Once the animal is under, the veterinary team inserts a breathing tube to keep the airway open and to deliver an inhaled anesthetic gas, which will keep the pet unconsciousness during the procedure.The team also monitors the pet's heart rate and rhythm, blood pressure, body temperature, oxygen levels and carbon dioxide output, a key indicator of changes in cardiorespiratory function.Many procedures that can be done safely on a human patient who is awake—dentistry, radiation treatment for cancer and X-rays among them—can’t be performed on pets without putting them under.In fact, when you think about those sharp dental instruments or about how dogs and cats don’t lay perfectly still on command, it’s no wonder that “your pet’s odds of needing general anesthesia over its lifetime are much higher than your own,” says Tufts veterinary anesthesiologist Emily Mc Cobb, V00. Still, it’s understandable for pet owners to have some anxiety, says Mc Cobb, who notes that “low risk is still not the same as no risk.” “Because an animal can’t tell us if it has been feeling ill” or has another condition that could be dangerous in combination with anesthetic drugs, the chance of an adverse reaction is a little higher for dogs and cats than it is for people, she says.According to Mc Cobb, 1 out of 1,000 dog or cat patients are at risk of anesthesia complications, compared with 1 in 2,000 to 5,000 patients in human medicine.She says anesthesia causes the most problems in horses—with 1 in 100 at risk of complications—because they often try to stand up and flee while the drugs are wearing off.If they aren’t sedated properly and get too freaked out, they will hyperventilate and not be able to breathe.” Many other canine breeds have genetic issues or anatomic factors that may require special anesthesia planning, including sight hounds, herding breeds, toy breeds, giant breeds and Doberman pinschers.General anesthesia involves a combination of drugs.
“In my practice, we recently had to cut a procedure short because a dog’s blood pressure dropped, and we were having trouble keeping it in a safe range, despite our best efforts,” says Fraser.Have you been avoiding getting your pet regular dental care? Most pet owners understand that in animals—just as in people—good oral health is conducive to overall well-being, says Gillian Fraser, V00, who practices in Northborough, Mass.Still, she says, some clients don’t heed her advice, because they’re afraid their pet will not survive the anesthesia.An IV drip keeps pets hydrated and gives veterinarians an easy portal to administer other drugs should an animal need them.
Tufts vets administer pain relievers in addition to anesthetic drugs.At a full-service veterinary teaching hospital, specially trained veterinarians assume roles identical to anesthesiologists in human medicine, says Mc Cobb, one of four board-certified anesthesiologists on staff at Tufts’ Foster Hospital for Small Animals.