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Drug Recalls Put Spotlight on Cat Anesthesia Safety

By Kim Boatman

Drug Recalls Put Spotlight on Cat Anesthesia Safety

When Dr. Katy Nelson, a veterinarian, received a recall notice involving the cat anesthetic drug ketamine, she promptly scoured her practice’s supplies and pulled the affected lot numbers. Nelson and other pet health specialists are on the alert because The Food and Drug Administration has issued recalls for certain lots of the commonly used drugs ketamine and butorphanol -- used to control surgery-related pain -- after the deaths of at least five cats were linked to the drugs.

Your veterinarian should be aware of the recall, says Nelson, who practices in Alexandria, Va. “If you’re going to a reputable, accredited veterinarian, you really shouldn’t have to worry about any of these lots being on the shelf,” she says.

Ketamine is often part of a “cocktail” veterinarians administer when placing cats under anesthesia. The recall, however, underscores the importance of the careful use of anesthesia in cats. “Anesthesia for any animal should be taken seriously, especially for older animals or animals that have special medical conditions,” says Dr. Tracy R. Dewhirst, a Knoxville, Tenn., veterinarian who writes a pet advice column for the Knoxville News Sentinel.

Evaluating the Risk of Cat Anesthesia
Your veterinarian should use a risk protocol before placing your cat under anesthesia. Factors such as the type of procedure and your cat’s age and health should be considered. For example, anesthesia for a young cat being neutered would rate as less risky than an elderly cat in renal failure going to a neurologist for a brain tumor section.

Bad reactions to anesthesia can range from not waking quickly to arrhythmias of the heart and full cardiac arrest, says Dewhirst. “The worst case, cardiac arrest, is pretty rare,” notes Dewhirst. “I’ve had that happen once in 10 years of practicing.”

The use of anesthesia shouldn’t prevent you from providing needed procedures for your kitty, such as spaying, neutering or dental cleaning, says Nelson. Although Nelson’s practice averages 10 to 20 anesthetic procedures a day, only two to three anesthetic reactions occurred over the entire last year.

A Cat Anesthesia Checklist

Asking the right questions can help ensure your cat’s safety when anesthesia is used. Dewhirst and Nelson say the following checklist will ensure your veterinarian is practicing safe cat anesthesia:

  • Ask about anesthetics. Most veterinarians use a “recipe” or “cocktail” of drugs that work well in anesthesia. For example, ketamine is particularly valuable in the pain management of cats, says Dewhirst. Make sure your veterinarian is aware of any recalls, and ask about the mixture of drugs. Be wary of inexpensive clinics offering discounted cleanings and spaying and neutering, cautions Nelson. These clinics might simply inject your cat with an anesthetic rather than using a mixture of injectable and gas anesthetics, which works better.
  • Pay for the blood work. Pre-anesthetic blood work is not just a way for your veterinarian to pad the bill. “The biggest risk with cats is if they have underlying medical problems. A lot of times we can’t know that just by looking at the animal,” says Dewhirst. Blood work and perhaps a urinalysis give us a lot of information about what’s going on inside a cat metabolically and with its organs. Some clinics allow you to opt out of blood work before a young cat undergoes anesthesia, but if you do, you’ll be taking a risk, warns Dewhirst.
  • Ask about monitoring equipment. Your veterinarian should be able to watch your kitty’s blood pressure, heart rate, heart rhythms, oxygen levels and respiratory rate. “Things happen all the time under anesthesia, but because we monitor it so closely, we’re able to offset it,” says Nelson. Ask if your cat will have a tube down its mouth to secure the airway.
  • Opt for pain management. Many practices will allow you to choose whether to pay for post-procedure pain medication. Make sure pain relief is provided as your kitty wakes up, advises Dewhirst.
  • Know about post-procedure monitoring. Monitoring should continue after the procedure, until your cat is alert, says Dewhirst. Ask your veterinarian what you should expect as your cat recovers from both the procedure and the anesthesia.

These guidelines should alleviate any concerns about cat anesthesia. “It’s very safe as long as your veterinarian is doing the proper monitoring,” says Nelson.

Kim Boatman is a journalist and frequent contributor to The Daily Catbased in Northern California whose work has appeared in The Miami Herald, the Detroit Free Press and the San Jose Mercury News. She is a lifelong lover of animals and shares her home with three cats.

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Posted on April 30, 2012

Parmjeet says: It's SO much worse for you than it is for them. And they take their cue from you about how scary it is. If you're calm and confident, then so are they. Really. So be cool.Just wait until he turns 16 and has a dvirer's license and you get that inevitable late night phone call and hear his shaky vulnerable five-year-old voice saying there's been an accident. There is no preparation in the world adequate to deal with that fear.Wishing you and your son all the best tomorrow. You all will be fine. Live to fear another day.

Posted on April 30, 2012

Bobbilisimham says: Prayers & best wishes to your liltte guy, you & your family.I remember when my oldest had to go under general anesthesia my husband and I were absolute wrecks just not in front of him. Believe me when I say, we are SO much more frightened than they are. BCB is SO right about them taking their cues from us. Stay the course, have faith & know that there are so many of us sending good wishes, prayers & support your way.I hear nothing but AMAZING things about BCH. And the folks who work in pediatric surgery units really know children, and understand how to put them at ease with what's happening. Hang in there, and please, after you've been there for your son & with your family through it all, keep us posted.Thinking of you all.

Posted on March 18, 2012

Goma says: Good info about natural ways to treat your cat and keep him/her htleahy for a long life. My 11-yr-old kitty was hyperthyroidic, and now eats an all-raw meat diet and she is in stunning health! No surgeries, no pills, no radiation treatments just pure, natural goodness.

Posted on June 24, 2010

Melinda says: My beloved late kitty cat, Josie, died during a post-dental procedure. Her throat had swelled up severly and she suffocated to death!! I can no longer trust dental procedures because of this. She was tested before the procedure and my vet assured me that Josie was in perfect health to go under. I will never get over the fear of my cat ever going under anesthesia

Posted on October 5, 2010

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