4 min read
By Amy Caldwell
Published: 10/03/2017, edited: 08/10/2021
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Whenever we have a major operation, it is taken for granted that we will be placed under some kind of sedation. This may be a local anesthetic that will enable us to remain conscious for the duration of the procedure, or it may (more likely) be a more general type of anesthesia that will render us unconscious so that the surgeons can do their work.
This is also true of dogs, who may require general anesthesia for far more types of surgery than humans, as they are more prone to becoming distressed and trying to move while on an exam or operating table. However, there are many rumors that surround the use of anesthetics on dogs, with much of the information offered by various sources being confusing and sometimes contradictory. In this article, we will take a look at the proper use of anesthetics and the pros and cons associated with them as well as the attendant risks, allowing you to make a better-informed decision.
Minor surgeries and procedures (such as skin tumor removals and ear cleanings) can often be accomplished with only a mild general anesthetic being administered via an injection. These tranquilizers will often result in the dog only being unconscious for a couple of hours at most, allowing them to return home the same day. Oftentimes, administering the injections themselves will be the most difficult part of the whole procedure, as the dog will understandably be afraid of the needle, sometimes requiring the owner to help calm or distract them until the sedative has been administered. Overall, injectable tranquilizers are the most often-used type of anesthesia for run-of-the-mill vet clinics, allowing everyday procedures to be performed within an appropriate time window and presenting the least amount of risk to the animal.
The most common form of general anesthetic for major surgeries is gas, as this is relatively straightforward for a vet to match the dosage to a variety of dog breeds and sizes by simply adjusting the supply valves. Furthermore, the dog can be kept in a state of unconsciousness for as long as it is needed by simply maintaining a steady supply of the drug – something that is quite hard to do with injectable anesthesia. This makes gas the anesthetic of choice for particularly long procedures such as the repair of broken bones and exploratory surgeries. Interestingly, the dog may need to be initially sedated using an injection so that the gas can be properly administered. Isoflurane is one of the more prevalent gases used by vets, mainly because of the speed with which the substance can be filtered out of the dog’s body following the operation and the predictability of its effects. During the procedure, the dog may also need to be restrained in order to prevent involuntary movements and to keep certain parts of the body exposed.
However, while gas is a useful surgical tool, many pet owners have come to regard it with suspicion, owing to rumors that it is unsafe for the dog and can even result in death. The reason for this is that the dog’s blood oxygen levels will require careful monitoring for the duration of the surgery, in order to make sure that they are not inhaling an excessive amount of gas. However, dogs with pre-existing cardiac conditions are prone to having their heart rate and breathing rhythm drop unexpectedly, reducing the dog’s ability to circulate oxygen around the body and sometimes resulting in death. It is worth bearing in mind that each individual case is different, and your vet will be able to provide more specifically-tailored information so that you can know if gas is the right choice of anesthesia for your dog.
Additionally, it is important to take note of the fact that sedative drugs can continue to have potent effects on a dog for hours or even a few days after surgery has been completed. This will usually result in the dog appearing disoriented and uncoordinated as they try to move around, meaning that they should be monitored to make sure that no accidental injuries occur. Also, many dogs will commonly appear tired or lethargic for some time (though this can just be a result of the healing process after a major operation) and as such, they should not be forced to engage in exercise or placed under undue duress to keep moving. Larger dogs will commonly see the effects of these drugs wear off faster than smaller animals, mainly due to their larger consumption levels of food and water, which will remove the chemicals from their body via excretion.
Anesthetic drugs are a vital part of modern veterinary medicine, allowing lifesaving procedures and basic checkups to be performed with minimal distress caused to the animal. However, there are some important differences to note between the various types of general anesthesia that are on offer, allowing vets to tailor the appropriate method to the health problem at hand.
Pre-surgery evaluations are an important part of the procedure as well. Veterinarians perform radiographic testing and look at blood markers to detect problems that may not be evident before surgery. It is also important to keep in mind that while there are dangers posed by certain types of anesthetic, if your dog is generally healthy and has a good level of fitness, the risks can be considered to be minimal.
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