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. More
According to PetsAndParasites.com, a website devoted to tracking the occurrence of parasites in our pets, the prevalence of deadly heartworms continues to cause problems. More than 1% of dogs tested will be positive for heartworms in the US every year. That’s almost a million pets suffering from a preventable disease! Rates are even higher for parasites like roundworms, whipworms and hookworms!
Thankfully, we have had safe and effective parasite treatment and preventive products available for many years. So, why are we still seeing so many cases? There are many theories.
Despite the claims of Internet sites who say rising resistance among heartworms or massive failure of preventives is to blame, the reality is probably a little closer to home. Dr. Sheldon Rubin, a past president of the American Heartworm Society is quoted as saying that human error or forgetfulness is probably the biggest reason for pets developing heartworm disease. His comments are echoed by research in Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana that reviewed cases of presumed heartworm preventive failure and found that owner compliance was actually much lower than originally reported.
But, an uncertainty among pet owners about which product to use (market confusion), as well as economic factors, are fueling at least some of the issue. Generic heartworm preventives can now be found in many human pharmacies and online pet pharmacies are offering six to ten different medications to the public. It’s frankly hard for a pet owner to choose.
Experts from the American Heartworm Society recommend giving heartworm preventive year round. Just be sure you are using a prescription product that contains one of these known compounds; ivermectin, milbemycin oxime, selamectin or moxidectin. Then your pet needs to receive a dose once monthly, every month, all year long.
Some of these medications are also effective against intestinal parasites, such as roundworms, hookworms, and whipworms. A few of these preventives are also now using compounds to treat tapeworms in addition to the other parasites. It’s even possible to get heartworm preventive that also includes means to help control fleas!!
Part of consumer confusion is whether to buy the least expensive product or the one that covers every possible parasite. Veterinarians do understand how this can be such a confounding problem.
In fact, certain parasites are less common in some areas of the country and your pet’s risk factors vary quite a bit. These risk factors also include exposure to parasites through trips to dog parks, hiking or camping, interstate travel or even the presence of other animals in the household.
Veterinarians follow these trends every year. They couple this information with their understanding of the different life cycles, knowledge of your pet’s specific medical conditions, the reputation of the drug manufacturers and your region of the country. They are ideally equipped to help you more fully understand exactly which product provides the best parasite protection for your pet and your family.
Also it is so important for you not to fall for advice in online forums that recommend odd-ball alternative methods of protecting your pets against any parasite, but especially heartworm disease. Many of these simply fuel speculation about diminishing effectiveness of heartworm preventives and they are not well researched. These sites often misinterpret data or are actively promoting products that have not gone through proper testing and safety research.
This is an area of pet care where we have made great advances, but bad advice and a confusing market have created unnecessary risks and vulnerabilities. Trust your pet’s healthcare advice to your family veterinarian and team. Trusted products from Deerfield Veterinary Hospital can be found at our hospital. Our pharmacy is price competitive with most online and local big box retailers. Call the hospital today to setup your account with Deerfield. More
Anyone who has read James Herriot’s immortal novels about veterinary practice knows that much of the work he did with animals and pets he did by himself. The owners in the stories were either unable or unwilling to help and having any sort of assistant was reserved for extreme situations, like a difficult calving.
Fast forward to today and many pet owners will see a wide range of people working at the veterinary hospital. Are these veterinary technicians just like nurses in a human hospital?
The answer to that question is, to some extent, yes, but the reality is technicians actually perform a wider range of duties than do most nurses for people. Veterinary technicians end up being the nurse, laboratory technician, dental hygienist, phlebotomist, radiology tech, anesthetist and surgical assistant for your pet as well as helping provide essential information to animal owners.
Although the first attempts to certify veterinary assistants go back more than 100 years, the very first program to provide training was actually started by the United States Air Force in 1951. This was followed by a civilian program in 1961 at the State University of New York. Now, interested individuals can find more than160 programs available across the US and even enroll in online education courses.
