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Dog Anesthesia - Everything You Need To Know Before Your Dog Goes Under Anesthesia

When would my dog need anesthesia?

Dogs may require anesthesia or sedation for various reasons, such as for surgical procedures, certain diagnostic tests like x-rays, or for pain management. If a dog is in acute pain or is limping and not allowing us to perform certain tests, we initially administer pain medications. If this does not alleviate their discomfort, we may proceed with anesthesia or sedation to keep them at ease. The main purpose of anesthesia is to manage pain and ensure that the procedures we perform are pain-free and non-traumatizing for your dog.

Dr. Meghan Denney
Four Paws At Fulshear

What are the different types of anesthesia and what's the difference?

The type of anesthesia used depends on the procedure or surgery being performed. For major surgeries, we use a combination of injectable and gas anesthesia. Before the procedure, we conduct a preoperative exam to check the dog's heart, lungs, and gums to ensure there are no obvious issues with the cardiovascular system. For any patient over the age of four, lab work is required to ensure there are no infections and that the liver and kidneys are functioning optimally.

We then administer premedications to help the dog relax. This is followed by the placement of an IV catheter for administering fluids and medications and pre-oxygenation. During this process, the dog is given five minutes of pure oxygen, which hyper-oxygenates their blood and provides us with extra time to respond in case of a complication or anesthetic reaction.

Once the dog is asleep, we place a breathing tube to protect their airway and reduce the risk of aspiration pneumonia. This is the reason we require all pets to be fasted when they come in for surgery. When you can't control your body, sometimes you can get reflux or regurgitation or even vomit. If that vomit gets into your airways, it can cause pneumonia. So we placed an endotracheal tube down the trachea and inflate a cuff so it creates a seal so that if one of our patients does vomit, regurgitate, or even salivate, that material isn't getting into the lungs. The dog is then placed on oxygen and gas anesthesia for maintenance. That's very similar to what they do with humans. We use isoflurane here, it's a gas and aesthetic, and it just keeps them under. Throughout the procedure, we monitor various vital signs like blood pressure, CO2 levels, oxygen levels, heart rate, respiration rate, and eye position.

Sedation, on the other hand, is a lighter form of anesthesia where the dog is relaxed but not completely unconscious. During sedation, the dog can breathe on their own but is usually given supplemental oxygen.

Are particular dog breeds more sensitive to anesthesia?

Certain breeds like sight hounds, including greyhounds, Afghans, Italian greyhounds, and whippets, can be more sensitive to sedation and anesthesia. Boxers are another breed where we avoid using certain medications. The anesthetic protocol may also be altered for dogs with pre-existing conditions or certain medical concerns. So I'm not going to use medications like ketamine, which, if you are prone to seizures, can induce seizures sometimes. I'm also going to change my anesthetic protocol for the condition. So if your dog has a heart condition, and we've done the x-rays or they've even had a cardiac echo to make sure the heart can withstand anesthesia, then I'm going to use what's called cardiac-friendly anesthesia. It's something that's going to have very low risk and very low pressure on the cardiovascular system and only going to affect the awareness of the brain and not going to affect the function of the heart or the lungs.

What are some possible complications of anesthesia that my dog could experience?

While rare, complications from anesthesia can occur. Sometimes they can have an underlying arrhythmia that we have no idea of. You can't always hear this in an exam, and if one of the premedications that we use induces a fatal arrhythmia, their heart can stop. So that is a big fear. It's very rare, I personally have only had four patients in ten years that this has happened to, three of which were unable to be revived and one of which we got back, but it sticks with you.

There's a risk that they could aspirate. Even though we have a breathing tube down protecting your airway, it's not a hundred percent effective. It's very rare for them to aspirate or have fluid or vomit or regurgitation go down the wrong pipe and into their lungs. That is not common. I've maybe only had it one time in ten years of practice, but it is possible.

We can also see them getting cold during anesthesia. A part of what we do is we provide a lot of heat support with what's called a bear hugger, which blows warm air. It's very similar to what humans have. When we get cold, our blood pressure can be harder to keep up, so keeping them warm is important. Blood pressure ensures your organs are getting enough oxygen and nutrients, and the kidneys are typically the first organs to be affected when blood pressure is low. We manage the blood pressure, monitor it, and have them on IV fluid so we can make adjustments. If we start to notice that a pet is getting low blood pressure while under anesthesia, we will lower the anesthesia and increase the fluids and start checking to make sure the body temperature is good. These adjustments are made to avoid having organ dysfunction, but there are risks and complications with every procedure. They are low, but they're there. Every patient that goes under anesthesia are our babies too. They might be your pet and your babies, but while they're here, they're under our care, and they get a hundred percent of our attention.

What do I need to watch for at home after my dog has undergone anesthesia?

