Alright, now that Rufus – your new puppy – has received his vaccines, he has been dewormed, he even passed his kindergarten class. You have done everything to give him the best start in life and you are very attached to him. Now comes the time, around 6 months of age, to have it neutered (spayed for females). It worries you a lot. Rufus will have to spend a whole day at the clinic. And then he will be under general anesthesia ... apparently, there are risks with anesthesia…
You both arrive at the clinic, fasted as recommended (Rufus obviously, not you!). We talk about blood tests, intravenous fluids, resuscitation ... WAIT! WHAT ?? RESUSCITATION? Woah! That is too much information, your head is turning and you do not understand anything. And above all, you are very worried! Do not panic! The technician (or animal nurse if you prefer) responsible for Rufus’s admission will explain all of this in great details. But to better prepare yourself and ask the right questions, take the time to read the following!
During a surgical procedure such as sterilization or teeth scaling for example, the animal must be put under general anesthesia. This means that it will sleep an artificial sleep, controlled by certain drugs that we will administer. We will also install a tube in its trachea (throat) through which it will receive anesthetic gases and oxygen. During the whole procedure, different monitors will keep us informed of its heart rate, its breathing frequency, the concentration of oxygen in its blood, and sometimes even its blood pressure. In addition to this, while the veterinarian is performing the surgery, a technician monitors the anesthesia at all times to quickly detect any abnormalities. Despite all these measures, some complications may occur. Zero risk does not exist in anesthesia. But we can try to reduce it as much as possible to make sure the operation goes smoothly.
A first way to reduce this risk is to perform blood tests before the procedure. With these tests, we mainly evaluate the state of the liver and kidneys. These are the filter organs that will support the elimination of the drugs that we will administer to Rufus. So we want to make sure they work perfectly. In many cases, we will be able to detect an anomaly and postpone the procedure or simply put some measures in place to rectify the situation. In other cases, however, an abnormality may not be apparent in blood tests and go unnoticed.
A second way to reduce the risk of anesthesia is to put in place an intravenous catheter with fluids (a solute). This has several advantages. First, the administration of fluids during the procedure will help the elimination of anesthetic drugs more quickly. It will also ensure proper hydration and maintenance of Rufus’s blood pressure during the procedure. But most importantly, if anesthesia goes wrong and we need to act quickly, it will be easy for us to inject intravenous drugs directly through the catheter. This saves us precious seconds in an emergency, rather than having to find a vein while our stress level is at its highest!
Despite all this, despite all these precautions and the highest vigilance during anesthesia, it can happen that a complication occurs. And that is why we ask you, should it be necessary, if resuscitation measure should be attempted. The resuscitation process can be straining for a surgical team. It involves the administration of emergency drugs and oxygen, as well as a cardiac massage and the frequent evaluation of vital signs. For resuscitation to be successful, it must be undertaken at the first sign of a cardiorespiratory arrest. There is no time to waste trying to reach you to ask if you want us to try the maneuvers or not. We must act on the spot. This is why we must have your agreement upon admission of Rufus for a procedure under general anesthesia.
That being said, most surgical procedures performed in the clinic are routine and in patients with general good health. The risk remains low and severe complications are rare. The anesthetic risk is not a reason to decline a necessary surgery for your pet (and yes, sterilization is considered a necessary procedure). Take the time to discuss this with your veterinarian when you visit for the Pre-Surgical Health Exam. He will reassure you, but above all, establish with you the best plan adapted to your pet.