Worrying is perfectly acceptable when any of your loved ones undergo surgery. It’s not always necessary with routine procedures, but it’s still allowed. Of course, we include our furkids in the loved ones category. So even when they’re just getting sterilized– which is as routine as it gets for pets – we worry. As it turns out, there are some breeds for whom worry is more justified than others. This is because they don’t react as well as to general anesthetic drugs as other breeds.
Veterinarians use local anesthetics whenever possible. However, there are some instances when putting the dog under general anesthetic is necessary. For example, when dogs need to be absolutely still for x-rays, which require physical manipulation, and, obviously, for surgery, including sterilization, hip replacement and cruciate ligament repair. After all, you don’t want your pooch to feel any pain during the procedure and the veterinarian doesn’t want to have to fight a fidgety and unhappy dog.
Like human medicine, veterinary science has advanced in leaps in and bounds and anesthetic techniques have improved dramatically. They are now safer and more precise than ever before. Veterinary anesthetists have more control over the process and are able to moderate the dosage as and when necessary. They can also reverse the procedure and bring patients back round at the first sign of distress.
Unfortunately, all the advances in the world can’t make up for the fact that some breeds are just naturally more vulnerable to anesthetic drugs than others. Furthermore, as breeding practices emphasize the features that place these dogs at greater risk, the danger is increasing. Some breeds are more responsive to anesthetic drugs, so it doesn’t take much to put them under. This puts them at risk of an overdose.
Breeds at risk of anesthetic drugs
According to Dr. Becker, genetic and anatomical differences between breeds play a role in sensitivity to anesthetic drugs.
Brachycephalic breeds (flat-faced dogs), including pugs, Boston terriers, bulldogs and boxers are most at risk. Their shorter muzzles and constricted airways, which cause breathing difficulties at the best of times, can lead to airway obstructions during anesthesia.
It’s essential that vets closely monitor brachy breeds throughout the process. This starts from pre-med all the way through to extubation (removal of the breathing tube) and into post-op recovery. If you know well in advance that your brachy needs surgery, it’s a good idea to bring their weight to safe levels to improve the chances of a successful recovery. This is especially true if you have a bulldog or pug, who tend to be on the heavy side.
Sighthounds, including Greyhounds, Afghans, Irish Wolfhounds and Whippets are also high risk because they metabolize drugs differently to other dogs. They have lean, muscular builds without much fat. Fat absorbs most anesthetic drugs, so drugs linger lean dogs’ bloodstream. As a result, they take longer to recover.
Their leanness also puts them at risk of hypothermia or hyperthermia during anesthesia. Veterinarians need to take special care to regulate their body temperature.
Sighthounds are prone to heart disease, so they should be tested for any problems well before surgery.
Herding breeds, including border collies, Australian shepherds and Shetland sheepdogs tend to have a genetic mutation that allows certain drugs, including anesthetic drugs, to collect in the brain. This can easily lead to over-sedation and can affect breathing.
Toy breeds, including yorkies, Chihuahuas and Min Pins are naturally at risk because their diminutive size makes it very easy to overdose them. They need to be closely monitored during the procedure and their blood pressure regularly taken to ensure they are coping.
Like sighthounds, toy breeds have lower body temperatures than other dogs, so hypothermia is a risk. Blood sugar levels also need to be closely monitored.
On the other end of the spectrum, giant breeds are also high risk because their size suggests they need large doses of anesthetic drugs. However, they can actually be highly responsive to drugs, which means doses given to medium-sized dogs will suffice.
Other dogs at risk
Dogs with a genetic predisposition to certain diseases can sometimes have negative reactions to anesthesia drugs. For example, Dobermans are prone to von Willebrand disease, which interferes with blood clotting. Obviously this is a major problem during surgery. It’s important that all Dobermans are tested for the disease and that they receive appropriate pre-med drugs.
Dogs prone to heart problems, including Great Danes, Dobermans and cocker spaniels must receive extra special care. They should have an ECG before surgery and their hearts should continue to be monitored during surgery and in post-surgery recovery.
Veterinarians know what they’re doing
It should go without saying that your veterinarian will take all precautions to ensure that your dog’s surgery is successful. You can use the information to ask questions to satisfy your peace of mind and to ensure that you and your vet fully understand your dog’s needs. Most veterinary anesthetists tailor the anesthesia protocol to suit dog’s individual needs. So you can trust your dog is in good hands.
As an aside …
Worrying about the prospect of your dog in surgery may take up a lot of your time and energy. However, that doesn’t mean you don’t also worry about how you’re going to pay for the procedure. And that’s ok; it’s not insensitive or thoughtless of you.
The good news is that if you have pet insurance, and your dog’s surgery is related to a condition that is covered under the policy, hospitalization and surgery costs are covered. So, while sterilization isn’t covered, cruciate ligament surgery and surgery for hip dysplasia are covered within policy limits.
And that’s a weight off your mind.