General anesthesia is a procedure in which your cat is placed, via drugs, into a state of unconsciousness. Anesthesia has allowed a lot of procedures to be done pain free and has greatly improved the quality of patient care in veterinary (and human!) medicine. That said, anesthesia is a procedure not without risk. We strive to minimize this risk by focusing on keeping our anesthetic protocols current, using more modern anesthetic medicines, and having staff trained to administer these agents. The risks of anesthesia are present regardless of the age of the patient however, with age comes diseases that may have an impact on if anesthesia can be done and which drugs can be used.
What are the risks of anesthesia?
Although very rare (1 in 10 000 patients in human medicine) the biggest, and most scary, risk of anesthesia is that your cat will not wake up. In veterinary medicine we may not know why a patient does not survive anesthesia and factors such as pre-existing disease or complications surrounding why the anesthesia is needed (e.g. trauma or emergency surgery) can impact this risk. If we are recommending an anesthetic procedure, this recommendation has come from a balanced assessment of your cat’s health, anesthetic risk, and comfort/health risk if we do not proceed.
What can be done to minimize the risk?
The risks of anesthesia can be minimized by using protocols and medications that have proven safety records. As anesthesia is an ever-evolving field, what held true a few years ago may be different today and cats we once thought were too old or unable to have anesthesia can be safely anesthetized today.
While under anesthesia all patients are monitored by both man and machine. We monitor functions such as heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen intake, and breathing. As our patients are maintained on inhaled gas anesthetic, we can adjust how much gas they receive (so in less painful procedures such as dental cleanings we can keep a patient on a very light level of anesthesia) and at the earliest signs of issues we can turn off the flow of gas and start waking them up.
To help maintain blood pressure and cardiovascular support, anesthesia and surgery patients are generally placed on IV fluids for the length of their procedure.
In addition, pre-anesthetic blood work may also be discussed with you by one of our doctors.
What is pre-anesthetic bloodwork?
Pre-anesthetic blood work is blood tests run prior to an anesthetic. They can be done as part of wellness testing or to better determine anesthetic risk. There are two types of blood work that may be recommended:
Wellness panels: These panels are similar to the blood tests our human doctors make us take and are used, in general terms, to get a snapshot of how our organs are functioning. A CBC is a complete cell count and checks red and white cell count levels. Chemistry panels check a variety of organ function parameters and can include heart-specific tests (cardiac pro-BNP = a marker for stretch damage in the heart), liver enzymes, and kidney waste products. Urine analysis confirms the findings on the chemistry panel and generally focuses on kidney function and ruling out diabetes.
FIV/FeLV wellness testing: Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) and Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) are two retroviral infectious diseases spread by direct transmission (cat bite wounds is the most common method of transmission). Related to HIV, these viruses can lay dormant in a cat for years before they become symptomatic. Although the incidence of these diseases is relatively low in Alberta, every cat should be tested.
Which cats need pre-anesthetic bloodwork?
Because we value the importance of knowing your cat’s FIV/FeLV retrovirus status, we offer screening at the time of anesthesia as part of our wellness testing. All cats over the age of 5 should have some form of pre-anesthetic blood work and we are happy to discuss this in more detail with you. As cats younger than 5, and who are healthy on exams (i.e. most often kittens needing to be spayed and neutered), pre-anesthetic blood work can be waived.
When is pre-anesthetic blood work done?
FIV/FeLV testing is done in-clinic and can be performed at the time of anesthesia. We can run our wellness panels either in-clinic or send them out to a reference lab, depending on the case. In-clinic panels are great for knowing our results within a few minutes, but we can also send samples out for more specialized tests. When we send blood out, veterinary pathologists are also available to consult with if the results are unexpected. Most test results sent to the lab are available within 12 hours.
As doctors, we do not take lightly the risks of anesthesia. If we are recommending an anesthetic procedure for your cat, please do not hesitate to talk to us about your concerns as we are here to do the best for you and your cat.