Understanding Canine Anesthesia
Having your dog put under (anesthesia) is scary - but is it dangerous?
Veterinarians often find themselves defending the need for anesthesia and sedation on a daily basis. After all, surgery's not exactly doable without anesthesia and our animals' limited ability to understand us means we often have no choice but to sedate them. Yet that doesn't keep owners from questioning our recommendations. The idea of anesthesia scares pet owners. There's something scary about drug-induced sleep.
A good deal of mythology attends this topic. The internet, in particular, is chock-a-block with scary stories of anesthetic deaths and admonitions for owners of specific breeds whose fanciers claim to have identified unique sensitivities to certain anesthetics or sedatives.
I find most online anesthesia and sedation commentary to be overblown, fear monger-y and often just plain wrong. Here are five common fictions that help illustrate my point:
5 Common Anesthesia Myths in Dogs
Fiction #1: Death is common.
Fact: Everyone seems to know someone whose dog died under anesthesia - a neighbor, a relative, a friend… but for normal, healthy dogs, multiple studies have concluded that the risk of death with today's veterinary medicine is only about one in two thousand. Even if certain pre-existing diseases are a factor, the risk of death is still a relatively low one in five hundred. Identifying risk factors with pre-operative screening and monitoring and minimizing them with excellent monitoring tools and practices is what we do on a daily basis.
Fiction #2: My dog (or her breed) is sensitive to anesthesia.
Fact: While some breeds do have certain sensitivities to specific drugs, these are uncommon. In fact, in most cases, monitoring a dog's condition (anesthetic depth, blood oxygen level, respiration, blood pressure, body temperature and heart electrical activity) throughout an anesthetic procedure is far more important than which drug is selected.
Moreover, most veterinarians are already in the habit of tailoring an anesthetic protocol to each patient's needs. We well know that in the anesthesia world, one size does not fit all.
Fiction #3: Most complications happen while dogs are asleep.
Fact: The truth is that almost half of anesthetic deaths occur after anesthesia. During recovery is when dogs most need attention. So if you want to be sure your dog is as safe as possible, always ask your veterinarian how your dog will be cared for after a procedure.
Fiction #4: Most veterinarians provide a similar level of anesthetic care and monitoring.
Fact: Every veterinarian has a different way of doing things. Some use lots of monitoring tools, hire more heavily-schooled staff, and have a higher staff to patient ratio. You'll pay more in these cases… but it's worth it for those who seek to minimize their dog's risk as much as possible.
Fiction #5: The Internet is the most reliable source for information about potential anesthesia risks.
Fact: Most information online is JUST PLAIN WRONG. Why would it be any different when it comes to information about your dog's anesthesia?
Your vet is always the ideal source of information about your dog's specific needs. And if you don't trust your vet on the subject of anesthesia for your dog… you clearly need another one.
Note: Always ask your veterinarian for details before your dog undergoes any anesthetic procedures, and then make an informed decision about what's best for your dog.
Remember: It's YOUR dog. YOU have the final say. And you deserve to be comfortable with your dog's healthcare - or at least as comfortable as you can be.