Anaesthetic Care

What to expect when your pet is having an anaesthetic?

There are many different scenarios that see our pets
being put under general anaesthetic, whether for x-rays,
a routine neutering operation or to have something more
major done. Whatever the case, it is always daunting.
So here are a few pointers as to what to expect before
and after their procedure and how you can best help them recover.

Before the anaesthetic


Before your pet gets booked in for their procedure, your vet will give them a thorough health check and ask a lot of questions about their current health and any past health issues. They will also let you know any risks that the anaesthetic and operation (if they are having one) entails. Your vet may also suggest routine blood screening tests, to check on the animal’s liver, kidneys and other internal organs, this is particularly important if your pet is older or overweight.

Your cat or dog should not be fed after midnight the night before their anaesthetic. Water is fine, however this should be withdrawn first thing in the morning. This helps to reduce risks during anaesthesia.

After you drop your pet off on the day, they will be given some medication to reduce their anxiety or pain. They will probably have a catheter placed in their forelimb (an indwelling needle) to allow medication and fluids to be given easily and painlessly. There are several different ways of anaesthetizing pets, these can involve injectable medications or ones that they breathe in (inhalation anaesthetics). Cats and dogs will usually have what is known as an endotracheal tube put in their airway to help them breath and to deliver the anaesthetic gases through.

Remember if your pet is having surgery they will likely have some fur shaved off, this helps to keep the operation site super clean. Don’t worry, it will grow back in a month or so.

After they come out of surgery they will go into a recovery ward and given additional pain relief if necessary as they come around from their anaesthetic. You will get a call from the clinic at this point to let you know they have woken up okay. Usually, pets go home that evening but for more serious procedures they may stay in the clinic overnight or longer.

Post operative care

The most important thing you can do is follow your vet’s specific advice for your pet, so listen, note and follow closely. When you collect them, do not let dogs jump into the car- instead lift them and secure them safely.

When you get home you might notice your pet is quiet, sleepy or maybe a little wobbly on their legs. This is totally normal after anaesthetic and will be completely worn off within 48 hours. It is best to keep cats indoors and their litter tray nearby and just take dogs outside on a lead to answer nature’s call. Try and provide a calm quiet environment in your home while your pet recovers, consider keeping other pets away and children also.

Do not be alarmed if your cat or dog does not poop for the first day or 2 after anaesthesia, they would have had a period of starvation before the anaesthetic and the drugs themselves can cause their system to slow down a little.

Feed your pet small amounts frequently for the first 2 days home; your vet will usually recommend a highly digestible diet such as Royal Canin Recovery or Gastrointestinal. These provide all the nutrients needed for recovery, whilst minimizing the stress on the gastrointestinal tract.

Dogs and cats can often have a bit of a cough for a few days post-surgery; this is owing to the windpipe being irritated by the breathing tube inserted during the anaesthetic. This should be completely gone within 5 days.

Be sure to follow the clinic’s instructions regarding any medication that needs giving. Always complete the course prescribed, especially with antibiotics- not completing the course is a major factor in selecting for resistant strains of bacteria. If you are struggling to give your pet tablets, please speak to your clinic and they will be able to help- do not just give up!

After many operations your pet may come home with stitches. These can either be dissolvable ones which will disappear on their own, or they may need removing after 10-14 days. Whichever, it is important that you do not allow your pet to lick or chew at them. This can cause the wound to break open and possibly get infected. There are several different devices your pet may be sent home with to stop them worrying at their stitches, possibly a buster collar (the traditional lampshade, although inflatable and soft versions are also available) or maybe a Medical Pet Shirt. These are specially designed shirts for dogs and cats that protect the surgical site and are much better tolerated by pets than collars.

Your pet will definitely need to rest after their anaesthetic. The degree of rest will obviously depend on what they had done but be sure to closely follow your vet’s advice in this matter.

When to call the vet?

  • Sleepiness or lethargy worsening or extending beyond 48 hours after their anaesthetic
  • Wound licking, missing stitches or an opening in the wound
  • A persistent cough beyond 5 days
  • Wet bandaging, bad smells emanating from the bandage or wound
  • The wound looks red or is producing an unexpected discharge or bleeding
  • With a leg dressing- a swollen foot below the bandaging
  • Any vomiting, diarrhoea, being generally unwell or having no appetite

Whilst your pet having an anaesthetic for any reason can be daunting, advances in veterinary medicine and surgery mean the risks are very reduced and the procedure is usually completely uneventful.

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Written on February 15, 2022

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