If your pet has cardiac disease, you’re already watching his health carefully. But what happens if he needs a procedure that requires anesthesia? Will it be safe to sedate him for a dental surgery or intraabdominal surgery? Do alternatives exist? The answers to these questions require a thorough analysis of the patient’s health and a frank talk between the surgeon and the owner about what might happen when considering anesthesia for cardiac patients.

Local vs. General Anesthetics

Veterinarians can inject an anesthetic solution under the skin, sending a sedative into a vein or muscle. That can be useful for minor procedures; if your dog gets cut in a fight and needs sutures to close an open wound, the doctor will inject a localized painkiller before closing your pet’s open wound. General anesthesia, though, puts the pet into a state of controlled unconsciousness.

Your primary care veterinarians may refer pets to cardiologists because they have detected a heart murmur, arrhythmia, elevated blood pressure or other factors related to cardiac disease. When those animals need anesthesia, a surgeon has to be more careful. The decision on whether the patient is an adequate anesthetic candidate becomes, as specialists like to say, multi-factorial.

Choosing Anesthesia for Cardiac Patients

First, a vet will consider whether the procedure is elective or absolutely necessary. Dental cleaning is an elective procedure, although dental surgery may not be. Spaying and neutering, for all their benefits, are elective procedures. Non-elective procedures include fracture repairs, malignant tumor removals from the abdomen and removal of obstructive foreign material blocking your pet’s gastrointestinal tract– all things that inhibit a patient’s quality of life.

Second, the veterinarian looks at other clinical abnormalities affecting the patient. Diagnostic tests, such as blood panels, can rule out a broad spectrum of diseases. Specialists will often accept recent blood work from a primary care veterinarian, though that depends on the nature of the surgery and the patient’s related health conditions.

Third, the doctor assesses risk. Some forms of anesthesia have particular side effects, longer or shorter duration of action, and some may even be reversible. Specific drugs or anesthetic techniques minimize anesthetic risk, because animals can be hypersensitive to particular medications.

Pets receiving treatment for congestive heart failure are typically poor candidates for general anesthesia because of an increased risk of complications: They might not survive the procedure, or they may relapse into active congestive heart failure due to the use of intraoperative fluid therapy.

The Importance of a Conversation

Ultimately, the owner has to decide whether the risk to a cardiac patient outweighs the benefits of the procedure. Anesthesia comes with risks but also with benefits: It gives doctors complete control in monitoring a pet’s ability to breathe, circulate oxygen, blood pressure, heart rhythm and fluids through the body at all times.

No pet, however healthy, is risk-free from complications of general anesthesia. That’s why owners need to understand all the factors that go into a veterinarian’s recommendation to have surgery or not, and not all veterinarians will agree about a particular dog or cat. Owners with pets with cardiac disease will want to ask whether the veterinarian has anesthetized an animal with that specific disease in the past.

Whether the prognosis seems positive or negative, the owner and surgeon must share an understanding from the start. Never be afraid to ask your veterinarian any question you can think of before surgery, especially when the patient has cardiac disease.

CARE operates as the animal version of a human medical center, offering all forms of treatment for pets through emergency care 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. It also provides board-certified specialty care, once you get a referral from your primary veterinarian. Please take a visual tour of the practice at carecharlotte.com/tour.

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