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What is Intubation?

When a dog is unconscious, anesthetized, or otherwise may have difficulties or the inability to breathe on their own a veterinarian may need to perform an intubation. This procedure involves placing a semi-rigid flexible tube into your dog’s airway so that oxygen or anesthesia may be administered. Intubation may be performed in connection with routine or emergency procedures and will often be a necessary step in any surgical procedure. Intubation is typically the sole method of supplying oxygen directly to an unconscious or anesthetized dog. Intubation may be performed by the anesthesiologist, your veterinarian, or a specially trained veterinary technician. 

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Intubation Procedure in Dogs

Before any procedure involving anesthesia, your vet will perform a thorough physical exam and will also order a full blood panel in order to confirm that your dog is healthy enough to undergo anesthesia. Once these results have been reviewed, your dog will be prepped for their intubation.

Dogs are intubated after they have become unconscious via administration of an IV drug. Your veterinarian will work quickly to insert an appropriately sized tube into your dog’s airway. Ahead of time the vet will have selected an intubation tube of the correct length and diameter given your pet’s proportions. The tube is sterilized thoroughly to avoid any infection or contamination.

Your vet will use tongs padded with a sponge to grasp your dog’s tongue and move it gently to the side to allow for proper tube placement. Next the vet will carefully insert the intubation tube. Proper placement is critical as the tube should not be placed further than the area where the bronchial tubes diverge into the separate lobes of the lungs. Oxygen, anesthesia, or a mix of gasses will then be administered by connecting the tube to the appropriate machine. If need be, the intubation tube can also be connected to a ventilator which will breathe for your dog. When it is time for your dog to wake up, the tube will be slowly removed and your dog allowed to breathe on their own.

Efficacy of Intubation in Dogs

Intubation is highly effective for allowing proper movement of air and administration of anesthesia during clinical procedures. It is the preferred method of facilitating proper breathing and is regularly performed in veterinary clinics and hospitals by all levels of staff. In cases of airway obstruction or other inability to breathe, intubation can be a lifesaving measure and allow veterinarians critical time to treat the collapse, swelling, obstructions or other cause of difficult breathing.

Intubation Recovery in Dogs

Minimal time is needed for a dog to recover after intubation. After the breathing tube is removed and anesthesia ceases to be administered, your dog will slowly gain consciousness under the watchful eye of a member of the veterinary staff. Some dogs may need slightly longer periods of monitoring due to different reactions to anesthesia, weight, age, and length of time your dog was unconscious. 

Cost of Intubation in Dogs

The cost of intubation for your dog will range from $50 to $150 depending on geographic location and size and breed of your dog. The cost of intubation is typically wrapped into the total cost of anesthesia for any procedure, given that it is a critical component. Anesthesia costs will vary significantly based on the weight and size of your dog. Individual surgical procedures also have a wide variety of different costs depending on difficulty and length of procedure. 

Dog Intubation Considerations

 After intubation, your dog may have a raspy bark or develop a small cough. This is a normal side effect of intubation and, if minimal, should not be cause for alarm. The intubation tube often mildly irritates your dog’s throat and airways which causes the cough.

Whenever possible, food should be withheld from your dog prior to surgery and anesthesia. This will minimize the chance that food particles may be in your dog’s throat or stomach. After surgeries, dogs sometimes vomit, which can create the potential for aspiration of food particles that leads to pneumonia. Also, food remaining in the mouth and throat can be pushed into the airways and lungs during intubation, also increasing the risk of pneumonia. Withholding all food according to your veterinarian’s guidelines is a critical part of any intubation procedure.

Intubation Prevention in Dogs

It is likely that your dog will need to be intubated at some point throughout their life. Even simple procedures such as spay or neuters will require your dog to be intubated. Keeping your dog a healthy weight and providing proper care, food, and exercise will increase their overall health and reduce the need for medical intervention.