Veterinary Anesthesia Tools and Practices • Long Beach Post

Modern day anesthetics allow veterinarians to perform a vast amount of sophisticated medical procedures and surgeries with negligible risk of adverse effects.

At the Long Beach Animal Hospital, we have successfully anesthetized thousands of animals over the past 25 years. Some have been as small as canaries that weighed only 15 grams (it takes 454 grams to make a pound), while others weighed several hundred pounds. We have even anesthetized and performed surgeries on dogs and cats over 20 years of age.

Anesthesia is used for two main purposes. The first is to minimize anxiety. This can be very significant in a scared animal that is brought into a strange surrounding, especially if it’s not feeling well. Anxiety also occurs when animals are in pain. This anxiety can be incapacitating and can even lead to aggression or death, so alleviating this anxiety is important.

The second is to put the animal into a state in which they are immobile and not conscious of what’s going on around them, and eliminate pain and relax the muscles for surgical procedures. This is called surgical anesthesia.

The anesthetics we use have been adapted from human medicine. Our main piece of equipment is a machine that allows us to precisely administer an anesthetic as a gas. This precision vaporizer is very safe and effective, and is especially important for us doctors that work on a wide variety of species of varying sizes and unique physiology. Pets achieve a rapid plane of anesthesia and wake up rapidly and smoothly.

Before we administer gas anesthesia, a breathing tube, called ET or endotracheal, is placed directly into the trachea (windpipe). This gives us great control and provides an added safety margin. We use this breathing tube with a wide variety of species, even with all those unique anatomies we encounter.

Anesthetic gas from the precision vaporizer is mixed with 100 percent oxygen and administered through the endotracheal tube. Ambient air is only 20 percent oxygen, so 100 percent oxygen gives us a great margin of safety and is an additional reason why we use gas anesthetics so routinely.

New and safe injectable anesthetics are becoming increasingly used in veterinary medicine because they have less impact on the environment. Some of them can have their anesthetic properties reversed, and your pet will wake up immediately. They can be used alone, in combinations called cocktails, and in tandem with gas anesthesia.

Pre-anesthetic preparation is one of the keys to a successful anesthetic procedure. This begins with a physical examination. During this exam, we thoroughly check all organ systems for any problems. We pay particular attention to the liver, kidneys, and cardiovascular systems. We do this by checking the mucous membranes and the peripheral lymph nodes, palpating the abdomen, and using the stethoscope to listen for heart murmurs, heart arrhythmias, and lung problems.

If a problem is found during the physical exam or if your pet is elderly, we might also do a pre-anesthetic electrocardiogram (ECG), chest radiographs, and an ultrasound of the heart called an echocardiogram.

The next aspect of our pre-anesthetic exam involves a routine blood panel and urinalysis. This gives us a large amount of information on the status of the internal organs and their ability to metabolize anesthetics; we adjust the anesthetic accordingly.

On the day of surgery, owners drop off their pets first thing in the morning. This gives the animals time to adjust to their surroundings and reduce their stress. During this time, our surgeon performs another thorough exam to check for any last-minute changes.

When everything is in order, we administer a tranquilizer for anxiety if needed; for the overwhelming majority of surgeries, we start intravenous (IV) fluids. These fluids are a major way to keep the liver and kidneys working at maximum efficiency to metabolize the anesthetic we will soon administer. To maximize safety and effectiveness, we administer these fluids slowly and well before surgery.

A pain injection is given at the start of surgery. This allows us to use less anesthetic gas during the procedure and ensures that its pain-killing properties will be on board when the pet wakes up. This leads to a smooth recovery.

If you have been to a hospital recently, you may have noticed the monitoring equipment. We use the same equipment. This equipment monitors heart rate and rhythm, blood pressure, oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the blood stream, respiratory rate, and temperature. This detailed information on your pet’s anesthetic status is invaluable in helping us catch any potential problems well before they have any deleterious effect.

We never rely solely on this equipment, and we have a technician in the surgery at all times to monitor anesthetic status, constantly monitoring physical parameters and anesthetic depth. The tool in the photo below is a special stethoscope called an esophageal stethoscope. It is passed down the esophagus to the level of the heart and gives us a much better listen to the heart as compared to a routine stethoscope.

esophageal stethoscope

Esophageal stethoscope

Another way we minimize anesthetic risk through the consummate experience of our surgeons. They’ve performed surgeries tens of thousands of times and do them in a rapid and efficient manner without cutting any corners. Less anesthetic time equates to less risk.

Our surgeons also use advanced equipment, like our surgical laser to dramatically reduce bleeding as it cuts through tissue. Less bleeding means the procedure proceeds faster, and thus, there will be less time under anesthesia.

Modern-day anesthesia has a tremendous safety record, and when proper precautions are taken, it’s rare for us to have a problem. It has allowed us to perform procedures and surgeries that are highly beneficial.  You can learn much more about how we use anesthesia at the Long Beach Animal Hospital from our web site.

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