Dog Anesthesia: What Pet Owners Should Know

t’s normal for pet owners to be apprehensive about certain veterinary procedures, especially when their dog will be anesthetized. While the concern is understandable, the risks associated with canine anesthesia are low and side effects can be minimized with proper planning and postoperative care. Is your pup going under anesthesia soon? If so, keep reading for what every pet owner should know about dog anesthesia.

Similar to humans, most dogs will require anesthesia for some type of canine surgery at least once in their life. Every pet is different, and administration of anesthesia should be customized to meet the specific needs of your dog. Most puppies will go under anesthesia when they are neutered or spayed, and many will undergo one to two more surgeries during their lifetime. In addition to surgical operations, anesthesia is often used during canine dental procedures and other medical treatments in which the dog needs to lie completely still.

What is Dog Anesthesia?

The word anesthesia means “absence of sensation.” In the 1800s, medical doctors started to use the term to describe unconsciousness to pain during a surgical operation. When anesthesia is administered to an animal, their central nervous system becomes depressed, slowing down various bodily functions including breathing, heart rate, and circulation.

Some consider a dog on anesthesia to be a reversible coma in which a canine will feel no pain and have no memory of the operation. This temporary, medically-induced unconsciousness may make some pet owners worry. However, the more you learn about dog anesthesia, the better you should feel about the safety and necessity of the veterinary procedure.

Types of Dog Anesthesia

The two types of anesthesia are local anesthesia and general anesthesia. Local anesthesia is used to numb a specific area of a dog’s body during a medical procedure such as the mouth, spinal column, or paw. An animal will remain awake under this type of anesthesia.

General anesthesia will make an animal completely unconscious during a more serious operation. This type is typically more worrisome for pet owners. General anesthesia relaxes the muscles of a dog’s body, temporarily eliminating their ability to resist the surgery, and ensures that the animal feels no pain. Under general anesthesia, your dog will receive drugs that suppress his nerve responses.

Many vets will administer a mild sedative to calm a dog down before surgery, often referred to as a pre-anesthetic. Acepromazine is the drug that is commonly used as a pre-anesthetic. Induction anesthetics are used to begin the anesthesia process. Propofol is most frequently used as an induction anesthetic and will usually be administered intravenously (with a needle). Inhalant anesthetics are given to dogs through breathing tubes in the form of gas. This type of general anesthesia is placed in an animal’s trachea to ensure they receive the proper levels of the drug and adequate oxygen during surgery. The type of anesthesia your veterinarian recommends will depend on your pet’s unique situation and health condition.

Types of Dog Surgery that Require Anesthesia

Just like humans, dogs need surgery from time to time. In addition to spays and neuters, many canines will have additional surgical operations at some point in their life in which they will need to go under anesthesia.

The most common types of dog surgery include:

  • Orthopedic surgery such as hip replacement surgery, femoral head ostectomy, bone fracture repair, or patellar luxation surgery
  • Dental surgery such as removal of abscessed or broken teeth or root canals
  • Removal of canine tumors including tumors of the skin, musculoskeletal system, gastrointestinal tract, reproductive tract, cardiovascular system, spinal cord, and spleen
  • Ophthalmic surgery to correct a number of different eye conditions including canine glaucoma, eye proptosis, and cataracts
  • Surgical removal of foreign objects

What Are the Risks of Anesthesia in Dogs?

As with all medical procedures, anesthesia presents certain risks to canines. Inhalant anesthetics cause a temporary decrease in blood pressure. If your dog has heart problems, be sure to ask your veterinarian if they plan to monitor your pet’s blood pressure during the operation. When dogs inhale anesthetics, the induction can take several minutes which may cause regurgitation or vomiting.

Other reactions to dog anesthesia include swelling at the injection site, soreness, or in very rare cases, anaphylactic shock, blood clotting, seizures, eye problems, or heart failure. Canines with existing medical conditions such as diabetes, kidney disease, or an infection may have an elevated risk for complications with anesthesia. Also, if your dog hasn’t restrained from food before surgery, postoperative canine vomiting may occur.

Despite the risks associated with dog anesthesia, modern veterinary medicine has seen significant improvements in recent years. Risks of anesthesia in dogs are very low, and the results are highly predictable. Only one in every 100,000 animals will have a reaction to anesthesia.

How to Minimize the Risks of Dog Anesthesia

Before canine surgery, your vet clinic will provide you with specific instructions that should be carefully followed to prep your dog for the operation. Your pup will most likely be required to fast for several hours prior to receiving general anesthesia. Vets have varying opinions on how long a dog should go without eating before surgery, but the minimum time is typically two hours.

