Anesthesia & Pain Management


veterinary anesthesia

What is anesthesia?
Anesthesia is the combination of unconsciousness, muscle relaxation, and absence of pain (analgesia) that allows your pet to undergo surgical or diagnostic procedures that would otherwise cause undo stress or discomfort.

What happens if my pet requires anesthesia?
When your pet requires anesthesia, your veterinarian will take time to collect your pet’s medical history and perform a comprehensive physical exam. It is important for you to inform the veterinarian about any medications and supplements (vitamins, heartworm preventative, etc.) your pet has been taking as well as any noted changes in behavior, eating, drinking, and bathroom habits.

Prior to anesthesia, it is important for your pet to be fasted, meaning they have not received any food for the past 12 hours. Often, water can be available up until the time of anesthesia.

Blood and urine may be collected to examine your pet’s organ function and radiographs or other diagnostic imaging may be recommended based on your pet’s history and physical exam findings.  These tests help the anesthesiologist develop the best individualized anesthetic plan for your pet.

Is anesthesia safe for my pet?
Anesthesia, when performed correctly with appropriate monitoring in healthy patients carries minimal risk. Patients that have co-existing diseases, such as heart or lung disease, may have an increased risk of complications under anesthesia.

Can my pet have anesthesia if they have increased risk?
Most often, pets with increased risk are still able to undergo anesthesia safely. The anesthesiologist may order additional tests and monitoring to ensure the highest level of anesthetic care is delivered. Depending on your pet’s disease, anesthesia may be postponed to deliver fluids or medications that will allow anesthesia to be performed safely at a later date.

Is the anesthesiologist with my pet the entire time (s)he is under anesthesia?
The anesthesiologist works with and supervises a team of highly trained licensed veterinary technicians who are constantly monitoring your pet under anesthesia. High risk patients are often directly supervised by the anesthesiologist.

What will happen when my pet is placed under anesthesia?
Prior to anesthesia, your pet will be delivered a sedative and pain reliever to decrease stress and improve comfort. An intravenous catheter is placed in either a forelimb or hindlimb to allow intravenous delivery of fluids and medications during the anesthetic period. Prior to the induction of anesthesia, they are covered with a heating blanket and delivered oxygen.

After administering medications to induce anesthesia, a tube is inserted in the trachea (breathing tube), to protect the lungs and deliver oxygen and inhaled anesthetics. This also allows the anesthetist to help breathe for your pet if necessary.

Your pet is then attached to monitoring equipment that allows the anesthetist to continuously assess heart rate and rhythm, blood pressure, temperature, oxygenation, and ventilation. Continuous monitoring ensures timely identification of complications in the event they arise.

What happens after anesthesia?
When the procedure has finished, the anesthetic medications are discontinued. Your pet is moved to a dedicated recovery room where they are monitored as they wake up from anesthesia. Pain is assessed at regular intervals and medications are administered to relieve discomfort.

What should I expect at home following anesthesia?
Anesthesia is stressful for the body and it is not unusual for your pet to be tired for a couple of days following. If your pet is so tired, they are unable to eat, drink, or go to the bathroom, you should call your veterinarian.

What is a Board Certified Veterinary Anesthesiologist?
A board certified veterinary anesthesiologist is an individual who has completed additional training following their veterinary degree in the field of anesthesia and pain management. This is comprised of an internship and a rigorous 3 year anesthesia and pain management residency that is similar to that of human anesthesiologists. The American College of Veterinary Anesthesia and Analgesia (ACVAA) is the only recognized college by the AVMA in North America that credentials and certifies veterinary anesthesiologists and recognizes them as experts in the field of anesthesia and analgesia. Less than 300 specialists have received this credential.

Pain Management

What is pain?
Pain is an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience that helps the body recognize and respond to threats that could inflict bodily harm and protect damaged areas while they heal.

Can the presence of pain help with diagnosis or treatment?
While pain is important in protecting the body, it induces stress and discomfort, can alter blood flow and healing, and if left untreated, can result in chronic discomfort. In modern times, the necessity for pain is no longer relevant, meaning pain should always be treated aggressively.

What is chronic pain?
Chronic pain is pain that is no longer associated with tissue damage and continues on after healing has occurred. It develops as a result of untreated initial pain or in the course of various diseases, such as diabetes, that damage nerves and other tissues. Osteoarthritis and cancer pain are both forms of chronic pain.

How do I know if my pet is experiencing pain?
Owners are best at identifying pain in their pets because of their daily interaction. Overt signs of pain, such as limping, or crying are not always present since veterinary patients can express pain differently from humans. Facial expression, abnormal postures, hiding, changes in eating, drinking, bathroom habits, sleeping, and activity can all alert you to pain in your pet.

What are ways the AMC treats pain in veterinary patients?
Treating pain aggressively before it occurs can help minimizediscomfort following a surgical procedure. Pain medications can be delivered numerous ways depending on your pet’s needs, but are most commonly administered via injection into the muscle or an intravenous catheter directly into the bloodstream.

What are other methods of providing pain relief for my pet?
Locoregional anesthesia (administration of medication to prevent or reduce the sensation of pain) and analgesia (pain relief) can be used in combination with injectable or oral medications to better treat your pet. Similar to how a dentist numbs teeth, local anesthetics can be used around nerves to block pain. The board certified anesthesiologist is able to use a special nerve locater or ultrasound to identify specific nerves to be “blocked” and safely administer the medication.

Epidurals are a form of locoregional anesthesia and analgesia that places pain medication over the spinal cord. This is a procedure with minimal risk that provides excellent pain relief while decreasing doses of other pain medications.

Methods of treating chronic pain may include one or more of the methods above, but can also be combined with physiotherapy, acupuncture, and numerous other techniques. The anesthesia and integrative medicine departments collaborate to ensure your pet receives the best, most up-to-date pain management available.

Some pets may not tolerate certain pain medications and it important for patients to be screened on a regular basis when taking certain medications, such as NSAIDS chronically.

If you have questions regarding your pet’s pain relief at any point during your pet’s care, ask to speak with our board certified veterinary anesthesiologist.