Preparing Your Pet for Anesthesia and Surgery

So your pet needs surgery? We know it can be very stressful to think of your dog or cat undergoing any anesthetic procedure, but know your veterinarian wouldn’t recommend it if they didn’t believe it was necessary.

You are probably familiar with routine/elective surgeries such as spaying/neutering and dental cleanings. There are also the unexpected or urgent surgeries related to fractures, lacerations, or obstructions in the body.  It should be noted that each patient and each surgical procedure is quite unique and that preparation for each patient will be designed specifically for your pet.

No matter the reason for the surgery, your veterinarian will thoroughly evaluate your pet and discuss any pre-operative instructions.  These may include screenings like ultrasounds, blood tests, and radiographs to test your pet’s vitals prior to going under anesthesia.

Photo of test tubes used for pre-surgical lab work

General Instructions

Once your pet’s health is assessed and the surgery date decided, you’ll be given instructions for the night before and morning of surgery. Following these protocols will help the surgery to go smoothly and your pet to recover faster.

Common Protocols for the Night Before and Morning Of Surgery

As each dog or cat is different, ask your veterinarian for any special considerations. Sometimes you will be instructed to suspend any regular medication, restrict your pet’s activity, and fast your pet. 

Fasting is Common

You may be instructed to remove your pet's access to food and water for 12 hours prior to surgery. This is important because for some pets, having food or water in the system can interfere with the intubation (breathing tube) used to deliver anesthesia, as well as the recovery period after sedation. Fasting can help avoid potentially life-threatening aspiration pneumonia, which can happen when gastrointestinal contents have been inhaled into your dog's or cat's lungs. This results in a secondary inflammation and infection of the lungs. Due to this inflammation, excessive fluid and mucus accumulate within the lower airway, causing difficulty breathing. At NEAH, we usually recommend no food after 9PM. A small amount of water may be left with your pet in most circumstances, but confirm this with your veterinarian. 

There are exceptions. If you have a puppy or kitten undergoing surgery, you might be instructed to stick to their feeding routine due to their age. The same may be true for diabetic pets. If you’re in any doubt, ask your veterinarian.

Be on Time

Drop off your pet at the scheduled time so the procedure can go as planned. Surgical procedures are generally planned in groups based on the allotted time in the day. The staff plans for pre-surgical and pre-anesthetic care, the surgeries themselves, and then individual patient recovery. Your veterinarian wants to take the time needed to provide high-quality care!

Photo of puppy sleeping next to a watch

Set up the Recovery Area

When you bring your pet home, it is normal for them to be groggy for a day or two. Make sure they have a quiet, comfortable place to recover. If you have other pets, be prepared to separate them while your pet heals. This is especially true if you have high energy pets. Rest is critical for recovery.

Your veterinarian will let you know what to look out for: what is "normal" or "abnormal" during recovery. They will help you manage any pain for your dog or cat, and they will give you notes when to contact the office for further guidance. Consider the signs of complications carefully before you get home with your pet.  You will feel better preparing for this ahead of time.

Ask Questions

While you will likely receive both written and spoken instructions for prepping your pet, don’t hesitate to ask questions. Request clarification or reinforcement, and be comfortable with the instructions. Your dog or cat is depending on you, so feel empowered to get the information you need!

Because you are the pet owner, veterinarians look to you as part of the pre and post-surgery care team. Whether it is elective or critical surgery, we want you to be informed every step of the way. Do you have questions about preparing your pets for anesthesia and surgery?


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