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Owners guide to general anaesthesia

Before bringing your pet in for a general anaesthetic

We ask you to starve your pet for 12 hours before the procedure. This usually means not feeding him after 8pm the previous night. This is necessary because a full stomach may make your pet more likely to vomit during the initial and final stages of anaesthesia. Also when your pet is anaesthetised they are unable to swallow so could inhale bits of food. These could then block the airway or cause a lung infection.

Water does not need to be withheld, so they can have a drink until they need to leave your house.

Caring for your pet after the anaesthetic

After collecting your pet it is best to keep them somewhere familiar, quiet and warm so you can check on their progress without disturbing them. Usually you can offer a light meal after a few hours but do not be too worried if their appetite is not back to normal immediately. Dogs should be restricted to the house and garden for 3 days and cats should be restricted to the house and supplied with a litter tray for 3 days while they recover from the anaesthetic. Please follow any specific instructions you have been given and do not hesitate to call the surgery if you have any concerns.

What is general anaesthesia?

It is defined as "a state of unconsciousness produced by anaesthetic agents, with absence of pain sensation over the entire body and a greater or lesser degree of muscular relaxation."

What is an anaesthetic?

Anaesthetics are drugs, which we give either by injection or the animal breathes in.

What happens during anaesthesia?

Before your pet is anaesthetised, the vet will examine your pet and choose the most suitable anaesthetic protocol, according to your pet's age and general health. Most anaesthetic procedures usually consist of four different stages.

  1. Pre-anaesthetic medication phase:
    Drugs are given now to reduce the patient's anxiety, we may also give pain-killing drugs.
  2. Introduction of anaesthesia i.e. induction phase:
    We inject an anaesthetic agent into the vein on the foreleg. This makes your pet anaesthetised and they pass into the next stage of the anaesthetic procedure, called the maintenance phase.
  3. Maintenance phase:
    We maintain your pet's anaesthetic by passing a tube into their trachea (windpipe). We connect the tube to an anaesthetic machine which supplies your pet with a mixture of oxygen and anaesthetic gases. During this phase your pet is constantly monitored by a member of our nursing team.
  4. Recovery phase:
    Your pet will usually start to recover from anaesthesia very soon after the anaesthetic gases are stopped. Your pet is maintained on oxygen until they can maintain themselves. Your pet is monitored carefully during the recovery phase until they are completely awake.

Safety of veterinary anaesthetics

All anaesthetic procedures carry a small risk; this risk is especially low in healthy animals. The vet may decide to perform a number of tests to reduce this risk.

However certain groups of animals are at increased risk, these are the very elderly or very young, animals with pre-existing illnesses and all rabbits and small pets.

Pre-anaesthetic examination

All pets are examined by a vet prior to their anaesthetic. This is done to minimise any potential risks from the anaesthetic or the surgery. As a result of this examination the vet may decide to test a blood or urine sample. These tests are designed to identify additional health problems which can increase the risks of anaesthetics, such as kidney and liver problems, anaemia or diabetes mellitus. With this information the vet is then able to pick the anaesthetic best suited to your pet's age, condition and any underlying disease.

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