Frequently Asked Questions
What is general anaesthesia and sedation?
General anaesthesia is a reversible state which produces unconsciousness, pain relief and muscle relaxation. Anaesthesia is achieved by injecting a combination of drugs into the bloodstream or by inhaling drugs which are absorbed in the lungs and transported to the brain. The drugs stop the animal from being aware of the environment around them.
Sedation is a reversible state of reduced consciousness and can also provide muscle relaxation and pain relief. Unlike anaesthesia, during sedation, the animal may still be aware of and able to respond to the external environment, but they are likely to be less anxious than if they were fully conscious.
Why does my pet need to be sedated or anaesthetised?
Many of the diagnostic or therapeutic procedures we perform cannot be carried out in fully conscious animals as they cannot be asked to lie perfectly still, in a specific position, for the duration of the intervention.
We can, and often do, use local anaesthetics to prevent the sensation of pain during surgical procedures. However, even though these may prevent the animal from feeling the surgical procedure, they do not ensure the animal does not move during the process. For this reason, local anaesthetics are usually used alongside sedation or general anaesthesia, and reduce the dose of other drugs required to maintain unconsciousness, which improves patient safety.
What happens in the period around the general anaesthetic?
Your pet will be starved before the general anaesthetic to reduce the likelihood that they regurgitate (or vomit) while they are unconscious. The fasting period is usually 6-8 hours, but this will be advised to you before your appointment. Water can be provided until you leave home to come to the clinic. When you arrive at the clinic, you will have a discussion with a vet or nurse who will go through what the plan is and check your pets current condition and any medications they are receiving at home. Your pet will be admitted to the hospital and will be examined by the anaesthetist in charge of their care. Your pet’s medical history and the procedure(s) to be performed will be considered before the individualised anaesthetic protocol is decided.
Your pet will then receive an injection of a combination of drugs aimed to reduce anxiety and provide pain relief for the upcoming procedure. This is usually given into a muscle, just like when you have a vaccination. After this injection has taken effect, a cannula is placed into a vein which allows further medications to be given, which will fully anaesthetise the pet. A tube is placed into the trachea to enable the delivery of oxygen and anaesthetic gases to the lungs, which will keep the pet asleep for the duration of the procedure. During the process, your pet will be connected to a machine (like the one pictured below) which monitors several of their vital signs including heart rate and rhythm, blood pressure, breathing frequency and depth, blood oxygen levels and body temperature. When the procedure is over, the anaesthetic gas is stopped, and your pet will continue to receive oxygen via the tube until they begin to wake up and can swallow again. They will then be transferred to the ward where our vets and nurses will closely monitor them until they are completely awake. Pain assessment is performed regularly to ensure your pet is comfortable following the procedure.
Will my pet behave differently when they come home?
If your pet comes home on the same day as the anaesthetic and surgical procedure, you may notice they are quieter than normal and they may want to sleep more. This is normal and you can make their recovery more comfortable by providing a warm soft place for them to rest. Dogs can have very short walks just to let them go to the toilet, and cats should be kept indoors for 24 hours as they may not be as agile as they normally are. Their appetite may also be reduced so it is a good idea to offer them smaller meals than usual, but with increased frequency if they are keen to eat. Something bland like boiled chicken and rice is less likely to make them feel nauseous. The effects of the anaesthetic should wear off in the following 24 hours or so but monitor your pet closely for any signs of pain or excessive tiredness and contact us for advice if you are concerned.