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
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! More
When national surveys are done, pharmacists continually rank high when it comes to trust, honesty and ethics. Whether it’s your pharmacy professional at the locally owned corner store or the one at the corporate big box store, this profession consistently out ranks doctors, engineers and even the clergy! Like veterinarians, pharmacists are viewed as compassionate and caring by the general public.
However, increasing numbers of news reports detailing mistakes made by human pharmacies dispensing pet medications has both professions concerned. In some cases, there was no noticeable effect and the pets were fine, but serious illnesses, severe complications and even deaths have occurred. How widespread is this issue?
Thankfully, in the vast majority of prescriptions sent to pharmacists from veterinarians, the dosage and medication is delivered as expected and the pet gets exactly what is needed. It’s only when drugs are changed, generics substituted or dosing altered that problems occur.
In a recent survey completed by the Oregon Veterinary Medical Association (OVMA), more than 1/3 of the veterinarians surveyed reported incidents of pharmacists from either retail or online pharmacies changing the prescription. In a highly publicized case from Los Angeles, an 8 year old Labrador was euthanized after the drug store altered the dose of a veterinarian’s prescription, changing the “cubic centimeters” (or “cc”) to teaspoons. This pet ended up receiving almost 4 times the amount of medication needed which compounded his other, already serious health issues.
In the Oregon survey, veterinarians also reported that insulin brands were changed, dosages for anti-seizure medications were altered and antibiotics substituted for chemotherapy drugs. Other news reports have shown that pet owners were told to give human pain relievers, such as Tylenol® or Ibuprofen®, to their pets. This seemingly harmless advice can lead to serious liver damage in dogs or even death in cats.
Executive Director of the OVMA, Mr. Glenn Kolb said that ““Together, veterinarians and pharmacists work hand in hand to meet the needs of the client and the best interests of the patient. The bad news is the rare occurrence when a pharmacy steps out of its scope of practice by making determinations and adjustments.”
Even the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has taken notice. In a 2012 Consumer Update, the FDA mentions how veterinarians and pharmacists are taught different systems of medication dosing abbreviations, leading to confusion. In addition, transcription errors and product selection mistakes can lead to the wrong drug or the incorrect amount being given to your pet.
Both professions and the FDA are taking these reports very seriously. Carmen Catizone of the National Association Boards of Pharmacy says that pet owners “”primary concern should always be whether or not the pharmacist is knowledgeable in the area of veterinary medications” and cautions that price should be a secondary consideration when looking for pet or human drugs.
In the FDA alert, consumers are urged to ask questions of both the pharmacist and the veterinarian if your pet’s prescription is filled at an online or retail pharmacy. Glenn Kolb takes it one step further and flatly states that “veterinarians need to raise awareness among pet owners by telling them, “If a pharmacist suggests changing to a different drug or different dosage, please contact me right away.’”
Be familiar with your pet’s regular medications and take time to review any written prescription. If what you receive doesn’t match your expectations, do not give the drug and contact your veterinarian.
Veterinary experts also recommend that pet owners shopping for the best price on pet medications have an open conversation with their primary veterinarian. In many cases, the veterinary hospital will have the right medication available at a price that matches or is close to the online costs once you figure shipping and convenience. Plus, you get the added peace of mind that your veterinary team understands your pet’s unique needs.
Just like in human medicine, prescription errors happen with our pets too. The important thing to remember is that both your veterinarian and your local pharmacist are interested in what’s best for your four legged friend. More
Whether it’s rising floodwaters, raging wildfires or even acts of terrorism, catastrophic events require all kinds of professionals to respond. Even though most people know about police and firefighters, veterinarians are also often called to disaster scenes to help save lives and reunite families.
As we have all seen, tragic events like hurricanes, earthquakes or bombings take their toll on human lives. But, it’s not unusual to see animal victims of these disasters as well. Animals can be injured or lost and in the case of large scale calamities, local animal control resources are quickly overwhelmed.
Although our first thoughts often go to our companion animals, like dogs and cats, large animals, from horses to sheep and pigs to cattle are also at risk. In fact, horses will often panic and run in the face of danger while cattle will quickly scatter through downed fence lines.
What can local agencies do when animals are in need of help in addition to the local population of people?
Veterinary Emergency Teams (VET) are often called upon by local first responders when a disaster situation gets beyond their control. These well-equipped and well trained groups of volunteer veterinary professionals will bring in vital supplies, needed medications and even state of the art mobile facilities designed to provide a safe work environment as well resting quarters for the crew.
