Q. How do vets ensure the safe use of general anaesthesia on pets?
There are different depths of general anaesthesia, which are dependent on the procedure type.
For example, the depth may be lower when the purpose is only to keep the dog still. Like during dental x-rays, scaling and polishing, ultrasound-guided biopsies, and skin disinfection for surgery.
However, for more invasive procedures, such as surgery, a higher depth of anaesthesia is necessary to be able to perform the procedure safely.
With that said, administering anaesthesia is a dynamic process, which may change during the course of a procedure based on the circumstances.
Nonetheless, vets can often keep the depth of anaesthesia to the lowest by:
- giving effective pain relief before and during the procedure
- employing local anaesthesia and epidural techniques where applicable. That helps to cut pain responses to the brain from the procedure location
- employing more than one method of maintaining general anaesthesia at the same time. For example, gas and injectable anaesthetics help to minimise the overall risks related to each anaesthetic agent
Besides employing the appropriate type, quantity, and combination of anaesthetic options, the most important aspect of maintaining anaesthetic safety is thorough monitoring of your dog’s anaesthetic depth and vital signs both during and after the period that she is under anaesthesia.
The vet team achieves this with a:
- variety of equipment to measure your dog’s vital signs, such as heart rate, ECG, blood pressure, oxygen in the blood, and carbon dioxide in the breath
- dedicated trained veterinary professional who is not a part of the main procedure. Their role is to measure and monitor vital signs and adjust the depth of anaesthesia along the way appropriately
While this level of intensive monitoring will add to the cost of the procedure, it is essential in order to ensure the safety of your dog.
Questions on general anaesthesia to ask the vet:
1. Will my pet receive a pre-anaesthetic blood test, physical examination, and health evaluation before the procedure?
2. What kind of anaesthetic monitoring equipment would you use on my pet? For example:
- Pulse oximetry (measures oxygen in the blood)
- Capnography (measures carbon dioxide in the breath)
- Blood pressure and method of measurement (a doppler machine is ideal for cats and small dogs)
- Body temperature
- Heart rate and ECG
- Respiratory rate
3. Is there a dedicated and trained anaesthetist who will be monitoring my pet’s anaesthesia and vital signs throughout the procedure? They should otherwise not be a part of the procedure itself
4. Will you place an intravenous catheter during the procedure (for access to the vein in an emergency, as well as for other injections and drip administration if indicated)?
5. Will I get to talk to the anaesthetist-in-charge before the procedure to discuss anaesthetic risks and the concerns I may have?
6. Is there a range of sedation or anaesthesia drugs available for pets with different chronic health conditions? Different drugs may have different side effects and thus may have different safety profiles for various health conditions
7. What kind of emergency equipment, drugs, and training of the vet team are available in the rare event of an unexpected but severe anaesthetic complication?