The use of anesthesia involves employing either gas or injectable medications used to sedate or numb the patient, minimizing or eliminating patient discomfort.
Veterinarians may opt for local or general anesthesia when performing operations or procedures on your pet, depending on the type of treatment or the potential severity of pain that will be induced. Local anesthesia in administered to an area of tissue on your dog or cat’s body, leaving that small localized area insensitive to pain. In some cases, this is preferable, as the procedure is not likely to be deeply invasive and the pet will recover quickly from the operation with little residual discomfort.
General anesthesia renders the patient completely unconscious and is often used in more complicated, invasive procedures. It relaxes the entire body and removes all pain sensation from the patient during administration so any procedures can be performed. Pets are monitored more closely during general anesthesia to assure continued healthy organ functionality during all procedures.
Veterinary medicine often calls for invasive procedures to be performed on your pet (see our pre-surgical instructions for care requirements prior to bringing your pet in for a scheduled operation). Spay and neutering of pets is one of the most common operations requiring general anesthesia, though other surgical procedures, such as an abdominal or orthopedic surgery, also require the use of such medications. Also, animal dentistry requires that the mouth and jaw be completely relaxed , leading to the use of general anesthesia in most cases.
If your pet has been injured – a laceration or torn nail, for example – local anesthesia may be administered prior to treatment of the wounded area. This allows for complete treatment without sensitivity to pain on the part of the animal. Sutures can be uncomfortable as well without the numbing effect of anesthesia, as can other procedures performed, such as the removal of lesions on your pet.
Just as with humans, pets must be physically prepared to tolerate the administration of anesthesia, especially a general anesthetic. This requires a complete physical exam to assess the health of your pet prior to moving forward with any procedure. Heart and lungs are the main priority, assuring that your pet is strong and has no unknown risk factors related to anesthesia. Abdominal abnormalities can also cause problems with general anesthesia. Bloodwork is taken and processed to assure your pet can undergo a procedure requiring anesthesia with no complications. Once your pet is deemed physically capable of tolerating anesthetic application, any operation or other procedure can move forward.
Just as with human surgical procedures, drugs may be administered to pets in a number of ways. Local anesthesia, an injection is given in the area to be numbed prior to suturing or other topical procedures. For general anesthesia, the process may be more complex. Dogs and cats are often given medication in advance to calm their anxiety and relax them. This usually involves the administration of an analgesic, or pain killer. Typically, an intravenous device is inserted to give first a short-acting anesthetic to render the animal unconscious, followed by either a continuous drip of anesthetic agent or the insertion of a breathing tube into the trachea to administer an inhaled gaseous anesthetic, such as sevoflurane.
All procedures carry some sort of risk factor. With pets, the risks associated with anesthetics are minimized by the initial physical evaluation to prevent complications. One concern with anesthesia is an adverse or allergic reaction to the medication given to desensitize pain. Other concerns may include apnea (lapse in breathing when under general anesthesia), hypotension (low blood pressure), bradycardia (slowed heart rate), and, in severe cases, cardiac arrest. Heating pads are used during surgery to help maintain body temperature of the patient. The patient is continuously monitored during any procedure involving anesthesia to minimize the risk and prevent complications. Heart rate, respiratory rate, EKG, and pulse oximeter parameters are all recorded, and clients will receive a print out after the procedure is complete.
Following general anesthesia, the main goal is for your pet to return to normal functionality. Hypothermia is one of the most common concerns following such procedures, and heat is often applied to help the animal maintain a normal body temperature until the pet’s system returns to normal and can maintain the temperature on its own. Pain control and pain reduction agents are also important to keep your pet comfortable during recovery. Cleaning and general nursing care are also provided after any surgical procedure for your pet’s continued comfort. The amount of time an animal stays in the hospital or clinic following an operation depends on what procedure has been performed, though few surgeries require monitoring overnight. However, for severe, highly invasive procedures, the animal could need to stay anywhere from one to several days.
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