Dog and veterinarian

One of the most significant advances is in the use of general anesthesia. More and more of our beloved cats and dogs are benefiting from procedures performed under general anesthesia, and veterinary dentistry is one of them. In addition to dental cleanings, treatment for periodontal disease and extraction of painful teeth are now common procedures in veterinary hospitals. These therapies require anesthesia — achieved through the use of inhaled anesthetic gas or injectable drugs — to immobilize the patient, manage pain and anxiety, and provide the safest, most humane therapies possible. If the thought of putting your precious pet under anesthesia makes you nervous, take a deep breath and learn a few of the basics about this necessary protocol.

Why Anesthesia?

The truth is, using anesthesia is the only way to effectively evaluate and treat your pet’s teeth and gums. Our pet patients simply can’t sit still and be positioned for X-rays or invasive, and sometimes painful, oral cleanings and treatments. Anesthesia makes it possible for your veterinarian to conduct a complete oral health assessment.

Proper dental cleaning and many dental procedures also require the use of advanced equipment. For example, veterinarians typically use a vibrating instrument called an ultrasonic scaler to remove tartar from teeth. When used correctly, scalers provide a gentle cleaning, but even slight head movement by the patient can result in injury to the oral tissue. An alert patient wouldn’t allow us to successfully use these instruments and could bite the operator if simply sedated.

Finally, if you’ve ever felt anxiety about going to the dentist, you can appreciate that anesthesia reduces or eliminates the pain and anxiety of these necessary procedures. It makes proper dental care possible, relatively painless, and virtually stress-free for your pet.

Is It Safe?

The more you know about anesthesia, the more comfortable you’ll become with this protocol. Before you drop off your pet for any procedure that requires anesthesia, ask your veterinarian to walk you through each phase of the process.

Before the procedure. Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical examination and also may review preanesthetic blood and urine test results to evaluate your pet’s overall health and major organ function. These important first steps help your vet choose the safest and most effective anesthetic drug protocol for your pet. Your veterinarian may also recommend additional diagnostics before any anesthetic procedure based on other factors, including your pet’s overall health status, age, or breed.

[object Object]During the procedure. Although general anesthesia will never be 100 percent risk-free, modern veterinary monitoring devices allow veterinarians and technicians to evaluate your pet before, during and after the anesthetic procedure quickly and effectively — alerting them to any problems or changes in vital signs and allowing for immediate adjustments or interventions.

During procedures that require general anesthesia, your veterinarian will insert an endotracheal (or breathing) tube once the patient is anesthetized. Using this tube provides some important advantages: It maintains an open airway, allows the veterinarian to administer both anesthetic gas and oxygen to your pet, and helps prevent your pet from inhaling dislodged tartar or other debris during a cleaning or treatment.

While your pet is anesthetized, the veterinary team will monitor many vital signs to help ensure a safe procedure. Heart rate and rhythm, respiratory rate, body temperature and blood pressure are just some of the things we monitor throughout the procedure. Many of these variables aren’t just monitored during the dental procedure. This monitoring protocol begins before the patient is administered any drugs and continues until the patient is fully awake.

After the procedure. Whenever your pet undergoes a dental or other surgical procedure, one of the most important concerns you may have is: “Will my pet be in pain?” Veterinarians today understand the importance of pain management before, during, and after procedures. They also have effective means of controlling pain in pets.

Learn More

Your veterinarian will always weigh the risk of anesthesia against the need to maintain your pet’s oral health. Given the advances in anesthetic protocols and monitoring capabilities, the risk associated with anesthesia is minimal in most cases, compared with the need for regular dental exams and cleanings to help keep your pet healthier and pain-free.

Using preanesthetic assessments, sophisticated monitoring, and the most current standards of practice, your veterinary team can provide a safe anesthetic experience for your pet.

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2015 issue of HealthyPet magazine.