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Is General Anesthesia Safe for My Pet?

Dr. Ross Henderson is a dog dad and associate veterinarian practicing in Colorado.

Learn some of the risk factors for animals going under general anesthesia.

Learn some of the risk factors for animals going under general anesthesia.

Why Does My Pet Need General Anesthesia?

So you've just finished your pet's annual wellness visit, and the vet tells you that they recommend Fluffy has a dental procedure to clean their teeth. Or perhaps there's an old lump on Rover, and it's finally time to remove it to make sure it's not cancerous. Or maybe it's your puppy, Gerald. He's all grown up, and the time has come for "snip-snip."

Once your pet is scheduled for full, general anesthesia, you're probably nervous and have questions. Let me assure you; this is a completely normal feeling to have. I'm here to help you navigate going through an anesthetic procedure for your pet, so you can be confident and make the right decisions.

What Is General Anesthesia?

While there are different types of anesthesia, we will be speaking specifically about general anesthesia for the purposes of this article. That's where an animal is completely unconscious for the duration of the entire procedure.

How Veterinarians Determine Risk Factors

Underlying Health Conditions

The first thing that I look for in a patient to determine anesthetic risk is their current health state. Does the pet have an underlying health condition? For example, diabetes, heart disease, or kidney disease. While the risk for anesthetic complications for elective procedures on healthy pets is extremely low, that risk can be increased when there is a history of an underlying disease.

The Current Overall Health of Your Pet

If your pet does not have an underlying disease, it is important to make sure it's not currently sick. The exception to this would be an emergency that requires anesthesia to resolve the ailment. A dog vomiting because it swallowed a squeaker toy is a good example. Now a lot can be determined by a veterinarian doing a full physical exam, but thankfully it's not the only screening measure that we can take as veterinarians.

The Health of the Liver and Kidneys

Blood work is an incredibly valuable tool for determining the potential risk of anesthesia for a few reasons. The first is checking the liver and kidney health. The liver and kidneys are the main organs that will be involved in metabolizing anesthetic medications.

If the liver and kidneys are compromised, this could affect anesthesia by exaggerating its effects, or conversely, making it less effective. Neither is ideal. Blood work will also reveal if there are adequate red blood cells, if there is any inflammation, or if there are any other issues that may not have been determined upon physical exam.

Heart Health

The last variable is heart health. Does your dog have a heart murmur, or does your dog have an arrhythmia? Dogs with heart murmurs may or may not be at an increased risk and often require an ultrasound of the heart. That's called an echocardiogram (EKG).

In order to determine if that is the case, I always recommend a consult and work up with a cardiologist if I have a patient with a newly diagnosed heart murmur, especially if we are considering anesthesia.

Heart arrhythmia can be very significant and a hidden risk for anesthesia. This is one of the biggest reasons that I believe a pre-anesthetic EKG should be performed. This will ensure that the heart's electrical activity is regular and normal.

Talk to Your Vet About Your Pet

I hope this has helped, and as always, be sure to speak with your veterinarian about your specific pet. I wish you and your furry friends the very best.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2021 Ross Henderson