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Pet lovers worry so much about anesthesia, often to the extent of delaying or completely avoiding procedures that can truly benefit their pets, such as comprehensive oral care, because those procedures require their pets to be put under. As a veterinarian, I work very hard to ensure a safe anesthetic event for every pet, from pre-anesthestic screening to having a technician monitor the procedure to keeping pets warm and pain-free before, during and after the actual procedure.
But all my efforts can be undone by a pet owner who provides food or water to the pet before anesthesia and doesn’t let me know.
I can’t stress this enough: When your pet requires medical care, you need to do your part so I can do mine. And that means following pre-anesthesia instructions to the letter. When it comes to letting your pet eat or drink before any treatment involving an anesthetic, following the rules is very important.
Your pet’s stomach needs to be empty before he has any anesthesia. That’s because anesthetic drugs can cause vomiting in some pets, and that can lead to pneumonia. How? When your pet is under anesthesia, the brain keeps the heart beating and lungs breathing, but many other body functions relax. That includes the larynx, which prevents things that should head to the GI tract from going “down the wrong pipe” and into the lungs. If a pet vomits during anesthesia, the vomit may end up going down the trachea and into the lungs instead of down the esophagus to the stomach. When something gets in the lungs that shouldn’t be there – that’s called “aspiration” – the lung reacts angrily, and the result can be pneumonia.
Don’t take a chance. Except in an acute life-or-death emergency, it’s better to delay a procedure than go forward under less than ideal circumstances. We all make mistakes, so if you accidentally give your pet food or water when he's scheduled for anesthesia, let the staff at your veterinarian's office know; they’ll understand. Your veterinarian would always rather be safe than sorry, and there’s always another day for an elective procedure.
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