Articles Index/Anesthetics
Posted 10/23/00

Anesthesia Largely Safe For Norfolks But Safety Precautions Are Always Warranted

I am a member of several dog-related internet discussion groups. Recently, on a non-Norfolk site, one of the members wrote to say how glad she was that her veterinarian had instituted a policy of requiring blood work on any dog over five years of age slated to undergo anesthesia. This person's small dog was set for routine teeth cleaning. She thought pre-anesthetic blood work was a waste of time for her healthy six-year-old, but complied with the rules of the practice. In her words, "Boy, am I glad I did!" It turns out that her dog had a SGPT (liver enzymes) level four times higher than normal. Putting him under anesthesia with impaired liver function could have been serious, if not fatal. The dog was subsequently successfully treated for the problem and is now fully recovered.

This brings to mind the common warning that Norfolks are particularly sensitive to anesthesia. I don't personally have any evidence of this, and it is interesting to note that owners of most any breed are apt to make this same claim. Perhaps this springs from the days when anesthesia was considerably more risky than it is nowadays. The fact is, with routine blood screenings and safer anesthesia, it is often far more risky to avoid procedures such as spaying, neutering, teeth cleaning and radiographs than it is to go ahead and have the work done.

Careful Planning

When dogs are scheduled to undergo anesthesia, as opposed to emergency situations, fasting for 12 hours before the procedure is generally required. This reduces the chances that the dog will vomit while unconscious and inhale stomach contents, thus producing a case of aspiration pneumonia. Endotrachael breathing tubes used during inhalation anesthesia also help prevent aspiration from occurring.

Because of the safety of modern anesthesia, normal water intake is not usually restricted, particularly in older animals.

For surgical cases, a pre-anesthetic tranquilizer is often administered. This calms the dog and reduces the amount of general anesthesia required. Most practices use an inhalant anesthesia such as isoflurane. The advantage of this type of anesthesia is that the amount delivered can be easily adjusted and recovery time is rapid.

Whenever dogs (or humans, for that matter) undergo anesthesia, there is always some degree of risk. However, with modern anesthetics and techniques, the risk is very low in all but the most debilitated patients. During anesthesia, the patient's heart and respiration rates, body temperature, blood oxygen level and blood pressure can be monitored closely. An intravenous catheter is often used to allow for the administration of fluids and any drugs necessary if problems develop. This, coupled with pre-anesthetic blood work, makes the use of anesthesia safer than ever.

Ask Questions in Advance

The next time one of your dogs is scheduled for a routine visit for vaccinations or a nail trim, take the time to ask your veterinarian what type of anesthesia he or she most commonly uses. Also, ask about the protocol for pre-anesthetic blood testing and make sure this step is a part of the normal protocol in your veterinarian's practice.

Note: Portions of this column adapted from a column by Jeff Wayman, DVM, at

Sheila Foran
ANTIC, June, 2000


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