Cat Anesthesia - What to Know If Your Cat Requires Anesthesia

What is anesthesia?

Anesthesia is a medically induced loss of consciousness or the ability to feel pain or respond to the stimulus.

Dr. Nichola Gaither
Animal Hospital of Statesville

What is the difference between anesthesia and sedation?

The main difference lies in the level of consciousness, so I tend to think about sedation as a milder, lesser type of sedation, where the pet might still be able to move around, but the sedation is taking the edge off. In contrast, general anesthesia is when the cat is fully unconscious and does not feel pain.

Why would my cat need anesthesia?

The different types of procedures that might require anesthesia would be things that cause pain, like surgery. They might need a wound stitched up or repaired or dental procedures, where we clean their teeth. They won't hold their mouth open like we need them to or to take x-rays. Those are some reasons we would want to anesthetize your pet.

How do I know that anesthesia is safe for my cat?

When we anesthetize any pets at the Animal Hospital of Statesville, we complete a physical exam. That carries a lot of weight in figuring out if your pet is healthy, if they're able to be anesthetized, or if they have any heart problems. We might also do blood work or take x-rays to see what their risks are.

What do I need to know before my cat goes in for an anesthetic procedure?

One of the things you might want to know is how to prepare your cat for that, so we will talk about fasting your cat overnight, meaning withholding food. You need to know what time to bring your pet in for their procedure so that they're prepared and the doctors and staff are ready to receive your cat. Then usually, afterward, you will go home with instructions, and they'll talk thoroughly about that procedure.

We usually have a little bit of a check-in time where the tech goes over the charges and the procedure that we're doing to make sure that you understand everything. Then, many times, the doctors come in and answer any questions before the surgery.

Most of the time for anesthesia, we've already met with you, and we've already performed that initial exam on your pet and addressed any concerns we might have. It doesn't always happen that way, but that is the preferred way. That way, we develop that relationship with you guys beforehand.

What are some possible complications of anesthesia that my cat could experience?

Anesthesia is not without risk, but we do take every measure to try to minimize those risks. When we're performing general anesthesia, we're taking away control of their breathing. So if they have any underlying respiratory or heart disease, that might be a risk. If they have any other types of sicknesses, that might put them at higher risk for anesthesia.

What will you do to ensure that my cat is safe while undergoing this procedure?

Some of those things would occur before anesthesia, like the physical exam, the blood screening, and x-rays. During anesthesia, at the Animal Hospital of Statesville, we have a trained veterinary staff that is with your pet. So not only are they connected to certain machines, as you would see at a human hospital, but you also have a physical person that knows what they're doing and is listening to your pet and monitoring your pet for any changes. And we might do things like changing the depth of the anesthesia, making them less anesthetized. Or also another thing we do is place that IV catheter so we have access to the vein if we need to give them any medications to help their heart rate or help them if they're having trouble.

What type of care should I provide my cat as he's recovering or coming out of anesthesia?

Immediately afterward, of course, they'll be in the hospital, and we'll monitor them. So we handle that initial care at the hospital. We tend to send our pets home when they're a little more awake, although some are still drowsy. It depends on the type of anesthesia used, whether it was light or heavy. It depends on the length of anesthesia and sometimes how that individual cat handles it. If your cat's overweight, then they tend to take a little longer to recover. If they are still drowsy, we'll want you to keep them in a confined area with perhaps low light and low noise—the less stimulus, the better for them. Keep them in an area that's safe, meaning that they can't jump up on something tall and fall off if they're still a little drunk or drowsy. Then also consider other pets because the other pets might be excited; they've missed them all day, so they're ready to jump on them and play, and your pet that was anesthetized may not be quite ready for that. We’ll typically tell you to keep the recovering cat quiet and confined and take care of them that way.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (704) 872-3625, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as soon as we can.

Cat Anesthesia - FAQs

Dr. Nichola Gaither
Animal Hospital of Statesville

What kind of anesthesia is used for my cat?

The main types of anesthesia that we use are gas anesthesia for a procedure or even injectable anesthesia. Those are the two main types of anesthesia.

What are the common anesthetic procedures for cats?

This might involve surgery or something painful that we want the cat to be still and not feel that pain. We use anesthesia for dental procedures. If they come in and need to be sedated to take x-rays, that might be another reason.

What is the difference between anesthesia, sedation, and general anesthesia, and when is each used?

I look at that as the different levels of consciousness for the pet. And so sedation might be taking the edge off or calming your pet. We use that a lot for cats whenever they are nervous coming into the hospital, and they may not allow us to do the physical exam or the procedures we need to do. We may send something home that you can give by mouth, which would be a mild sedative to take the edge off. They're still aware, able to walk around, and respond to you and know what's going on. The other part that you asked was general anesthesia, and that would be full loss of consciousness and awareness in response to pain, which would be for a complete surgical procedure.

