Published by: Ingrid King. Last Updated on: May 2, 2023 by Crystal Uys
For most pet parents, the thought of their pets having to undergo anesthesia instills fear and worry. This is often caused by a lack of knowledge about what questions to ask your veterinarian, and what constitutes safe anesthesia. This article by Dr. Louise Murray explains in great detail what you should look for to ensure that your pet’s anesthetic procedure is done safely.
Written by Dr. Louise Murray
As you can tell, my mission is to give pet owners the information they need to protect their pets’ health and to wisely choose the best veterinary practice to help achieve that. I believe that knowledge is indeed power and have seen too many pets suffer because their owners did not have the tools they needed to advocate for their animal companions.
Today I suddenly realized (duh!) that just talking about ways you can protect your pet isn’t enough; I need to show you. It’s one thing to babble on and on about safe anesthesia and having your older pet’s blood pressure checked and ensuring your pet receives safe and adequate pain control. It’s another to let you see for yourself. If nothing else, pictures are a lot less boring then listening to my nagging.
So, today let’s talk about, and take a look at, what is required for safe anesthesia. Safe anesthesia requires monitoring equipment, so that when your pet’s oxygen level or heart rate or blood pressure drops, someone knows about it and can do something to fix the problem before your pet actually stops breathing or her heart stops and…well, you know. Pets can die under anesthesia, and proper monitoring vastly reduces the chance of that.
At a minimum, your pet should be hooked up to a handy gadget called a pulse oximeter. This little gem monitors the animal’s blood oxygen level and heart rate, good parameters to keep an eye on if you want to make sure someone keeps living.
Here’s a picture of a kitty having his blood oxygen level and heart rate measured with a pulse oximeter. I think you’ll agree he seems quite happy about it.
You’re right, he’s not under anesthesia. You can also use a pulse oximeter in awake animals when you are concerned about their breathing, such as animals in heart failure or those with pneumonia. If the oxygen level is too low, the vet needs to do something about it rather quickly, such as place the animal in an oxygen cage.
Another component of safe anesthesia is called intubation. This means placing a tube in the animal’s trachea (windpipe) to deliver oxygen and anesthetic gas. If an animal under anesthesia is not intubated (if the anesthesia is delivered with a mask, or just by injection), there’s not much anyone can do if that animal start to crash or stops breathing. But if the animal is intubated, the vets or technicians can ventilate the animal (breathe for her).For example, if the pulse oximeter shows the animal’s oxygen level is dropping, the folks doing the anesthesia can give the animal a few oxygen-rich breaths by sqeezing on the oxygen bag a few times. Or, as I mentioned above, if the animal stops breathing completely, they can use the tube to breath for the animal. Can’t do that with a mask and certainly not for an animal who just got an injection. Then it’s rush rush rush to try to get a tube in before the pet dies. Not good.
Here’s a kitty who is under anesthesia and intubated.
See that little black bag on the lower left? If the kitty’s oxygen level drops or she stops breathing, the vets or techs can breathe for her by squeezing the bag.That way they can keep her cute little tongue nice and pink like it is in the picture.
The other thing I want you to notice about the cat above is that she has in IV catheter in her leg. This is also super important for safe anesthesia. If this little cat’s heart slows down, she can be given a drug to speed it back up through the catheter. If her heart stops, she can be given epinephrine to help re-start it. If her blood pressure drops, she can be given a bolus of IV fluids or medications to correct this.
OK, gotta run to work now. Now you know all about safe anesthesia; don’t let your pets receive anything less!
Dr. Louise Murray is an experienced and highly regarded authority in her profession. During her ten-plus years as a practitioner, she has lectured frequently on a wide range of topics, gaining her the respect of her colleagues. She has also been honored with several prestigious awards and has had her research published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Dr. Murray is also the author of Vet Confidential: An Insider’s Guide to Protecting Your Pet’s Health. For more information about Dr. Murray, please visit her website.
About the author
Ingrid King is an award-winning author, former veterinary hospital manager, and veterinary journalist who is passionate about cats.