As vets, anaesthetic and sedation are things that we are very comfortable with and that we do on a daily basis. But, we realise that it can be very scary and daunting when your fur-child must anaesthetised or sedated. We’d like to equip you with more information regarding anaesthetic and sedation in pets.
What is the difference between the two?
Sedation is a drug induced sleep state and is a form of anaesthetic. We sedate animals for procedures in order to reduce their stress levels. It also helps us to work with very anxious or aggressive patients more easily. They also don’t feel pain when they are sedated and don’t remember what happened. This helps us to collect blood, do x-rays or nail clips in patients that are nervous. We sedate animals by injecting sedative medication into the vein or into the muscle. Some of these medications can be reversed to wake the patient up should there be an emergency.
General anaesthetic is also an artificial sleep state where patients. But in this case they are completely unaware of their surroundings. They are also not able to feel pain or remember what happened. They lose most of their reflexes (such as swallowing and blinking). We start by administering a premedication, which is a combination of painkillers and sedatives. When the patients are sleepy, we induce general anaesthetic with a fast-acting anaesthetic, place an ET (endotracheal) tube in the airways, and then maintain the patient on a gas anaesthetic until the procedure is finished. We can also reverse some of these medications should we need to.
Is anaesthetic and sedation safe?
The reality is that there is no such thing as an absolutely 100% safe sedation or anaesthetic. But in general, advances in medicine have increased safety for anaesthetic and sedation in any form. But the average percentage of animals that die under sedation or anaesthetic is less than 0.1% for healthy dogs and cats – that is less than one in one thousand. For sick animals and animals undergoing dental procedures this doubles to roughly 0.2% or 1 in 500 pets. This all equates to sedation or anaesthetic to having a relatively low risk. But we will not recommend a sedation or anaesthetic if the benefits do not outweigh the risks. Furthermore, all our vets and our vet nurse are very well trained in anaesthetics and have extensive experience in administering and monitoring anaesthetics.
Is there anything else that can be done to increase safety?
Information goes a long way to ensuring a safe procedure. So please always tell us should you fur-child be suffering from any underlying disease. We also gather our own information by doing a thorough examination on each patient about to undergo sedation or anaesthetic. We pay particular attention to the chest trying to detect any heart or lung abnormalities. If needed, we can also perform blood tests to check liver and kidney function. This all helps to choose the right medication to use for each individual patient. Animals are also often placed on drips while under anaesthetic to maintain their blood pressure during lengthy procedures.
How do we care for high-risk animals?
Some animals are considered to be higher risk animals for sedation or anaesthetic. We always advise that senior patients (older than 7 years of age) have pre-anaesthetic blood tests done. This helps up to pick up any underlying issues. Very young animals also receive special care.
Certain breeds are very sensitive to anaesthetic. Short-nosed breeds like Bull-dogs, Pugs and Boston terriers sometimes struggle to breathe. We handle these animals very carefully and control their airways until they are fully awake. Very lean breeds such as Greyhounds and Whippets are also very sensitive to anaesthetics and we are aware of this and adjust their protocols accordingly.
So, all things considered, sedation and general anaesthetic are every day occurrences in veterinary practice and are generally seen as low risk procedures. We are, however, still focused on treating each patient as an individual and ensuring that all factors are taken into consideration when choosing the medications to use.
Despite all of the facts and figures, we do understand that it is stressful to let your pet have an anaesthetic. Be sure to chat to us about your concerns. That way we can all make an informed decision for your pet.