Senior Dog Anesthesia Recovery

Senior Dog Anesthesia Recovery

If your senior dog is scheduled to have surgery under anesthesia in the coming days, it is critical that you learn some useful information about senior dog anesthesia recovery ahead of time. If you agree, your old dog is extremely fortunate, because your preparation will greatly reduce the chances of various risks for the dog after anesthesia.

How long for a dog to recover from anaesthetic?

This is a concern of many dog owners, in fact, most dogs wake up within 10-30 minutes after surgery, and can even walk down the ground immediately.

My golden retriever had a subcutaneous cyst surgery under anesthesia when she was 8 years old and was leashed to the postoperative observation room immediately after the surgery. She seemed to be in a normal state as usual, but when she lay on the cot for rest, she immediately fell into a state of deep sleep. The lethargy is not instantly relieved, and there is no agent capable of instantly reversing the effects of inhaled anesthetics. The lethargy will be greatly relieved after 2-3 hours if you wake your dog frequently during this time.

The first urination after surgery may occur 4 hours after the procedure. Based on my observations, I believe this has a lot to do with the prohibition on drinking water prior to surgery and the level of recovery of urination-related nerve reflexes.

It is worth noting that nearly half of all postoperative deaths in dogs occur within 3 hours of the end of anesthesia. As a result, the recovery process after anesthesia is like treading on eggs, and the veterinarian usually requires the dog to stay in the hospital for at least 2-3 hours, or 12-24 hours, so that the veterinarian can immediately provide emergency treatment if complications or other emergencies arise.

Is anesthesia safe for old dogs?

It is undeniable that an older dog has a much higher risk of dying from anesthesia than a younger dog, and this appears to fit our perceptions. However, the direct factor that increases the risk of death from anesthesia is not age, but some diseases inherent in older animals (younger dogs rarely develop these diseases) and a higher risk of complications during anesthesia, including but not limited to age-related degenerative diseases.

Generally, there is an overall 0.17% anesthetic-related risk of death in dogs according to a study. Also, it is estimated that approximately 0.001% of dogs will have an allergic or other adverse reaction to anesthetics.

Specifically, anesthesia poses two major lethal risks to dogs:

Risk 1: Aspiration pneumonia

Owners of their own dogs who have had anesthesia must have been instructed to fast 7-12 hours prior to anesthesia. This is definitely not making a mountain out of molehill. You should be aware that if there is food in the dog’s stomach, the dog is extremely prone to vomiting during or after anesthesia. Just after being anesthetized or waking up, the dog temporarily loses its swallowing reflex. When the dog vomits, the vomiting substance is most likely to be inhaled into the lungs, resulting in aspiration pneumonia, which is fatal.

Risk 2: Complications

Here is the list of the complications of anesthesia in dogs:

  • Hypotension (low blood pressure)

  • Bradycardia (low heart rate)

  • Hypoxemia (low blood oxygen)

  • Organ system failure (such as kidney, liver or heart failure)

  • Visual impairment

  • Clotting disorders

  • Seizures

Professional veterinary teams frequently have mature response plans for various complications, and the only option for dog owners is to hand over the dog to a professional, credible, and responsible veterinarian. However, you must accept the harsh reality that not all dogs can be saved from complications.

How to minimize the risks before anesthesia

From the veterinarian’s perspective, the anesthesiologist will learn more about the dog’s physical condition through physical examination and blood testing prior to anesthesia, allowing them to develop a reasonable anesthesia plan and keep the risk of anesthesia to a manageable level. Furthermore, dog owners must provide adequate information for the safety of anesthesia regimens prior to anesthesia. Please follow the action guidelines below:

Rule 1: Never, ever hide the dog's medical history from the veterinarian for any reason

Obtaining vital information about your dog’s health can assist your veterinarian in developing an anesthesia plan. It is important to obtain a detailed medical history, especially for dogs who are visiting the vet for the first time. If you can’t remember or are unsure, enlist the help of your family in recalling the details of your dog’s medical history and ensuring that all information is complete.

Rule 2: Anesthesia history data have significant reference value

If your dog has had anesthesia in the hospital and has a record of the historical anesthesia data, which includes previous anesthesia, surgery, and details of resuscitation procedures, has a significant practical reference value for upcoming anesthesia. If these files are kept in a hospital other than the one where the dog is currently undergoing anesthesia, please request access to these files in advance.

