In some ways anesthesia for pets is similar to anesthesia for people; in others, it is very different.
Anesthesia, whether for pets or people, is like any medical procedure — there are benefits and risks. Some pets and people are at higher risk of complications than others. In pets, the risk of anesthetic-induced death is uncommon: approximately 1 in 1000 for healthy cats and 1 in 2000 for healthy dogs.
When a person goes under anesthesia, a dedicated anesthesia specialist is very often part of the medical team. When a pet goes under, the veterinarian handles both roles, anesthesiologist and surgeon. This is a lot to handle, even in a best-case scenario. In a scenario of increased risk, your vet may make the reasonable decision that they cannot do both jobs well for your pet, and tell you that your pet shouldn’t be anesthetized.
The good news is, your vet doesn’t have to be both surgeon and anesthesiologist. There are veterinary anesthesiologists in private practice who can be brought in to help. Many veterinarians don’t realize that there is an option to bring in a specialist to handle anesthesia for higher risk pets, because these specialists are so rare – there are only about 40 in practice in the US today.
Luckily for us, one of them is in practice right here in Portland.