Small or old dogs can be anesthetized safely if precautions are taken
By Kim Campbell Thornton
My dog Gemma recently underwent surgery to have a lump removed. Gemma is approximately 15 years old and weighs only six pounds, so even though we know that anesthesia for pets is very safe these days, my husband and I were a little anxious about having her go under. To minimize the risks, we had Gemma's cardiologist check her out beforehand, and I also asked pain management expert Robin Downing, DVM, for her advice on the special anesthesia needs of older animals.
Dr. Downing notes that while old age isn't a disease, it's a fact of life that organs suffer wear and tear as the body ages, and they metabolize medications differently. Aging pets may have chronic health problems, such as kidney disease, osteoarthritis or congestive heart failure. Their bodies take longer to heal, and it's essential to prevent and control pain before, during and after surgery to ensure a good recovery. For all of these reasons, veterinarians may need to modify the anesthesia protocol for senior animals.
Before your senior pet -- or any pet -- undergoes anesthesia, whether it's for teeth cleaning or a more complex procedure, ask your veterinarian about safety and comfort precautions before, during and after surgery. That includes a pre-anesthesia physical exam and lab work -- complete blood count, chemistry panel, electrolytes, and in some cases a urinalysis or electrocardiogram -- to make sure there are no underlying health problems that could be worsened by anesthesia.
Once your pet is green-lighted for surgery, a balanced anesthesia protocol includes a pre-anesthesia narcotic; induction with a blend of medications that does not include dissociative drugs such as ketamine; and maintenance with gas anesthesia. Other must-haves are intravenous fluids and careful monitoring by a veterinary nurse who checks blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate and oxygen saturation.
Keeping the patient warm from start to finish is also important. Pets lose a large amount of body heat during anesthesia. From the time they receive their pre-anesthesia medications and anesthesia induction, they should be wrapped or draped in a warm towel or fleece and have a warm towel or fleece draped over the front of their cage. They need a circulating hot water or hot-air blanket to keep them warm during the procedure, and they should be wrapped in a warm towel or fleece after the procedure.
"Keeping them warm allows them to wake up more smoothly, more quickly and more comfortably," Dr. Downing says. "It also allows them to metabolize their medications more effectively."
The staff should continue to observe the pet after the procedure. That means keeping him where there's plenty of activity, not putting him in a cage in a patient ward where he might not get as much attention.
If your veterinarian can't or doesn't follow the above procedures, consider having the procedure performed elsewhere. Not every veterinarian or veterinary practice is equipped to anesthetize pets safely. That doesn't make them bad, but it does mean they have an ethical obligation to refer clients to a facility that can better meet a senior pet's needs.
Many times, a procedure recommended for an older pet is important but not necessarily urgent. That's important to remember.
"It may be that something is uncovered during a pre-anesthesia workup that warrants electing not to do the procedure at that time," Dr. Downing says. "It may better suit the pet to initiate whatever management or supportive care is indicated, reevaluate within a reasonable amount of time, and then proceed with general anesthesia once the pet's condition is as stable and strong as possible."
Ditch the itch with
Q: My dog has itchy skin from allergies, and our veterinarian has recommended a medicated shampoo. Can you tell me the best way to apply it so it will be most effective? -- via Facebook
A: That's a great question. Applying medicated shampoo calls for some special techniques. Here are some things to know.
Depending on the pet's condition, the active ingredients in medicated shampoos can have antibacterial, antifungal, antiparasitic, anti-itch or anti-inflammatory properties. Shampoos with antiseborrheic agents are used for conditions that cause skin to be scaly, crusty, oily or greasy.
Medicated shampoos may have moisturizing effects as well. Some new products use sustained-release technology that provides a long-term moisturizing effect so they are less likely to dry out the skin.
The shampoo's job is to deliver those active ingredients to the skin. It may also serve to remove scales, crustiness or debris from the skin. You will most likely see directions to apply the shampoo and leave it on for at least 10 minutes from the time the shampoo is applied before rinsing. Use a timer to make sure the application time is accurate.
As you shampoo your pet, apply the shampoo in the direction the fur or hair lies. Working it in the opposite direction, especially if you do so vigorously, can cause folliculitis. That's an inflammation of the hair follicles that can cause itchy or painful bumps, sores or scabs.
Be sure to rinse the shampoo thoroughly so that none remains on the skin and causes irritation.
Don't share medicated shampoos between pets unless you have your veterinarian's OK. Some products can be toxic to young animals or to cats.
If your pet must use the product on a long-term basis, pay attention to the expiration date and replace it as needed. Bacteria can grow in containers that have been open for some time. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
Dog flu spreads in
-- The canine influenza virus currently plaguing dogs in Chicago and other parts of the Midwest is a new strain from Asia called H3N2, according to researchers at Cornell University and the University of Wisconsin. The current canine flu vaccine may not protect pets against this strain, but it is effective against H3N8, which has also been seen. If you live in or will be traveling to those areas with your dog, protect him by avoiding dog parks or other areas with many dogs, and always wash your hands after handling a strange dog before touching your own pet. Signs of the respiratory disease are coughing, nasal discharge and fever. The virus is not known to affect humans, but it can infect cats, so keep an eye out for symptoms in felines.
-- Did the Easter bunny come to live with you after the recent holiday? Rabbits can make great pets, but they have some special care needs. Handle them consistently and lovingly so they will become good companions. Teach them to come when you call, stand up for a treat, and use a litter box. Female rabbits have a high incidence of reproductive tumors, so be sure to have them spayed. Finally, don't overfeed your bunny. Obesity, hairballs and intestinal problems caused by a poor diet are common, so avoid giving sugary foods such as papaya, pineapple and, yes, carrots. Timothy hay is the best diet for them.
-- Pets are often poisoned by common household substances -- human medications. The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center reports that approximately 25 percent of the calls it receives involve dogs or cats who have swallowed dropped pills or been given the medications inappropriately by owners. The 10 most common medications that can cause illness or death in pets are ibuprofen, tramadol, alprazolam (Xanax), Adderall, zolpidem (Ambien), clonazepam (Klonopin), acetaminophen, naproxen, duloxetine (Cymbalta), venlafaxine (Effexor). Never give your pet any human medication without first checking with your veterinarian. -- Kim Campbell Thornton
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and are the authors of many best-selling pet care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.
CAPTIONS AND CREDITS
Caption 01: Safe anesthesia techniques ensured that Gemma, a 15-year-old longhaired Chihuahua mix, came through surgery successfully. Position: Main Story
Caption 02: Brush longhaired rabbits daily to prevent mats and tangles. Position: Pet Buzz/Item 2