November 2009 Issue

Anesthesia: What’s Involved?

Most cats can safely handle being temporarily put to sleep during surgery. Here’s what the cat owner should expect.

Any surgical procedure that will be painful to your cat — whether it’s a matter of stitching up a wound, pulling a tooth, repairing a fractured limb or removing a diseased organ — will require that the animal’s pain perception be dulled, if not totally blocked, by an anesthetic of some sort. What are the chances, an owner might wonder, that the animal, while surviving the operation itself, will fail to fully regain its senses? Or worse: What if it fails to awaken from its drug-induced sleep? "There’s always a risk," acknowledges James Flanders, DVM, an associate professor of surgery at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. "But if the cat is known to be in generally good health and if the anesthetic drugs are used properly, the chance that something will go wrong is very slim." Dr. Flanders’ assessment is supported by a study published in the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association that involved tens of thousands of cats. Results showed that for every 1,000 deaths occurring during or subsequent to feline surgery, only one could be directly attributed to anesthesia. This impressive safety record is largely attributable to gains during the past half-century in understanding the medications that are used, and the techniques for monitoring the condition of the animal.

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