To earn certification as a veterinary technician, a student must attend either a two year or four year accredited program in veterinary technology. This education will provide a broad background in everything from medical terminology and anatomy to pharmacology and animal nutrition. Some schools even include business and management courses.
Although the term “technician” is often used to describe any veterinary assistant, most states’ practice acts do define a veterinary technician as someone who has obtained the education described above and then passed the Veterinary Technician National Exam. These folks are designated as Licensed Veterinary Technicians (LVTs), Registered Veterinary Technicians (RVTs) or Certified Veterinary Technicians (CVTs).
Veterinary assistants, on the other hand, are usually trained on-the –job, but often have similar skills and duties. Again, each state defines what types of responsibilities and procedures assistants or technicians can perform.
In either case, both of these vital team members function as the right hand for many veterinarians. By performing tasks such as collecting blood samples, capturing x-rays or even providing important education to clients about parasites, the technicians help make the veterinarians more efficient. Your pet’s doctor can now focus on doing examinations, prescribing needed medications, diagnosing problems and performing surgery. Of course, the overall well-being of your pets is a primary concern for all technicians. This means they are also very skilled at providing exceptional levels of nursing care to pets who might be scared, in pain or simply anxious about being at the hospital.
Some technicians will even further their education and skills by specializing in areas such as anesthesiology, nutrition, behavior, dentistry or even zoo medicine.
According to the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA; www.navta.net), there is a strong demand for graduates of veterinary technology programs. In fact, the Department of Labor lists veterinary technology as one of the top twenty fastest growing careers where education makes a difference. Another fun fact…95% of all veterinary technicians are women!
You know that your veterinarian is an important partner with you in the healthcare of your pets, but it is also crucial to get to know the other vital members of the veterinary care team. These are the folks who will be insuring that your cat stays warm after her spay surgery or that your dog’s pain medication is delivered on time. In many cases, veterinary technicians and assistants can also provide you with some rock solid advice about vaccinations, parasite prevention and even nutrition. More
Dental disease is the most common diagnosis veterinarians will make on any dog or cat over the age of one year. Despite a Pet Dental Health Month each February and constant reminders from veterinarians, some owners simply overlook or are unaware of what’s happening inside their pet’s mouth. But it is a real problem. Left untreated dental disease can lead to serious problems like heart or kidney disease, not to mention the horrible bad breath!
Even pet owners who do routinely try to brush their pets’ teeth or look at the mouth can be fooled. A study in the American Journal of Veterinary Research found that almost 30% of dogs and more than 40% of cats whose mouths were clinically normal actually had significant problems under the gumline. In addition, if the pet had visible dental problems, veterinary dentists found additional pathology more than 50% of the time using dental X-rays.
Some very serious problems can be found under the gumline. Root abscesses, fractures, jaw bone loss and even cancer often aren’t apparent with a visual examination. Dental x-rays (radiographs) are needed to find and successfully treat these painful and significant issues.
The use of radiology for veterinary patients is not new. Just like human dentists, veterinary dentists have long had the ability to use x-ray film and dental radiographic machines. However, long delays in getting the right shot and developing the film meant that dogs and cats were under anesthesia for long periods of time.
Fast forward to today and we see a great leap in technology. New digital sensors are replacing dental x-ray film and hand-held dental x-ray units are being used instead of large, wall mounted or floor units. Images are captured by computer using very special software instead of saving and filing lots of film.
The benefit to all of this is that skilled veterinary dentists and technicians are now able to get a set of full mouth radiographs in less than 15 minutes. That means less time under anesthesia for your pet and better imaging for diagnosis and treatment of problems in the mouth or around the teeth and roots. It also means that problems in your pet’s mouth can be found more easily and treatment started sooner.
Using sophisticated software, veterinarians can manipulate these images to look at a tooth or root in great detail or magnify a suspected lesion. If your veterinarian is using digital dental x-rays, areas of concern can be saved and even sent via email to a board certified veterinary dentist for review.
