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Feature September 2015 Issue

How Feline General Anesthesia Works

General anesthesia that employs intubation is typically used for more prolonged surgical procedures. The following steps are involved:

- On the day prior to surgery, the patient is given a thorough physical exam and undergoes a blood test to determine, above all, that she is not anemic and that her organs will function properly once her brain has been anesthetized. (“If you have a young cat,” says Dr. Blaze, “there’s not a lot you have to be concerned with. But if you have an older cat — especially if she has a heart murmur or some other medical condition — various tests will be done to make sure that a specific anesthetic drug will be safe for her.”)

- The cat is then given an injection that will sedate her, making her calm and drowsy but not asleep. This is done to prevent unnecessary stress as well as to relieve pain.

- A short time later, the cat is given another injection intravenously via a catheter that makes her fall into a deep sleep.

- When the cat is unconscious, a tube is inserted into her trachea — the respiratory channel leading to the lungs. The tube is needed to ensure that the passage to the lungs remains open and allows the cat to receive a steady supply of oxygen while anesthetized.

- The cat is then connected to a device enabling the inhalation of a mix of oxygen and anesthetic gas during the course of the procedure as the initial, injected anesthesia wears off.

- Next, equipment is attached to the cat that will allow constant monitoring of her heartbeat, blood pressure, cardiac rhythm, oxygen saturation and body temperature throughout the procedure.

- Finally, after the area of the cat’s body that is to undergo surgery is clipped and scrubbed, the cat is wheeled or carried into the operating room. The typical preoperative routine will take 45 minutes to an hour to complete.

Following surgery, the patient will gradually emerge from her slumber and be fully awake within a half-hour to an hour. “There shouldn’t be any anesthesia after-effects 24 hours following the procedure,” says Dr. Blaze. “All of the drugs we use should have worn off within that time. Usually, however, we’ll keep the cat under some sort of pain medication following surgery.” In a large hospital, , operating room personnel may include a veterinary anesthetist, whose sole job is to monitor the unconscious patient’s stability. Very close attention is paid to every aspect of the cat’s body systems so that any changes are noted and any necessary adjustments are made to the delivery of an anesthetic. In smaller clinics, this will usually be the responsibility of an assistant who will be handling other operating room tasks as well. Cat owners should take comfort in knowing that all licensed veterinarians are qualified to administer or oversee the administration of anesthesia.

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