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A Day in the Animal O.R.

Sarah Stalnaker, DVM

One of the most common questions I receive as a small animal veterinarian is whether anesthesia is safe for the four legged members of their family.  Many people have heard stories of pets dying while under anesthesia, even during simple procedures such as spays, neuters or dental cleanings.  With the advancements in anesthetics and monitoring systems today, the probability of this occurring is extremely rare, less than 0.1%.  However, it is still normal to be nervous when your cat or dog is undergoing anesthesia.  Come with me on a journey through a day in the operating room.  I’ll explain what happens after you drop your pet off for their procedure.

First, I perform a physical exam to screen for any obvious health problems that might increase surgical risks.  These might include a heart murmur or arrhythmia, pale gums, or even enlarged lymph nodes.  Then blood is drawn to check for normal kidney and liver function, and to confirm that your pet is not anemic.  I call clients immediately to discuss any issues that are detected during the pre-anesthetic screening process.  An intravenous catheter is placed in some animals depending on the type of procedure and their health status.  Each pet is then weighed and preoperative pain medications are administered.  An injectable anesthetic is given into one of the veins on the pet’s leg.

Next, I insert an endotracheal tube which seals the windpipe and prevents any regurgitation of food or liquids during surgery.  This tube provides oxygen and anesthesia during the procedure.  Monitoring of the heart rate, respiratory rate, oxygen levels in the blood and body temperature are performed continuously during and after surgery by a trained veterinary technician. The pet is never left without direct monitoring by the veterinarian and technician.

Finally, the surgery is completed and your pet is moved into recovery.  They are placed on a heating pad wrapped in thick towels and then a blanket is placed over them that circulates warm air to prevent their temperature from dropping.  Some pets wake up quickly and are ready for attention, while others seem to enjoy sleeping in the warmth for hours.  During this time, the endotracheal tube is removed and vital signs continue to be monitored until recovery is complete.  Soon I will call to inform you on how the surgery went and when you can come to take your beloved pet home.