Pet anesthesia risks are quite low, but most pet owners still worry. Modern medication protocols and inhaled gas anesthetics provide smooth inductions, allow precise adjustments during surgery, and fast recoveries. The Palm Valley Veterinary Center team follows the highest anesthesia standards, and takes every necessary precaution to ensure a safe anesthesia for your pet. To allay your fears, we share the anesthetic protocols that help us maintain the highest care standards.

What is pet anesthesia?

By definition, anesthesia is the absence of feeling—meaning your pet cannot feel any pain. We achieve this by putting your pet in a controlled unconscious state that we maintain using precise amounts of inhaled gasses. Anesthesia is required to perform complete dentistry and surgical procedures, while lesser sedation may be sufficient for minor procedures, such as wound repair or imaging. Pet anesthesia is extremely safe because of modern anesthetic protocols—in one study, average mortality rates ranged from 0.05% to 0.1% in healthy pets, and up to only 1.3% for sick pets. 

Your pet’s pre-anesthetic evaluation

Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical examination and full blood panel prior to anesthesia, to help them understand your pet’s kidney and liver function, which affects drug and gas anesthetic metabolism. If your pet is older or has a heart murmur, additional tests can help provide a more complete picture of organ function and overall health. These tests include:

  • Urinalysis
  • Echocardiogram (i.e., heart ultrasound)
  • Chest X-rays
  • Blood pressure evaluation

Your veterinarian will recommend treating underlying health problems prior to anesthesia to minimize your pet’s risks. If their underlying disease is mild, elective anesthesia can typically still be safely performed with a few drug protocol modifications, but for pets who have serious health problems, such as heart failure, lung disease, or uncontrolled diabetes, their risks versus benefits need careful consideration. Emergency surgeries do not allow time for these pre-evaluations, but the life-saving surgery benefits are considered to outweigh the anesthesia risks for these pets, regardless of overall health status. 

Before your pet’s anesthesia

After you drop off your pet, we house them in a cozy cage or run until their surgery. We first administer a pre-anesthetic drug cocktail that provides relaxation and minor sedation to facilitate placing an intravenous (IV) catheter. If we expect that your pet’s procedure will be painful, we also give preoperative analgesics. Using multiple drugs can minimize doses and subsequent side effects. 

After IV catheter placement, we administer a drug to induce unconsciousness and place a breathing tube in your pet’s trachea for the administration of oxygen and the anesthetic gas that maintains their anesthesia. Next, we attach sophisticated monitoring equipment, run IV fluids, and prepare your pet’s surgical site, if needed. Only qualified, credentialed veterinary technicians perform and monitor anesthesia under the attending veterinarian’s supervision.

During your pet’s anesthesia

We closely monitor your pet’s vital signs throughout their procedure, so we can intervene as needed. IV fluids help to maintain your pet’s blood pressure and circulation, and external warming devices prevent hypothermia. Your pet’s technician constantly monitors heart rhythm and rate, so we can treat and reverse minor arrhythmias, which are common under anesthesia. The gas vaporizer allows precise, quick adjustments to anesthetic depth, so your pet’s depth does not become too light or too deep. Pets under anesthesia lack muscle tone, so we handle them carefully to prevent nerve or joint injuries.

After your pet’s anesthesia

When your pet’s procedure is complete, we turn off the gas vaporizer and administer pure oxygen for five to 10 minutes to flush the anesthetic from their lungs. Most pets wake up shortly after, and we continue to monitor vitals closely, carefully removing the breathing tube only when your pet can swallow on their own, which indicates they can protect their own airway.

We return your pet to their cage or run, where we wrap them in warm blankets, monitor vital signs, and provide additional pain medications, if needed, as they recover. A few pets will react to the anesthetic drugs and wake up vocalizing or confused, but we can provide them with a low-dose sedative to ensure their smooth recovery. We keep your pet in the hospital for several hours until their vitals are normal, and send you home with detailed postoperative instructions and medications.

Because of our strict screening and preparation protocols, you do not need to worry about your pet undergoing anesthesia. If you’ve been delaying an elective surgery or dentistry procedure, you can now go ahead, knowing that anesthesia is low risk. Contact our experienced and knowledgeable Palm Valley Veterinary Center team to schedule your pre-anesthetic evaluation and provide your pet with our high-level care.