What are the Risks for Cats Taking Anesthesia?

There are times when a pet needs to be put under general anesthesia. It can be for a medical procedure, like spay or neutering, a dental cleaning, or for other reasons when the cat is being uncooperative for treatments. Like humans, cats can act differently towards having anesthesia, even differently when it begins to wear off. One cat may be an ol’ grouch and seem very irritated, while another may be happy-go-lucky and seem to enjoy the little buzz feeling. When it comes to taking care of your cat when you get your cat home after anesthesia, there apparently isn’t a whole lot of information available online for how to do this, so Dr. Sasha Gibbons of Just Cats Veterinary Hospital in Stamford, Connecticut was summonsed to help us with our questions. One thing we wanted to know was, what are the risks for cats taking anesthesia? Keep reading to learn more.

Anesthesia is what is referred to as a deep plane of sedation that causes you to lose sensation. It keeps you insensitive to pain when artificially administered, which is often in gases, and injections of drugs that are used prior to surgery so that you are in a deep sleep and feel nothing.

When are cats typically given anesthesia?

Cats can receive anesthesia for the same reasons humans are; for surgeries and certain procedures that might be too painful for the cat, such as a blood draw, the placement of an intravenous catheter, certain X-rays or even grooming. Teeth cleaning procedures usually are done under general anesthesia, and spay and neuter surgeries.

What are some of the benefits of anesthesia versus the risks?

Well, the benefits really speak for themselves – the cat is comfortable during the procedure and feels no pain. He will just sleep through the procedure without hurting or being aware anything is even going on, so he is not nervous or struggling to get away. The risks are, that anesthesia does lower the heart and respiratory rate, and it has to be monitored throughout the procedure. This is a bit riskier than if the cat just some sedation.

Hot can the risks be minimized for cats?

Lots of studies have shown that complications related to anesthesia are really quite rare. In an article from VCA Hospitals by Dr. Ernest Ward, says that it is estimated that only 1 in 100,000 animals will have some type of reaction to anesthesia, and not all reactions are severe. Many are actually mild reactions, such as minimal swelling at the site of the injection or upset stomach after the sedation. If the reaction is severe, it is typically related to anaphylactic shock, and rarely, death.

The causes of reactions and complications are most often related to the cat having an underlying medical condition, like a heart condition, kidney or  liver disease or something to that effect. It’s always best to do a full exam of the cat prior to surgery and have blood work drawn, even imaging of the lungs and other areas of the body if in question, to make sure the cat is in good health and able to handle anesthesia. During the procedure and under anesthesia, the cat’s heart rate and rhythm are monitored, as well as his respiratory rate and oxygen level, and blood pressure. All of his vitals are monitored to make sure they remain stable during the time he is under. If anything changes suddenly, the doctors are able to react quickly to perform the right treatment to bring him back to a stable state.

Other ways to help prevent risks is to follow all of the doctor’s orders for how to prepare for the surgery and being under general anesthesia, like fasting for a specified number of hours prior to surgery. Make sure all the pre-op tests are done and everything was in good standing for having anesthesia. If your cat is set to have anesthesia, feel free to ask questions and know all about your cat’s health and test results. Tell your vet your cat’s full medical history, including all the tests and procedures he’s ever had, medical conditions you are aware of, and any supplements or medicines he’s on. Also give him a history of his vaccinations, and whether or not he’s been spayed or neutered. If your female cat is not spayed, your vet will want to know when her last heat cycle was.

What to expect when your cat’s anesthesia wears off

Cats will react differently to the anesthesia after-effects. Each of their body’s are different in how they metabolize things like anesthesia and it can effect their little personalities differently, too. Almost like how one man may be happy-go-lucky after a few alcoholic drinks, another may become a bit of a pill and act grouchy and testy. Cats can be the same – vary. You can generally expect your cat will be a little unsteady on his feet for a while, groggy, maybe stumble and fall, and may be grouchy and do some growling or hissing to tell you he wants to be left alone. Another cat might seem a bit more happy and cheerful and want to be loved-on. No matter what, you will still want to monitor your cat for hours after, and he may need a bit of help climbing in and out of his litterbox, as coordination will be a bit off for a while.

Sleeping it off is one of the best ways to help your cat get over the anesthesia. Even well into the next day, he may not have his full energy back and seem a bit spacey. He may not want to eat much, but be sure to keep his food out and always have plenty of fresh water for him to drink, as water can help flush it out of his system. Every now and then, a cat will have what is known as a paradoxical reaction, which is where they become more hyperactive when recovering from general anesthesia.

What should a cat-parent know about their feline after anesthesia?

Typically, the protocol after general anesthesia is that the veterinarian will want your cat to stay a night at the clinic in order to monitor your cat for a while to make sure it is recovering fine and returning to its normal activities. He’ll tell you about the guidelines and restrictions your cat will need to follow while recovering, although there really aren’t many. Things like, monitor your cat around stairs, jumping on furniture, and food and water intake, are a few. Your vet may recommend you keep your cat confined to a cage for a few hours or through the night, letting him out to use the litterbox, until the anesthesia wears off, or if he had a surgical procedure, it keeps him calm for healing purposes. The recovery process of general anesthesia will greatly depend on the procedure he had, and how long he was under general anesthesia. If you have any concerns or something doesn’t seem right, you should contact your vet right away and get advice.

Is there ever a time when a cat will be put under anesthesia for a routine vet check?

Some cats are known to just be highly anxious and nightmarish during exams. Routine checks can be very difficult for vets to perform on cats that refuse to cooperate and can actually cause harm to the vet and his assistants. These behaviors may render that  your vet gives your cat a little sedative to help calm him down so he can examine your cat. These are shorter acting effects and will not put your cat under a complete sedation. Although they are shorter acting, however, some of the same recuperating practices and guidelines may apply after, like monitoring your cat for some time afterwards, until it completely wears off.

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