Archive for July 2013

Modern Veterinary Anesthesia

It’s a common discussion thread on any pet-related website…someone mentions that they have a friend whose aunt lost a pet under anesthetic and all of a sudden, stories of dogs and cats dying under anesthesia are flying back and forth.  Some businesses even play upon these fears and misinformation by incorporating scary statistics of anesthesia related deaths into their marketing.

So, what’s the real story?  How dangerous is veterinary anesthesia and how does your veterinarian make sure her patients have an uneventful surgery?

First, it’s important to realize that any two pets undergoing the exact same procedure may be at different risk levels for anesthesia.  The animal’s age, weight and physical condition, as well as any concurrent disease, will determine anesthetic risk.  There is no “one size fits all” type of anesthesia.

Next, consider the source of the information.  As an example, companies and information sites that advocate “non-anesthetic” dental cleanings for pets, will often quote a small study showing 1 in every 256 animals had an adverse event under anesthesia.  What they fail to tell you is that particular study was done at a veterinary teaching hospital whose caseload included many patients with significant risk factors for anesthesia.  More comprehensive research has shown that problems with anesthetics occur in less than 1 in every 10,000 pets.

Starting in the late 1960s and early 1970s, veterinarians, working alongside human anesthesiology counterparts, began developing standards and guidelines designed to provide better comfort and analgesia for animals undergoing surgery.  This eventually led to the development of the American College of Veterinary Anesthesia and Analgesia and approximately 220 board certified veterinary anesthesiologists around the world.

Their work has helped provide veterinarians in general practice better strategies in key areas, such as proper patient monitoring, prevention of drops in body temperature and how to best use the latest anesthetic drugs.

In any anesthetic event, knowing what’s happening on the inside of the patient is crucial.  Modern monitoring devices, such as Welch Allyn’s ® Propaq monitor, allow veterinarians and surgical technicians to quickly spot trends in patient vital signs.  By closely watching blood pressure, pulse rate, oxygen saturation, body temperature, respirations and carbon dioxide levels, veterinarians can address and even prevent adverse events.

Likewise, safety precautions for the patient are highly important.  Circulating warm water blankets or forced air warming blankets (Bair Hugger®) can prevent hypothermia in anesthetized patients while state of the art calibrated fluid pumps can deliver precise levels of medications or vital fluids.  Many veterinary hospitals now require patients have an IV catheter for all but the shortest of procedures.

Even anesthetic drugs have improved.  Veterinary science now has safe anesthetic gases that quickly leave the pet’s system once the drug is removed from the breathing circuit. Reversible injections, such as Dexdormitor®, provide ways for veterinarians to wake up your pet more smoothly and get him back home to you sooner.

Finally, trained and highly skilled veterinary technicians and assistants are on hand to monitor your four legged friend.  Along with the high-tech equipment, these surgical assistants watch all vital signs so that the patient is kept at just the right level of anesthesia…deep even to prevent pain, but not deep enough to depress vital functions.  Many of these technicians will also further their own education by specializing in anesthesiology and becoming part of the Academy of Veterinary Technician Anesthetists.

Your veterinarian understands your concerns about anesthesia…it can be very scary.  But, before you believe all of the Internet rumors about rampant dangers of pet surgeries or dental cleanings, consider talking with your veterinarian and asking him about the hospital’s surgical and anesthesia protocols.  You might be surprised how far advanced animal clinics will go to keep your pet safe and secure during surgery.

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Summer Car Trips with Your Pet Can Turn Deadly!

Many pets, especially our dogs, love to go for car rides.  Whether it’s a quick trip to the local market or even a cross country excursion, hearing their owners say “go for a ride” or “go bye-bye” will set many dogs’ tails wagging.

Unfortunately, this favored activity can turn deadly when warmer temperatures arrive and when owners misjudge the amount of time they will be away from the car.  Each year, dozens, if not hundreds, of stories of dogs dying in hot cars are reported by local media.

When confronted with the fact that their pet’s death was likely preventable, most owners will respond with statements like “I didn’t think I would be gone that long” or that they “didn’t know it was THAT warm outside”.   When looking at the facts, the reality of just how quickly the inside of a car can heat up, even in mild temperatures, can produce some startling revelations for pet lovers.

It’s probably common sense to most people that hotter days cause the inside of a car to heat up faster, but few people realize that even with outside temperatures as low as 65 or 70 degrees Fahrenheit, the inside of the vehicle will warm uncomfortably in just 30 minutes.  In fact, on a 75 degree day, your car’s interior will be at 100 degrees in just about 10 minutes and a blistering 120 degrees in a half hour!  Despite urban myths, cracking the windows has little effect on the rate of heating inside the car.

An excellent demonstration of the effect a warm day can have on the interior of a car can be found in this video:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JbOcCQ-y3OY.

But, it’s not just the heat of the day that is an issue.  Your pet’s overall health status and behavior can also contribute to how quickly he will overheat in the car.  Veterinarians across the country have posted stories online about cases in which dogs have died when left in cars on days where the temperature never exceeded 60 degrees.  Short faced breeds, like Pugs and Bulldogs, as well as obese pets, heavy coated breeds and senior animals will have less tolerance for extreme temperatures.  In addition, excitable animals and those with separation anxiety issues may work themselves into frenzy, raising their body temperature to dangerous levels.

When in doubt, it’s probably best to leave your pet at home.  It’s far too easy for a quick trip to become complicated and take more time than you intended.

Across the Internet, many well-intentioned people and groups will post pictures and posters that highlight the dangers of leaving pets in cars and education is a great thing.  Sadly, though, the discussions on these sites about what individuals will do if they find a pet locked in a car can often turn into dangerous arenas of mis-information.  People will recommend breaking into cars to save the dogs or even taking the pets away from the owner.

Currently, 14 states specifically have laws that prohibit leaving animals “unattended and confined” in a motor vehicle when physical injury or death is likely to result.  While that is a great thing, it does NOT give ordinary citizens the right to smash windshields or take the pet from the car.  Most of these states have included rescue provisions that empower police, peace officers, fire and rescue workers or animal control officers to use reasonable force to remove an animal in distress.

So, what should you, as an animal lover and Good Samaritan do if you come across a pet confined in a car?

First, if you are in a store parking lot, consider contacting the management of the store or even security.  It may be possible to page the pet’s owner and have them return to the vehicle.

Next, call 911 and try to get the local authorities involved.  This action will help lessen your liability if the pet is injured during the rescue attempt or happens to escape.  Allow the police or legally designated person open the vehicle.

Finally, realize that not every animal in a car is actually in distress.  As mentioned above, some pets may appear frantic, but others will lie quietly while waiting for their owners.  It’s important to stay calm and not over-react – in some cases, the pet is not in danger!

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