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Is It Cold In Here, Or Did Your Pet Just Have Surgery?

Posted December 22, 2014 in Dog Surgery A-Z

For more from Dr. Ernie Ward, find him on Facebook or at

I hate being cold.

Maybe that’s why I’ve always been so concerned about making sure my pet patients were warm. Turns out more veterinarians may need to track the temperature of their patients. New research indicates that the majority of our furry friends may wake up from anesthesia feeling chilly. And that’s got me burning mad.

study published in the journal Veterinary Record found clinical evidence that 83.6% of 1,525 dogs undergoing surgery or tests requiring anesthesia experienced hypothermia or low core body temperature. The same research team discovered the percentage of cold cats to be 96.7% in an earlier study. In humans, this figure has been found to be between 30 and 60% of patients undergoing surgery and anesthesia. Why the big difference?   

First the good news: this study was conducted in Spain. Now for the bad news: it’s pretty warm in Spain. I’m joking but maybe, just maybe, our veterinary surgery in the US is better than veterinary teaching hospitals in Spain. Doubtful, but my thermometer is always half-hot.

Hypothermia is a hot topic for small patients. There are increased risks of surgical and anesthetic complications if a pet gets too cold. The smaller the patient, the more challenging and critical maintaining a warm body temperature becomes. For this reason the American Animal HospitalDog snuggled in blankets Association (AAHA) requires accredited veterinary hospitals to closely monitor a pet patient’s core body temperature throughout anesthesia and recovery. Further, AAHA standards demand that proper heating elements be provided for during and after surgery. For example, my patients are sedated on a heated pad that uses circulating warm water, transferred to a heated surgical table, and then wrapped in a device that envelops the pet’s body with warm air while they wake up from anesthesia (cutely enough it’s called a “hugger”). As I mentioned, I hate being cold, despise the notion that my patients might ever be chilled, and wholeheartedly support the AAHA-accreditations. Veterinary colleagues, get your heat on. 

Another reason staying warm during and after anesthesia is that is helps speed up recovery. In the study, colder animals tended to take longer to wake up after anesthesia. I don’t know about you, but as a veterinarian I’ve always felt a little relief when I see a patient’s eyes flutter to life after a procedure. Some

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Ernie has more than 20 years of experience in the veterinary industry and is a well-known veterinarian, media personality and author. He is also a founding member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team.