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What You Must Know Before Your Pet Goes Under

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There are two kinds of anesthesia: local and general. Local anesthetics are used to numb a specific area of the body.

General anesthesia is the kind that renders the patient unconscious and is of course the more worrisome and potentially dangerous of the two. However, human and veterinary medicine have seen significant improvements in recent years in anesthetic agents with highly predictable and reversible effects.

General anesthesia is used with pets to help relax the muscles of the body, remove the ability of the animal to fight against the procedure, and to ensure your pet feels no pain during surgery or other veterinary procedures.

What Are the Risks of Anesthetizing My Pet?

It is thought about 1 in 100,000 animals have a reaction to anesthesia. To the owner of that 1 dog or cat, it's a completely unacceptable risk. But it's actually less risk than your pet faces riding in the car to and from the vet's office.

If your pet has a medical condition (for example, heart, liver or kidney disease, diabetes, anemia, dehydration, or an infection like heartworm disease), there is an elevated risk of complications from anesthesia.

Also, if a pet isn't fasted properly prior to anesthesia, she can encounter problems like vomiting during or shortly after being anesthetized. This can result in aspiration pneumonia, which is very serious.

Evaluating Your Pet's Condition Pre-Anesthesia

Things you should expect your vet to do before performing a procedure requiring anesthesia include:

• Taking a complete medical history.
• Performing a thorough physical exam.
• Running pre-anesthesia blood tests and a chest X-ray, ECG or BNP blood test, if appropriate.

If your vet determines your pet can safely undergo anesthesia, you'll typically need to fast him for 12 hours prior to the procedure. Vets have differing opinions on how long before surgery water should be withheld, but the minimum time is usually two hours prior to pre-medication.

Pre-Medication and Anesthesia Options

Prior to anesthesia, an IV catheter and line should be placed in your pet so the doctor and vet staff can easily administer drugs, including anesthetics, as well as fluids.

All older general anesthesia patients should receive IV catheterization and fluids, and many vets suggest or require a catheter for all patients.

Your pet should also be pre-medicated with a sedative. Your vet has many choices of pre-anesthetic sedation available, depending on your pet's health evaluation.

There are also a wide variety of anesthetics available for veterinary use.

Your pet will have an endotracheal or breathing tube inserted, which will facilitate delivery of the anesthesia gas to the lungs, as well as oxygen as required.

Monitoring Your Pet During and Immediately After the Procedure

Your pet's condition should be continuously monitored while she's "out" and then in recovery until she's no longer under the influence of the anesthesia. Vitals measured include:

• Body temp
• Respiration and pulse rates
• Blood pressure
• Blood oxygen and CO2 (carbon dioxide) levels
• ECG or EKG

I recommend asking your vet how they monitor these parameters, as well as control body temperature during anesthesia.

Your pet should appear normal to you by the time you pick her up after a procedure.

You might notice she's a bit sleepy and less active for 12 to 24 hours after you get her home. But if she seems really sluggish, groggy, or out of it, call your vet or an emergency animal clinic right away.

Post-Surgery Pain Management

If your pet has had surgery of any kind, he'll be in pain. And he can't tell anyone if or how much he hurts, so you'll need to speak up for him if necessary.

Your dog or cat should be treated before, during and after any pain-inducing procedure with appropriate pain relief.

I strongly believe all patients that have been cut with a scalpel deserve prescribed pain management, at least for the first 72 hours. If your vet does not offer pain management, please ask for it.

Post-Anesthesia Chiropractic

I recommend your pet see a chiropractor or bodywork therapist after any procedure requiring anesthesia. Many hospitals and surgery centers now put human patients on "anesthesia boards" to transfer them from the gurney to the surgery table and back to the gurney, but unfortunately, many pet patients aren't handled as carefully.

A limp body is difficult to lift and move. All that flopping around can throw your pet's body out of alignment during transfer from the surgery table to the recovery area.
Also, many animals jerk their bodies around as they awake from anesthesia, which can also damage their skeletal health.

In my professional opinion, allowing an animal chiropractor to realign your pet after any round of anesthesia is money well spent.

Dr. Karen Becker is a proactive and integrative wellness veterinarian. You can visit her site at:

Her goal is to help you create wellness in order to prevent illness in the lives of your pets. This proactive approach seeks to save you and your pet from unnecessary stress and suffering by identifying and removing health obstacles even before disease occurs. Unfortunately, most veterinarians in the United States are trained to be reactive. They wait for symptoms to occur, and often treat those symptoms without addressing the root cause.

By reading Dr. Becker's information, you'll learn how to make impactful, consistent lifestyle choices to improve your pet's quality of life.

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