to three hours without eating, and that their blood glucose levels stay normal before, during, and after the procedure. Lastly, we monitor and regulate the youngest pets’ fluids closely, since they can easily become dehydrated. Every team member knows that small, young pets require extra TLC when undergoing anesthesia.

Our comprehensive plans for brachycephalic, diabetic, older, and young pets are examples of how our team will adjust to your pet’s particular needs when they require an anesthetic procedure. Anesthesia is a serious event for your pet, and risks will always exist, but our expert group of caring specialists at Animal Internal Medicine and Specialty Services work hard to make anesthesia as safe as possible for your furry family member. Call us any time you have questions or concerns about anesthesia safety in your pet.