As common as anesthesia is in veterinary medicine, many misconceptions exist about its use, especially where older animals are concerned.
Yes, it is true that no anesthetic procedure is without risk. In the hands of a good veterinarian and his staff, however, anesthesia has become a routine and very safe procedure -- with risks so low that, with few exceptions, you should not be dissuaded from pursuing necessary preventive or other surgical procedures for your pet.
The risks can be greatly minimized by a history, physical examination and a few basic tests beforehand, including a laboratory evaluation of blood and urine, and possibly a chest X-ray. Although these tests admittedly add to the cost of a procedure, they enable your vet to fully understand the health status of your pet before anesthetizing him. During the procedure, placement of an IV catheter and administration of fluids can further add to the safety of the procedure.
The benefits of these tests and precautionary measures may be hard for many to recognize. But the tests provide a baseline against which to compare future results, and most important, in the rare situation where a problem develops, you'll be glad you had the forethought to insist upon having them performed.
No discussion of anesthetic danger can be complete without a few words on your responsibilities where anesthesia is concerned:
-- Follow your veterinarian's instructions on preparing your pet for surgery. If no food is specified, make sure that you deliver your pet with an empty stomach. Following this one piece of advice is one of the easiest and most basic ways to reduce risk. During anesthesia, the contents of a full stomach can be regurgitated with the unfortunate potential complication of being inhaled into the lungs. In general, you should completely withhold food the night before, but continue to allow free access to water until the morning of the procedure.
-- Be prepared to provide special home care for your pet after surgery. Releasing animals before sedation wears off fully may be common practice for some veterinarians. Such animals must be kept safe from hot or cold environments because their reflexes are reduced. If you do not feel comfortable caring for a sedated pet, arrange for your veterinarian to extend the care. If your veterinarian does not run a 24-hour hospital, be sure to have the number of your local emergency clinic handy in case there are any complications following your pet's anesthesia.
-- Don't hesitate to ask questions. Make sure that you understand what the procedures are and what to expect. Pets commonly have a cough after anesthesia, for example, because the tube used to deliver the gas may cause some irritation. If the cough does not clear in a couple days, call your veterinarian.
No matter what the age of the pet, the chances are very high that the anesthetic presents no problem if both you and your veterinarian work to minimize the risk. And the payoffs, especially those involving dental care, can be significant. Ask as many questions as you can and make sure you are comfortable with the answers. The final call on any procedures is yours, and you need to be fully informed to make it properly.
PETS ON THE WEB
You need only to visit the organizations that try to shelter them to realize that exotic pets are a bad choice for the overwhelming number of people who take them on. Adorable as babies, many exotic pets become too much to handle as adults. They are expensive to keep properly and require lots of time to care for.
For those reasons and more, I was impressed with "Heather's Wide World of Animals" (http://members.primary.net/(tilde)heather/contents.html), a Web site dedicated to pet primates. The site's owner keeps nonhuman primates and frankly adores them (along with a lot of other animals), but is careful to be honest about the difficulties in keeping monkeys and related pets happy. The problems with keeping them clean should give any prospective monkey-keeper pause, not to mention the challenges of sexual maturity. This is a good, honest site that should be required reading for anyone thinking of one of these exotics.
Just as we enjoy something cold on a hot day, so do our pets. You can give your pets ice cubes, which some animals find as much fun to play with as to eat. Another option is to make "petsicles" by pouring clear meat broth into ice-cube trays and freezing. (Don't give these to your pets on your white carpet, though.) What about ice cream or other people treats? Skip 'em. In pets as in people, they contribute to weight problems.
Healthy cool treats are wonderful, but don't forget basic hot weather precautions -- keep your pets cool. Exercise dogs in the early morning or after dark, when it's cooler, and be sure all pets have adequate protection from the heat and plenty of water. And speaking of water, even your fish can be put at risk if you don't deal with temperature fluctuations. Jonathan Lowrie, the America Online Pet Care Forum's fish expert, suggests one strategy is to direct a fan over the water surface.
Better for all pets is to keep them in air-conditioned surroundings, but if that's not possible, make sure they're kept protected from the deadly dangers of summer heat.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: How do you stop rabbits from chewing things? -- D.D., via the Internet.
A: You can't, nor should you try. Chewing is normal and necessary behavior for rabbits.
The best strategy is to offer your rabbits chew toys, while at the same time discouraging them from the items you don't want chewed. A proper diet with plenty of fresh hay will help keep your pets happily chewing what's good for them, and you can also offer chew toys available in most pet-supply stores. While you're there, get some Bitter Apple to discourage chewing of items you want left alone.
Incisors in rabbits grow throughout their lives and should be checked for problems regularly by your veterinarian. Some incisors get out of control and need to be trimmed every few weeks.
Q: I wonder if you could suggest a toy or object that my 1-year-old Labrador, Harry, could carry around with him. As you know, (Labs) are great retrievers, and he is a thief! I thought if I could find something safe for him to carry around, it would save my glasses, lighter, scarves and dishcloths from being stolen. Any help would be appreciated. -- B.L, via the Internet
A: Retrievers were bred to carry, and some of them take their jobs quite seriously. One of my retrievers, Benjamin, always greets me with a toy in his mouth. A love offering, I call it.
When you're dealing with behavior as natural as this, the best thing to do is go with the flow. First, the fun part: Shop therapy. Get a couple of plush toys to start with -- some stores will even welcome your dog so he can choose his own. A popular toy with good "mouth feel" is the Vermont Chew Man or its clones, a toy in the shape of a gingerbread man and covered with washable polyester "sheepskin," but there are plenty of others in all shapes and sizes, with or without squeakers or other noisemakers.
Get a toy box for your growing collection -- I use a milk crate -- so the toys are always in reach, and let Harry know it's OK to take them out of there.
Practice retrieving games with Harry to interest him in his new toys, and encourage him to bring them to you by asking him to "go find" and then leading him to the toy box. You can make this even more complicated by hiding the toys, or be asking for them by name, such as "football" or "baby." (My friends have a golden retriever who dotes on a Chew Man-type toy they call "Bob Dole," because it's missing part of an arm.)
Teach him "leave it" to protect your things. With him sitting in front of you, offer him a cookie and when he reaches for it, say "leave it" and bop him firmly under his chin. Then offer the cookie again and repeat the "leave it" command. If he turns his head away, praise. If not, another bop. Few dogs need this repeated more than twice.
If you see him eyeing something, tell him to "leave it" and then ask him to get one of his toys instead. If you find him with something he shouldn't have, take it without comment and send him for his toy. If you're consistent, he'll make the connection soon enough, and will start carrying his toys around instead of yours.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies" and "Cats for Dummies," and is the editorial director of the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or e-mail to Write2Gina(at)aol.com.
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