When your veterinarian recommends anesthesia and surgery for your cat or dog, you’re more likely to be more nervous about the procedure than your pet. This guide to the process will answer general questions about the what to expect, and vets at CARE can answer more specific ones.

Preparing for Anesthesia and Surgery

First, make sure it’s what your pet needs, rather than diet modification or long-term medication. Ask your veterinarian about the risks of surgery, the potential outcomes and the length and nature of the recovery period.

If you agree that surgery’s the way to go, you’ll start getting ready the day before. Withhold food and water according to your vet’s instructions. This will ensure the stomach is empty and reduce the risk your pet may experience vomiting associated with anesthesia. Your vet may tell you to temporarily discontinue medications or supplements for your pet, as some may interfere with anesthesia or thin the blood and increase the chance of extreme bleeding. Once anesthesia is started, an endotracheal tube is usually placed to secure the airway, provide gas anesthesia and oxygen, and prevent regurgitation and aspiration that can cause complications. Many different anesthesia medications can be used and the protocol and medications are based on your pet’s medical needs and the reason for anesthesia.

The Day of the Surgery

Your pet will usually check into the hospital on the morning of the operation. A nurse will weigh him/ her and evaluate vital signs, such as temperature and heart rate. The doctor overseeing care will perform an exam and develop the anesthesia and surgery protocol safest for their medical condition. The pet will get a hospital ID collar, similar to ID bracelets people have in human hospitals.

After check-in, your pet will be settled into his personal space in the hospital with cozy bedding. He/she may need pre-operative diagnostics such as blood work, radiographs or ultrasound. The doctor will review all of these prior to surgery.

Administering Anesthesia

Once your pet is ready for surgery, a nurse will administer medications and IV fluids. That nurse will remain with your pet monitoring anesthesia during the entire procedure, until they are awake and recovered.

Anesthesia is considered high-risk when health problems increase a pet’s chance of death while anesthetized. The benefits of the procedure must be weighed against these risks, and vets will always have you sign a consent form acknowledging this danger, even if it’s quite small. That’s why primary care veterinarians often refer patients to CARE, which has specialists available that have special training in anesthesia with the knowledge and equipment to address any problems that arise.

Riggs with his favorite ball

Pictured is Dr. Gunstra’s beloved personal dog, Riggs.

When Your Pet Awakens

Once your pet wakes up, the doctor will call you with an update and discuss a post-operative plan. Your pet will recover from surgery in CARE’s ICU, where doctors and nurses work around the clock every day of the year. The surgeon will have prescribed medications and determined the pet’s post-operative needs. Pets will be fed and taken outside for short leash walks or bathroom breaks, if that’s appropriate. ICU nurses take care to make sure all patients remain as comfortable as possible.

Once your pet is ready to go home, your CARE vet will schedule a patient discharge meeting, where you and the medical team review your pet’s post-operative needs. You’ll have time to ask questions and feel confident about at-home care. But even after your pet is discharged, you can contact CARE about any questions or concerns that arise.

Think of CARE as the animal equivalent of a medical center for people. It provides all types of treatment for pets: not just emergency care 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, but also 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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