Last Updated on: May 24, 2021 by Ingrid King
Every cat parent I know worries when a cat has to go under anesthesia, including me. Even though I’ve assisted with all sorts of anesthetic procedures and surgeries in my years working in veterinary clinics, and even though I understand how it all works and what constitutes safe anesthetic practice, it still doesn’t completely take the worry out of it. But did you know that there is something you can do at home that will not only make the trip to the vet clinic less stressful, but will also make anesthesia safer?
Varying standards of care
One of the problems with safe anesthesia is that standards of care can vary widely from one veterinary practice to the next. I’ve heard from far too many people about questionable standards of care at their clinic when it comes to anesthetic procedures. This may be particularly true for mixed practices. Cats are not small dogs, and there is evidence that cats undergoing anesthesia have a higher mortality rate than dogs due to their unique physiology and small size.
Knowing what to expect when your cat has to undergo anesthesia and knowing the right questions to ask at your veterinary clinic prior to the procedure so that you can be sure that your cat’s anesthesia will be done in the safest possible way can help ease your worries.
Safe anesthesia begins at home
Having a plan prior to the vet visit can help reduce the associated stress for both cat and human. Training cats to accept the carrier and the car ride is crucial. Additionally, cat guardians need to understand that their own stress can contribute to making a vet visit even more challenging than it needs to be, since cats are sensitive creatures who readily pick up on their human’s energy.
An increased release of stress hormones can lead to increased blood pressure, a rapid heart beat and abnormally rapid breathing, all of which can increase the risks associated with anesthesia.
Many veterinarians recommend that cat parents give Gabapentin about 90 minutes before leaving for the vet clinic. “Gabapentin is a great medication to use in most cats prior to anesthesia,” says Dr. Mary Buelow, DVM, DAVDC, a board certified veterinary dentist and owner of Animal Dentistry and Oral Surgery in Leesburg, VA. “First, it decreases the anxiety and stress of the car ride and visit to the vet office. Second, it has been shown in studies to decrease anesthesia drug needs, meaning that we can decrease the amount of anesthesia needed to keep them asleep. It’s a win-win for both our feline patients’ mental health and their anesthetic needs!”
Andrea Tasi, VMD, a holistic veterinarian and owner of Just Cats Naturally, has used Gabapentin successfully for her clients. “It’s a rare cat who is not stressed by a trip to the vet,” says Dr. Tasi. “I recommend Gabapentin for any of my patients who need diagnostic workups such as blood draws, and for any procedures that require anesthesia.”
The benefits of having a cat arrive at the clinic calmer not only makes for less stress for the cat, it also makes handling the cat easier for veterinary staff. Staff should still employ feline-friendly handling techniques and use other methods to ensure that cats can be as calm as possible, such as reducing stressful odors or covering carriers or cages. “The less of a rodeo the anesthetic induction is, the safer the anesthesia,” says Dr. Tasi. A calmer, less stressed cat will most likely be more stable while under anesthesia, and have a smoother recovery.
Gabapentin is a short-acting medication that stops working within 24 hours. The most common side effects are sleepiness and incoordination. It should be used with caution in cats with kidney or liver disease.
If your cat gets stressed before and during veterinary visits or requires anesthesia, ask your veterinarian about Gabapentin.
Ingrid King is an award-winning author, former veterinary hospital manager, and veterinary journalist who is passionate about cats.