Rule 3: Inform the veterinarian of all medications

Some dog owners use herbal, over-the-counter, and behavior-controlling medications on their dogs based on their own understanding. I understand that every dog owner’s behavior has a plausible explanation, and we’re not here to argue about whether or not the use of these drugs is appropriate. 

What we only need to know is that some ingredients can prolong the clotting time or the recovery time of anesthesia, and that some ingredients can directly interact with the anesthetic to increase its toxicity.

Whatever reason you give these medications to your dog, please fully disclose to the vet all the details prior to making an anesthesia plan, to ensure that the dog wakes up smoothly.

Rule 4: Strict fasting as prescribed by the vet

Before anesthesia, the vet will usually advise the dog owner to fast the dog for 8-12 hours and allow the dog to drink water at will. 

Fasting has the advantage of reducing stomach contents, thereby reducing or avoiding vomiting and regurgitation, preventing vomit from being inhaled into the lungs, leading to aspiration pneumonia; another advantage is that it reduces gastric dilatation; an empty stomach has no effect on venous reflux.

The vet will make specific fasting requirements based on the specific circumstances of each dog, and drinking water is even prohibited for some dogs. You must strictly adhere to the veterinarian’s fasting requirements even if your dog is pitifully begging.

How to minimize the risks after anesthesia

Within hours after the anesthesia surgery, dog owners need to keep an eye on the dog’s behavior and state, as well as some details that dog owners need to pay attention to:

Rule 1: A comfortable awakening environment

Because the body functions have not been fully restored to their pre-anesthetic state, anesthetized dogs’ body temperature and circulatory function are relatively low after anesthesia. A calm, warm, and gleaming environment aids in the awakening of dogs. At the same time, you must provide adequate padding for dogs. You can purchase them ahead of time. They are widely available in online stores.

Rule 2: Keep waking up your old dog

If your older dog is not disturbed after being pushed out of the operating room, he or she will remain lethargic for the next 2-3 hours, which is very detrimental to the dog’s awakening and recovery of physical function. It is also inconvenient for monitoring potential post-operative complications and other symptoms in dogs.

During this period, dog owners, in my experience, must always pay attention to the dog’s condition, specifically by observing the third eyelid (or nictitating membrane), white or gray membrane structure. If the third eyelid gradually closes, indicating that the dog is becoming lethargic and the owner needs to wake the dog up and bring him back to consciousness.

Rule 3: Do not give the dog any food or water for at least 5 hours

Under the premise that the effectiveness of the anesthetic does not completely fade, eating and drinking are very likely to cause vomiting or reflux, and because the swallowing reflex of the dog is greatly suppressed by the anesthetic, these vomit will be inhaled into the lungs, leading to aspiration pneumonia, which is a very bad situation and is often fatal for dogs after surgery.

Some dogs may appear normal 3-4 hours after surgery, but this is only a surface illusion. Some physical functions, such as the swallowing reflex protection mechanism, are autonomic nerve reflexes that are not controlled by surface consciousness. The dog’s mental state does not indicate whether this reflex mechanism has been restored. 

Please do not give your dog any food and water until he or she is fully functional after 5 hours, even if he or she appears extremely hungry or thirsty.

Rule 4: Eyes lubricant

The dog’s eyes cannot blink and the eyelids are not always completely closed while under anesthesia. When the dog is pushed out of the operating room, the cornea is dull and appears to be covered with a thin layer of dust. 

Eye lubricant is used to protect the cornea from dryness and irritation and prevent scratch-induced ulcers. During the surgery, your vet will usually consider the dog’s eye lubrication.

You can consult the vet and, if necessary and possible, ask him to provide the dog with eye lubricant during the recovery period.

Rule 5: It is critical to provide postoperative pain relief

The pain of the dog will gradually increase as the anesthetic wears off, especially in pain sensitive dog breeds like the Chihuahua, Dachshund, German Shepherd, Husky, Maltese, Pomeranian, and Whippet. 

Following an evaluation of the dog’s pain by the vet, appropriate administration of sedatives and analgesics is beneficial in relieving pain and anxiety in dogs.

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