For some pet owners, the thought of having their four legged companion anesthetized for this is troublesome. But, it is important to remember that our pets will NOT hold still while someone tries to place a sensor in their mouth or position their head in exactly the correct position. Further, if a diseased tooth is found that needs extraction or a root canal, the pet is already for the procedure.
It is important to remember that most of the pet’s teeth and the problems they have are under the gumline where it can’t be seen in an awake animal. Mis-leading marketing campaigns try to tell you that non-anesthetic pet dental scaling is best. But experts and veterinary dentists highly discourage all pet owners from falling for these scams. Anesthesia is entirely necessary for proper evaluation of the pet’s mouth and for a a complete cleaning or even looking deeper should a serious problem be hidden.
Your veterinarian can help you understand that good oral care for your pets is more than scraping off tarter. Proper dental care is good imaging, complete cleanings and then treatment and correction of the underlying problems. And don’t forget, your help is then needed to provide the right type of at-home care, such as daily brushing. More
From simple heartworm tests to complex, multi-parameter chemistry profiles, blood screenings are a vital tool in your veterinarian’s arsenal for finding and treating many different diseases. Whether your pet is in the hospital because he is sick or because she needs surgery, many veterinary clinics can now decide what lab work is needed and run those tests immediately.
Not only is this type of diagnostic assessment helpful with sick pets, but our healthy animals are benefiting as well. Early signs of many different illnesses will first show up in a blood profile, long before any outward, clinical symptoms are seen.
Historically, veterinarians have used large reference laboratories to process their patients’ samples, but in recent years, counter top and “point of care” instruments have surged in popularity. One main reason is that veterinarians can now have answers to your pet’s problems in minutes, rather than hours. That, of course, helps the doctor make crucial medical decisions and possibly start treatment earlier.
Another reason for the success of in house blood analyzers is that the sophisticated automation and equipment have helped minimize errors that plagued early attempts. Companies like Heska, Abaxis, Idexx and others have developed compact devices that use patented technology and modern optical scanners to reliably provide results in urgent situations.
So, now that your veterinarian can do these tests in the clinic, what exactly is he or she looking for?
Whether your pet is sick, needs some sort of anesthetic procedure or maybe just a senior check up, the most common set of blood work will involve a complete blood count (CBC) and a chemistry profile. Depending on symptoms and the patient’s overall status, the chemistry panel may just cover a few key parameters or it may be all inclusive.
CBCs are a measure of the different types and numbers of cells in the blood. Patients who have too few red blood cells are considered anemic and may have difficulty delivering precious oxygen to the body’s tissues. White blood cells are the microbial defenders of the pet. These soldier cells patrol the body and attack invading bacteria, viruses and other foreign organisms. When a CBC shows a high white count, your veterinarian may be concerned about some sort of active infection. Conversely, low white blood cell counts could mean the cells are depleted from a chronic infection or, in the case of puppies and kittens, could be a sign of a parvovirus.
Chemistry panels will look at key enzymes and metabolic products to determine the health of internal organs. Everyone understands that a high glucose level on a chemistry panel probably indicates a diabetic animal, but less well known are indicators like Alkaline Phosphatase (ALP), Blood Urea Nitrogen (BUN), Creatinine and about two dozen others. Veterinarians can identify kidney disease, liver disease and many issues, including some cancers, from these key components of a pet’s blood work.
Combined with the pet’s symptoms, environment and other factors, your pet’s doctor will use the results of blood work run in their clinic to give you an accurate diagnosis. When you get the results, avoid the temptation to consult Dr.Google. It is possible to find some good information, however, without a complete picture, some well meaning, but un-informed individuals online may lead you to question your veterinarian’s findings.
It’s important to know that some specific or special testing will still need to be sent to reference laboratories. In either case, diagnostic blood work is a powerful tool to help your veterinarian take the best possible care of your pet. That gives you peace of mind and a better understanding of your pet’s health and provides vital information for any future medical needs. More