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Safer Anesthesia, Better Surgery, Happy Pets

Posted December 18, 2014 in Dog Surgery A-Z

Katie Kegerise, a Certified Veterinary Technician in Reading, PA, contributed to this article.

Thanks to the efforts of our forefathers, we can perform better surgery thanks to better monitoring, safer anesthesia and better drugs.

Better Monitoring
A few decades ago, ensuring that a patient was alive during anesthesia was limited to using your senses: observing gum color, feeling pulses, watching the chest move. More recently, we borrowed from human medicine and started using EKG machines to monitor the heart. Today, most modern clinics can also measure oxygen levels, blood pressure, temperature, heart rate, and occasionally CO2 levels.

Better Drugs
There is no question that the anesthesia drugs we use today are safer than those used a few years ago. By combining several drugs, we can provide multiple benefits to the patient, while using lower dosages of each one. This is called balanced anesthesia. For example, when we do fancy orthopedic surgery on a pet’s knee, we might combine:

  • An anti-inflammatory drug, which helps decrease pain
  • A pain killer, similar to morphine
  • Special IV fluids with two or three pain medications
  • An epidural
  • A medication injected into the joint to numb the knee (similar to what you’d get at the dentist)

In turn, using such a "cocktail" allows us to use less anesthesia gas during the procedure, which again makes the anesthesia safer. 

Better Procedures
Surgery procedures keep getting better. There are some really smart people out there who always seem to come up with newer, better and quicker procedures. In addition, many orthopedic patients now benefit from specialized physical therapists, which help them recover better and faster.

Better Surgeons
Although family vets can perform many surgeries, the advent of specialized veterinary surgeons has provided another option for advanced surgery. Becoming a board-certified surgeon (like yours truly) requires going through vet school (8 years), a 1 year internship and a 3 year surgery residency. After fulfilling multiple requirements, residents need to pass a difficult exam. Only then can they be called board-certified surgeons.

In some cases, we can save lives or limbs when it wasn't possible a few years ago. We can now place stents to widen narrow areas (e.g. the windpipe) and replace joints (hips, elbows, and knees). We can often help paralyzed pets walk again and reconstruct shattered bones to save a leg. We can place tiny cameras inside body cavities for minimally invasive procedures (in joints, chest, and

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Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a board-certified veterinary surgeon and author. His traveling practice takes him all over Eastern Pennsylvania and Western New Jersey. You can visit his website at, and follow him at