Fear of anesthesia is the most common fear expressed by pet owners when discussing dental and oral care. Many people prefer to have anesthesia when they have dental or oral surgery for themselves, but those same people do not want it for their pets! What is the source of this fear?
Anesthesia fear may have originated with a previous bad experience of a pet having a bad reaction to anesthesia, or even death during anesthesia. It may have originated from stories of anesthesia complications gleaned from the internet, neighbor, or other source. Whatever the origin, the fear prevents the pet from receiving the treatment it may need to treat dental disease and oral pain. How then, can a pet owner overcome this fear and move forward with their pet’s care?
It is important to understand that there are many types of anesthesia and that one type of drug or gas does “not fit all.” Anesthesia protocols should be customized to the health needs and risks of the each patient and the surgery being performed. This means that the 18 year old pet with heart disease is going to have a different anesthesia protocol than the 7 year old diabetic patient.
Occasionally, conscientious pet owners provide a list of anesthetic drugs that have been given to their pet in the past. They want me to know that these drugs are “safe” for their pet. In reality, there are no safe drugs. The safety of the anesthesia relies on the person giving the drugs, the gas, and all the other aspects of safe anesthesia. Safety increases and risk decreases if all of the following are provided: constant vital signs monitoring (blood pressure, temperature, heart rate and rhythm, capnography, etc.), heat support, intravenous fluid support, and a person dedicated to providing all this. The person providing this care should be in addition to the person providing the dental care – a team of two people.
To summarize, anesthesia safety is less about drugs and machines, and more about the trained person administering the anesthesia. Statistically, less than 1 in 1000 pets have anesthesia complications. That number increases to 1 in 70 for those with pre-existing health risks.
Some questions to ask your doctor about anesthesia before proceeding:
- What anesthesia do you use? (Correct answer: The anesthesia is customized to the pet’s needs. Wrong answer: a list of drugs is provided)
- Who monitors my pet’s anesthesia during the dentistry? (Correct answer: A dedicated nurse or Anesthesiologist. Wrong answer: The person that is performing the dentistry. Another wrong answer: The monitoring equipment)
- Is heat support and blood pressure support provided? Is my pet intubated (breathing tube placed)? (Correct answer: yes and yes)
- Are local nerve blocks (pain medication to numb the area of the oral surgery) given? (Correct answer: yes, if extractions or oral surgery are needed.)
If any of the questions are answered incorrectly, anesthesia risk increases. Decreasing risk involves more time, people, and diligence toward detail. It also involves more expense. Cutting corners when providing anesthesia decreases cost but increases risk. For instance, if local blocks are not given to block pain in the area of an extraction, more gas will be needed and that increases risk. If you are dissatisfied with any answers you are given to the questions listed above, ask for a referral to a practice that can answer them appropriately or to one with a Board Certified Anesthesiologist, especially if your pet has special needs.
Overcoming anesthesia fear is the first step in providing your pet with care that will improve quality of life for both of you.