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Preparing for anaesthesia

How our anaesthetists prepare for the administration

Written by Adam Auckburally BVSc Cert VA DipECVAA PGCAP FHEA MRCVS
RCVS and European Specialist in Veterinary Anaesthesia and Analgesia‚Äč

As the safety of your pet is paramount at SCVS, I always prepare meticulously before anaesthetising any patient, to make sure that I have everything ready to hand in case I need it. Doses for sedative, analgesic and anaesthetic drugs are based upon the animal’s bodyweight, although I do sometimes have to make a best estimate of ‘lean bodyweight’ for our plumper patients, as we aren’t all perfect!

In most circumstances, premedication is given, and I choose drugs based upon a thorough assessment of history, health, any pre-existing conditions, the procedure being performed and the level of stress or anxiety that I perceive to be present. I also use my experience to decide on the most appropriate combination or drugs for each individual patient. If I detect anything that concerns me, I will discuss this with the clinician in charge of the case and the procedure may be delayed if we have to investigate further – for example if I hear a heart murmur, a cardiac examination may be advisable.

Once we are ready to start, a catheter is placed in a vein and another drug is administered slowly until unconsciousness occurs. In a lot of patients, I use propofol, which is the same drug used in human anaesthesia (the white stuff). However, I don’t ask my patients to count backwards from 10! General anaesthesia is usually continued by administering anaesthetic gas and oxygen down a tube placed into the patient’s windpipe. In some cases, I may choose to maintain anaesthesia with an intravenous drug like propofol, in conjunction with other drugs and this is known as total intravenous anaesthesia. If a painful procedure is being performed, I will provide a pain management plan that usually involves a number of techniques. If I can use a local anaesthetic, and this isn’t always possible, then I do, as this is the most effective way of abolishing any pain sensation.

During the procedure, your pet is closely monitored using my hands and eyes and ears (anaesthetists notice everything – it’s in our nature), but I also use monitoring devices to measure oxygenation, how well the animal is breathing, how much anaesthetic is in the blood, blood pressure, a continuous display of electrical activity in the heart and body temperature. I may also need other monitors to help me decide how to ventilate the lung if needed and if I use a drug to relax all the muscles. For major surgery I might place another catheter in an artery to give me a more accurate measure of blood pressure. This allows me to react quickly if your pet needs some blood pressure support during the anaesthetic.

Once the procedure is over, preparation for recovery involves a chat with the nurse who will look after the patient. This means we can be ready with warming aids and oxygen if necessary and have the necessary equipment for continued infusions of drugs and fluids. We may also prepare for complications in cases which are more complex so that everyone is ready to respond to unforeseen problems.

As an anaesthetist, it is my job to ensure that at SCVS, your pet is in the safest possible place, right from admission through to discharge.