It’s crucial that you make sure your dog does not have any food before surgery. Water may be fine, but you should consult with your veterinarian to clarify. This will reduce the risk of vomiting after the procedure. Before going to bed the night before an operation, remove your dog’s food and water bowls and make sure the lid is closed on your toilet. If your pup does find some food or water right before they are supposed to go under anesthesia, be sure to inform your veterinarian. Eating or drinking before surgery doesn’t necessarily mean your pup can’t go through with the operation that day, but it will give the surgeon a heads up for potential nausea during the procedure.

Check in with the pet hospital to see if any special diet is required for your pup after the operation and plan accordingly. You’ll want to prepare this food ahead of time so you can feed your dog immediately after getting home from surgery.

The day before your pooch goes in for his operation is a good time to prepare your home for the following day. Home prep might involve making accommodations for any other pets in your household, setting up your pup’s crate, and packing any food or medications for the trip to the vet clinic. You may also want to section off an area of your home where your pet can rest and recover from the operation. This will ensure your dog starts feeling like himself again quickly after going under anesthesia. Setting things up the day before will make the process go smoothly on the day of surgery.

Another way to minimize the risks of dog anesthesia is to make sure your vet is up-to-date with your pet’s complete health history. This includes pre-existing conditions, canine vaccinations, prior surgeries, medications, supplements, known drug reactions, diet, spay or neuter status, previous test results, and lifestyle information. Some animal hospitals will recommend a pre-surgical exam and diagnostic testing to help identify any underlying conditions that should be addressed before your pup undergoes anesthesia.

Presurgical diagnostic tests may include:

  • Evaluation of the kidney, liver, and pancreas
  • A complete blood count
  • Electrolyte and dehydration tests
  • Gum and mouth assessment
  • Chest exam
  • Palpation of the abdomen

Depending on the results of your dog’s physical exam and diagnostic testing, your vet might decide to use an IV catheter as part of the anesthesia administration. A catheter is used for some canine surgeries to provide fluids, keep your pet hydrated, and maintain blood pressure. It may also serve as a pathway to provide medications in the event of a crisis. IV fluids can also help your dog recover quickly after surgery by assisting the liver and kidneys with clearing the body of any remaining anesthetic agents. Older dogs will usually be given IV catheterization for anesthesia, but many vets will suggest it for all pet surgeries.

What to Expect When Your Dog Goes Under Anesthesia

Your vet and the animal hospital staff will be able to answer any questions you have about their protocol for dog anesthesia. You may be asked to sign a consent form describing the surgical procedure and the risks of anesthesia. Be sure to carefully review the waiver and speak up about any questions or concerns you have.

On the day of surgery, it’s a good idea to allow plenty of time to drive to the pet hospital and aim to arrive a few minutes early as you may be required to fill out some last-minute paperwork. Showing up late for your dog’s surgical appointment will only add to your stress as well as your pup’s stress. Be sure to leave your phone number with the animal hospital so they can contact you when your pooch is ready to be picked up or in case of an emergency.

Pet owners can be comforted knowing that their dog will be carefully monitored under anesthesia. Various precautions are set in place to help reduce any risks of canine anesthesia.

A surgical assistant or vet tech will be present during the procedure to monitor your pup’s vital signs and help adjust the anesthetic levels. Your dog’s heart rate will be supervised with a heart rate monitor and adjustments to the anesthesia will be promptly made if needed. During surgery, your dog’s core body temperature will also likely be monitored, especially for longer operations as changes in body temperature can lead to dangerous complications. When blood pressure monitors are used during dog anesthesia, they provide detailed information about the animal’s cardiovascular condition. Carbon dioxide (C02) might also be surveyed along with oxygen levels to determine your dog’s breathing state during surgery.

Modern dog anesthesia allows for minimal side effects and quick recovery. Aside from any soreness from the surgery itself, your pooch should be feeling almost back to normal by the time you pick them up from the vet. He may appear a more tired than normal when you get home, but this should fade within 12 to 24 hours. If your pup seems extremely sluggish or groggy after being home for a day, call the animal hospital right away.

Following an operation, your pet will likely be in some amount of pain. Unfortunately, he can’t communicate about how much it hurts, so pet owners should be attentive and take note of any signs of severe or long-lasting discomfort. In most cases, your dog should receive some pain medication after surgery which will keep them comfortable and aid in the healing process.

Although some dog surgeries are last-minute emergencies, planned procedures are relatively easy for pet parents to prepare for. If you know exactly when your pup will go in for surgery and what type of surgery they are having, you’ll be able to minimize any risks or side effects of anesthesia in dogs.

It’s important to follow all postoperative care instructions from your vet when you take your pet home from the animal hospital. In addition, be sure to carefully monitor your dog for a few days following surgery and notify your veterinarian immediately of any strange behaviors or reactions. The worry of pet owners regarding dog anesthesia is entirely understandable. Although it’s normal to be concerned about your fur baby undergoing surgery, the risks associated with canine anesthesia are low. Staying informed will allow you to provide the best preoperative and postoperative care for your pet.

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