Anaesthetics:  answers to commonly asked questions.


image0236We are often asked about risks of anaesthetics as we may want to put your pet under anaesthesia to perform a surgery or procedure.  This will often make clients very apprehensive as they may have had a pet or know someone who has had a pet, where the pet may have had a problem under anaesthetic or even have died.  I am pleased to say that we have not had a routine (or even moderate to high risk) anaesthetic death in dogs and cats in the last 10 years.  We have given more than 3000 anaesthetics in this time.  This of course is no guarantee that it cannot happen in the future, but it is far less likely these days as long as things are done properly.


The first question is why do we want to give an anaesthetic – it is usually because if we did it without an anaesthetic, it would be painful.  The point of an anaesthetic is to make a patient unconscious so that they are unaware of is happening and they will have no memory what was done.  This is a very kind and humane thing to do.


Reducing the chances of anaesthetic complications:


  1. Firstly the pre-medications and anaesthetics have improved dramatically and are by their nature safer than older types.
  2. We talk to the pet owners when they bring their pets in to check their weight is stable nothing has changed and to check that all instructions have been correctly followed.
  3. We perform clinical examinations before they are even sedated, this means we will check things like hydration status, listen to the heart and lungs, check mucous membranes, check the pulse.
  4. We offer pre-anaesthetic blood screening which we can run on the premises and have the results before giving the anaesthetic.  This does not mean we expect to find a problem, but if there is one, we know about it before starting.
  5. We give a mixture of sedatives and pain killers before the anaesthetic which reduces the dose of anaesthetic, relaxes the patient and makes induction (the going to sleep) smoother.
  6. Patients are then put on an very safe and stable anaesthetic mixed with oxygen, which they breath in.
  7. Usually a nurse or vet will use a capnograph (measures exhaled carbon dioxide – this has actually revolutionised anaesthetic monitoring to my mind), a pulse oximeter (measures oxygen in the blood).  Depending on the length and relative risk of the anaesthetic, and the condition of the patient we may also use ECG, thermometer, blood pressure monitor, oesophageal stethoscope, drip.
  8. Despite all these useful monitors though, the anaesthetist watching the patient is the single most important part of the puzzle, they need to watch the patients breathing, check on the depth of anaesthesia, monitor the heart rate, and generally keep on top of things.  Monitoring is continued until after the patient is awake again, and to a lesser degree until they go home, at which point we do not expect any anaesthetic complications.


multiparameter-caphographSo anaesthetics are as safe as they can be, and they have a massively important role in eliminating pain and stress.  It would in my view be cruel not to use it where it is indicated.   If you have any questions please feel free to ask.