After your dog has undergone anesthesia, they may be sleepy for about 24 hours. Their appetite may be off for a day or two, and they may also have a slight cough due to the breathing tube. They can also be a little lethargic because it takes time for the drugs to work their way out of their system, and if you have an older dog, it's going to take a little bit longer. It's not uncommon for anesthesia to take a day or two to work its way out.

When Aspen went to have her CT done at the specialty hospital, I don't remember what drug combination they used, but it's not one that she's usually had. When she came home, she did not stop panting and whining for eight hours to the point where I was giving her something else to take the edge off. So for her, that specific anesthesia wasn't great because with the combo that I've used on her before, she goes home and she's a little drowsy, but she's okay. It's a bit of a trial and error process in figuring out what works best for each pet. I can tell you that we tailor our anesthesia to each individual patient based on their past history. It is always important because I do have some patients that don't react well to certain drugs, and we don't use those on those patients. We make adjustments. It's definitely something to be aware of. If they're not eating within twenty four hours, if you need to give us a call. All of our anesthesia patients do get anti-nausea medications that last for twenty four hours. If we're vomiting, then you need to give us a call. If there's any diarrhea, we need to have a phone call. If they're panting uncontrollably and it's not going away for about eight hours, call us. It's not uncommon for a few hours, but if it's more than that, we need a phone call. Those are all things to keep an eye out for.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (281) 801-1444, or you can email us at [email protected]. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can. Don't forget to follow us on social media Facebook, Instagram

Dog Anesthesia - FAQs

Dr. Meghan Denney
Four Paws At Fulshear

What are some of the risks and side effects of anesthesia?

Risks with anesthesia are very low. The incidence is super low. In this practice, we've only had maybe two incidents in almost four years, so it's an extremely low risk. But there is always risk. The biggest one I would say and the one that scares most owners, including myself, is that we can lose them under anesthesia. They can go into cardiac arrest. It can be a drug reaction, an underlying heart condition that was silent and we weren't able to pick up on. Unfortunately, there are certain breeds of cats that can have silent heart disease like our sphinxes or Maine Coons, which is why we do a lot of preoperative monitoring and/or testing to make sure they can safely undergo anesthesia and the same with our canine patients. That's why every patient gets a preoperative exam, and for every patient over the age of four, our blood work, preoperative lab work is not optional. We do strongly recommend it for pets that are under four, but it is optional. What we're looking for is infection, red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. What are our organ functions with our liver and kidney? What are our electrolytes doing? Do we have normal clotting times? Because if we're having surgery we need to make sure we can clot. So these are possible risks, possible complications from anesthesia. Even though we do place a breathing tube down to protect their airway when they're asleep, aspiration pneumonia or when we get contents into the lungs from the esophagus like if they regurgitate or vomit while they're under anesthesia is a risk. There are different complications with each surgery, and if your pet is having one of those surgeries, we'll go over those risks with you before the procedure.

How will I know my dog will be safe under anesthesia?

We do our very best with our monitoring and keeping owners updated because anesthesia is scary. It's the unknown. As a pet owner and as a veterinarian myself, we like to have control of the situation and when you have a pet under anesthesia, like when my dog's gone and had an anesthesia at a specialty hospital, I'm not in control of that and that's scary. Things that we do to mitigate that and to make sure that every anesthesia procedure is safe is monitoring. Every pet has a dedicated veterinary technician with the sole purpose of paying attention to monitoring your pet. We watch vitals, heart rate, respiratory rate, temperature, blood pressure, CO2 levels, EKG readings, oxygen levels in the blood, body temperature, you name it and we're tracking it. We like to watch trends. So if something is trending down, we adjust to fix it. We don't wait until there's a problem. We're very quick to recognize a problem and fix it. We have very few anesthetic complications here at 4 Paws at Fulcher. If you are looking at other practices, those are questions to ask. What kind of monitoring do you do? For me, I want the same monitoring that I get when I go into anesthesia on every patient that I see. So we are very stringent in our anesthetic processes here at Four Paws At Fulshear and your pet will get the best care and will be completely monitored the whole time because we are a small practice. We handle our patients one at a time. Your pet has a nurse with them until they're fully recovered. They're never alone during that period.

When is anesthesia not necessary?

This is a good question because so many people, if there's like a little skin tag or something, they might not want to put their pet under anesthesia or if we have like a 16 year old dog with a heart condition, I'm not going to want to put them under anesthesia. But we do have some options. If there are small skin tags that are irritating either to the pet or to the owner, we do have cryotherapy here, which is painless. It is cold, but it involves freezing these growths off. In some cases, we can try to do local anesthesia. Because the lidocaine stings, some pets will not tolerate it and any procedure that's going to be done on the face will require sedation and/or anesthesia. There's just not something we're going to get away from because we only get two eyeballs. But if we have a skin tag on the top of the head that keeps scabbing and is gross, and a little cauliflower-like benign growth, that's something we're going to be able to use the cryotherapy and freeze that off without anesthesia.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (281) 801-1444, or you can email us at [email protected]. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can. Don't forget to follow us on social media Facebook, Instagram

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