Will my cat need an exam and lab work before he undergoes anesthesia?

Yes, the physical exam is vital. We are listening to your pet. We are examining everything about them to see if they are healthy. We would typically always want to do blood work too. There might be certain situations if your pet is young and it's a quick procedure that the pre-exam may not be required. But the more information we know, the safer we can keep your pet.

How can I prepare my cat for his or her anesthetic procedure?

When you're traveling to the vet, the less stress you can provide for your cat, the better off they are. If they don't come in stressed, they often require less sedation for certain procedures. And then also, we'll talk to you about perhaps withholding food the night before a procedure of anesthesia.

What pain medications will my cat receive before, during, and after an anesthetic procedure?

Many times, we give pain medication before surgery, during surgery, and after surgery. And that would come in the form of injections. And then afterward, we would send you home with something that you would either give by mouth or transdermal is favored in cats. That way, you don't have to shove anything down their mouth. And that means it's absorbed through their skin. Many times, cats tolerate that better, and it's easier to give.

How long does anesthesia last for a cat?

That depends on the type of anesthesia used, of course. A lot of other factors go into that. In general, when pets come into the Animal Hospital of Statesville, and they're anesthetized, it might take 12 to 24 hours until they're back to themselves. That might depend on their age and the length of anesthesia. But you won't have to carry them out of the hospital. They'll be awake and conscious and ready to go home and be by themselves for a little while.

What are some of the risks of anesthesia?

Often, clients are worried about anesthesia, and they're concerned about their pet dying, and that's a genuine concern a lot of our clients can have. That risk, while it is possible, is extremely low. I think the percentages given are for dogs, 0.05%, and cats, 0.1%., so they’re really low. The more common side effects are still not common, but we might see if they have any underlying conditions that we either know or don't know about, heart disease being a big one. We’re sedating the cat and taking away a lot of their normal functions, and we're controlling their breathing, so heart disease and kidney disease can play a role.

What will my veterinarian tell me about the risks to my cat?

At the Animal Hospital of Statesville, we have written out in a form that we talk about. There are risks, but the more important thing is that we're doing everything we can to minimize those risks and make the procedure as safe as possible for your cat. We also weigh the risk of anesthesia to the benefit of the procedure, so that's critical. We don't sedate a pet or anesthetize a pet just to do it. We're doing that for the benefit of whether they need surgery or they need dental disease is taken care of or different things for their health.

How will I know if it's safe for my cat?

That's right. You don't care the percentages of how low the risk is; you just want to know, is your cat going to be okay? And I think that comes through the relationship of knowing your cat, through the physical exam, through the blood work, and the test. But we also look at your cat individually, and we talk to you. It's a conversation, and so we speak with you about those risks individually. And again, we weigh the risk and the reward and talk about that.

What other conditions can increase my cat's risk under anesthesia?

Obesity's a big one in our cats. Many of our indoor cats are overweight, and so that's an increased risk for them. It's harder to breathe, harder to recover, and they take longer to recover. So that's a big one. Other ones would be age is not necessarily a disease, but we know that they can handle things differently. And the older the pet, the more likely it is that another illness is going on, like kidney disease or thyroid disease in our cats.

What can be done to minimize the risk of anesthesia?

We tend to minimize that risk by having a trained veterinary staff monitor your pet. Not only is your cat connected to certain machines like an EKG, but we also measure oxygen saturation, blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration rate. But also, you have a physical person that's trained to monitor them for any problems that might happen.

Are there specific breeds of cats that are at higher risks under anesthesia?

In general, we tend to think about the Maine Coon. They are at higher risk for a heart disease called HCM, which is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. That's a disease that they can hide. They don't necessarily have to show the symptoms or have a murmur to have heart disease. And that breed's a higher risk as are our Persians—our brachycephalic, or our smooshed-face breeds, because of the breathing. And so, when we think about the dog world, we think about bulldogs and how they recover. And so we have cats like that that already aren't breathing "normal" before anesthesia. And so then you're asking them to recover from a procedure, which makes it worth taking extra care to monitor those guys.

What are the side effects of anesthesia?

The side effects would be a lower heart rate, a lower respiration rate. That's just part of anesthesia. Changes in blood pressure and sedation itself are all side effects.

When is anesthesia necessary?

Anytime we need the pet to be still, and we might be performing something painful or uncomfortable, we would need anesthesia.

Is it possible that my cat could die under anesthesia?

That is a possibility, but it is a very low risk. And when that occurs, of course, we take that very seriously, and we do things to help prevent that. So whether it's an IV catheter ahead of time, assessing any underlying diseases, and treating those before we're going to sedate your pet or anesthetize your pet, those are all things we take into consideration.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (704) 872-3625, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as soon as we can.