It’s obvious that these teams can function to help injured animals, but they actually can provide invaluable aid to local veterinarians who have suffered damage to their hospitals. In addition, these specialized emergency response units can also help triage animal cases, provide additional assistance to local animal control agencies by searching for microchips among lost pets and care for the many search and rescue or working dogs that aid in disaster relief.
Veterinary emergency teams also provide vital public health monitoring in the aftermath of catastrophes, give technical assistance to assure food and water safety and help prevent zoonotic and other disease outbreaks.
Although a National Veterinary Response Team (NVRT) has been established and operates within the National Disaster Medical System, many states will also field their own veterinary medical assistance teams. Colleges, such as Texas A&M, the University of California at Davis and others have also developed volunteer groups that have responded to a multitude of local emergency situations.
With the passage of the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Safety Act (“PETS Act”) in 2006, a greater emphasis has been placed on the care of our pets and animals in the event of large scale disasters. States must include animals in sheltering and evacuation plans and also provide means of tracking those animals throughout the event. Veterinary emergency teams are crucial to insuring that these standards are met.
Veterinarians, veterinary technicians, animal control officials, pharmacists and many others, including concerned citizens who aren’t in the animal health field, are eligible to volunteer for veterinary teams. Interested individuals should become familiar with the National Incident Command Structure as working in disaster zones requires a strict adherence to details and an organized system of communications. This means that even though you might have a strong passion for helping our four legged friends, you can’t just run into a danger zone and start trying to save pets. That type of action will not only endanger yourself, but also pull resources from where they may be needed if you get in trouble.
So, when disaster strikes, don’t be surprised to see volunteer veterinarians and technicians working with police and firefighters, saving lives and getting life back to normal and animals and families back together!
Develop a disaster preparedness plan for your pet at http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/disaster-preparedness. More
Throughout history, dogs have helped humans in many ways, but it’s only been in the last 350 years or so that our canine friends have assisted in the rescue of lost people. The most famous example is, of course, the work of hundreds of St. Bernards who are credited with saving more than 2,000 people from frigid deaths high in the Swiss Alps. Like their historical counterparts, modern day Search and Rescue dogs rely on extensive training, an unshakeable bond with their trainer and, of course, their incredible sense of smell!
We all know that our dogs are great at sniffing out things, especially when food is involved. Dogs actually have a sense of smell that is about 40 times more sensitive than a human’s and its olfactory prowess that helps make a great search and rescue dog. Experts still don’t know exactly how dogs can locate an injured person or missing child, but current theories indicate that the dogs are using the dead skin cells that constantly fall off us. These “skin cell rafts” contain conspicuous human scents that the dogs use during their search.
While all breeds possess a keen sense of smell, good search and rescue canines will be a medium to large breed (or mixed breed) animal in good physical health, above average intelligence and also possess good listening skills. But, perhaps the most important attribute for a good search dog candidate is his desire to play!
Allowing an opportunity for the successful dog to play is the animal’s “reward” for properly performing their duties. This behavior is ingrained early as training starts with puppies as young as 8-10 weeks of age and is continually reinforced throughout the dog’s career. The search dog in training is taught to find a special toy with a desired scent and this skill is then expanded so that the dogs learn to find people in all sorts of environments and situations.
Search and rescue dogs are even trained differently, depending on how they will be used. “Air-scent” dogs work with their nose up in the air, following a scent trail and working towards the highest concentration. This is especially useful when trying to find victims buried in an avalanche, people trapped under buildings in an urban setting or even human remains.
Contrast this with the typical tracking dogs often seen in movies chasing down escaped criminals. Bloodhounds and other breeds work with their nose on the ground, following a scent trail from a known starting point. Many of these dogs also help find children that have wandered away from home and into fields, forests or deserts. They have even found Alzheimer patients who have strayed from their safe home.
When their services are needed, local law enforcement often calls upon volunteer search and rescue organizations which they have trained with and trust. These private groups are not components of any branch of government, but are called and deployed to help first responders in a variety of situations. Although search and rescue dogs have been used throughout the 20th century, the teams have received more national recognition due to their work after 9-11, during the earthquakes in Haiti and Japan and in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Ike.
Both handlers and dogs must meet stringent training requirements that are set forth by their organization in addition to specific standards outlined by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Groups like the American Rescue Dog Association and Search and Rescue Dogs of the United States (SARDUS) have detailed websites about the training their specific groups offer to potential candidates.
So, the next time that your local news shows scenes of devastation or natural disaster, remember that our canine friends, and their human partners, are also on the front lines, saving lives and bringing hope to victims of catastrophes. More