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Anaesthesia in Dogs

Why is an anaesthetic necessary?

Animals are anaesthetised for one of four reasons - to minimise stress connected with handling for a specific procedure; to allow surgery to be undertaken; as an emergency treatment, eg for an animal suffering from fits; and to ensure the health and safety of veterinary and nursing staff. 
 

Why does my animal need to be starved of food and water?

If an animal has a full stomach it is more likely to vomit and inhale the vomit during induction of anaesthesia or on recovery. Also, during an anaesthetic, the bulk of a full stomach may reduce the animalís ability to breathe properly. Therefore, you should not feed your pet for approximately six hours before the anaesthetic procedure. You should however provide water especially if the animal is old or ill.
  

What are the risks of anaesthesia?

Approximately one in 1,000 apparently healthy animals die, either during anaesthesia or while recovering. This figure increases to approximately one in 30 animals with existing serious illnesses.

Conditions which have been found to contribute to death include gastric torsion, severe vomiting and diarrhoea, heart problems and severe chest or breathing problems.

Pre-anaesthetic checks, eg blood tests and x-rays are important to identify an undiagnosed conditions. You should ensure that your pet is as fit as possible, ie neither too fat or too thin and well exercised.

Tell your vet as much as possible about the animal, eg if it drinks or eats a lot, coughs, vomits, or has diarrhoea. These signs could indicate a condition which may influence the anaesthetic. However, every cough and sneeze does not mean the animal will die under anaesthetic.
 
 

What is the best anaesthetic for my pet?

There is no single anaesthetic which is best for every animal and condition. Each situation should be considered individually. Your vet will have developed his/her own drug protocols, based upon previous experience, and is therefore the best person to select the drug(s) of choice.
 
 

Are there any particular breeds sensitive to risks of anaesthesia?

The simple answer is no. However, breeds which are naturally very thin may take a long time to recover from thiopentone as this tends to deposit in fat. Brachycephalic dogs, such as Boxers, tend to have high cardiac tone which certain sedatives, eg acepromazine, may affect. Likewise due to their upper airway anatomy they can easily obstruct during recovery.

The weight of very hairy/fluffy dogs can be greatly over-estimated if judged by eye and not actually weighed. Thus Huskies, Samoyeds, Belgian Shepherds etc have tended to gain a reputation for being sensitive to certain anaesthetics for this reason.
 
 

Is my animal too old for anaesthetic?

No, age is not a contraindication for anaesthesia. However, an older animal may need careful assessment to identify acquired heart or kidney problems which may have an influence on the anaesthetic risk. It is worth remembering that some 14 year old dogs are physiologically much younger than some 8 year olds.
 
 

What should I expect my pet to be like after an anaesthetic?

Donít be in too much of a rush to take your pet home - particularly if the vet appears reluctant to let it go. The recovery period is much safer at the vets where they have the equipment and knowledge to deal with any problem that may occur. Your animal should be able to stand, cough and swallow unaided before being taken home.

You should consult your vet if your pet sleeps for a long time after arriving home, or behaves out of character in any way. All animals will be slightly sleepy and quiet for a few hours but this shouldnít extend to days.

You should offer small amounts of food and drink often for the first 12 hours. Like humans, your pet may feel slightly nauseous after a general anaesthetic.
 
 

Will my pet have any pain relief after surgery?

With modern anaesthetics and analgesics, there is a range of options for pain relief. This may take the form of local anaesthetics around the surgical site, epidurals, morphine-type drugs or aspirin-type drugs. Pain relief measures may be continued at home for some days by tablet administration. However, do not give your dog any analgesics unless prescribed by your vet. 

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