Where to get answers to your anesthesia questions

Screenshot (3)I typed the title of this post into a Google search engine and got 13,700,000 results in 0.60 seconds.  When I modified my search to where to get answers you can trust to your anesthesia questions, I got only half as many results, and it took 0.05 seconds longer.  But still, having 7,000,000 results to sift through is daunting.  As excited as I am to live in a time when I can get answers to any question in fractions of a second, the real question then becomes whose answers can I trust?  In this blog post I am going to introduce two valuable resources for anyone who does animal anesthesia.



Maybe you’ve heard of VIN, the Veterinary Information Network.  VIN pioneered providing instant access to vast amounts of up-to-date veterinary medical information, turning subscribing practitioners who might have once felt like competitors into a community of over 53,000 professional colleagues.  VSPN is an extension of VIN, providing the same up-to-date veterinary medical information, yet tailored to the needs of veterinary support personnel.  One significant difference between VIN and VSPN is cost.  Unlike VIN, which is a fee-based subscription service, VSPN is a free community.  The Veterinary Support Personnel Network brings together people from all over the world to interact with each other, teach each other, and learn from each other.  As a VSPN member, you have access to thousands of colleagues who want to help you and your patients – 24 hours a day!

When you click on this link, you’ll go directly to the VSPN.org home page.  One of the first things to do here is to apply for membership.  Your membership application may take a couple of days to process, but in my experience the folks at VSPN are very responsive.  It’s free to become a member, and the application process is in place only to assure all of us that we are exchanging ideas and experiences with others who share our background and interests.  It can be tough to work in this industry sometimes and it’s nice to have a place to go where everybody understands the pressures.

Nothing makes anesthesia easier than having good up-to-date information at your fingertips, provided by colleagues and experts in the field. The VSPN worldwide community is made up of people just like us, who pool our knowledge and experience to get help and to give help.  And our patients are better served by every question asked and answered.   Benefits to VSPN membership include access to the online version of the VSPN Notebook®, community message boards, rounds sessions and an extensive library of past rounds transcripts and handouts. You’ll also find over 50 continuing education courses per year taught by leaders in the field of veterinary technology.

VSPN is a great place to find out others’ experience with Feliway for improving anxiety in cats, or to learn tips for getting finicky dogs to eat.  Should you increase the IV fluid rate to treat hypotension during anesthesia? Or deliver additional IV fluids as a bolus?  Which is better? Why?  Who has tried the new heated breathing circuits?  Do they work?  Do you like them?  And then sometimes you might just want to connect with people who understand the crazy world you work in.  Give VSPN a visit.


Where VSPN covers every imaginable aspect of veterinary practice, the North American Veterinary Anesthesia Society (NAVAS) is a new collaboration of veterinary anesthesia specialists. As a member of NAVAS, you have access to anesthesia experts from the American College of Veterinary Anesthesia and Analgesia (ACVAA), the European College of Veterinary Anesthesia and Analgesia (ECVAA), the Association of Veterinary Anesthetists (AVA), the Academy of Veterinary Technicians in Anesthesia and Analgesia (AVTAA), and more.  And the best part is that you don’t have to be a specialist to join.  Never has the knowledge and experience of so many specialists in the field of veterinary anesthesia been so available to regular people like you and me.  The heart of the NAVAS mission is to support all animal care givers engaged in providing veterinary anesthesia and analgesia.

NAVAS is a much needed bridge of veterinary anesthesia specialties, expanding their ability to better meet their mission of improved quality of animal anesthesia.  Not only is it a collaboration of anesthesia experts, VetBloom – a premier online education platform – has also teamed up with NAVAS to provide structured certificate and RACE-approved CE training courses in all aspects of veterinary medicine.  Whether you are looking to continue your education with online veterinary courses, or you’re a practice in search of a systematic set of educational materials, VetBloom has developed and tested the training that you are after.

NAVAS will continue to expand its offerings in coming months to include podcasts, journal club, literature reviews, how-to videos, species-specific drug formularies, and anesthesia safety recommendations. Combine all of this with their forums, a NAVAS blog, and other members-only resources, and you have a valuable one-stop compendium of veterinary anesthesia expertise.  Just follow this link to the NAVAS website.  It definitely deserves a look.

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When I searched Google for how to end a blog post, it found 2 billion results in about half a second.  I have to admit that I didn’t dive too deeply into the 2 billion.  I decided to “Do a recap of the main message,” so we can all get back to our lives.  I set out to introduce two valuable resources for anyone who does animal anesthesia. I guess we’re done here.

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Ken Crump AAS, AHT is a writer and animal anesthetist, and writes Making Anesthesia Easier for DarvallVet, a division of Advanced Anesthesia Specialists.  He makes dozens of Continuing Education presentations on veterinary anesthesia and oncology across the United States and in Canada.  Ken retired from the Veterinary Teaching Hospital at Colorado State University in 2008.

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When to Change Soda Lime

Soda Lime Usage

Your anesthetized patient exhales carbon dioxide.  But you already know that.  And you know that you are exhaling carbon dioxide as you’re reading this.  You may not have thought about it in awhile, but you also know how carbon dioxide gets in your lungs so you can exhale it. Carbon dioxide is the waste gas that is produced as part of the body’s energy-making processes. The lungs and respiratory system facilitate oxygen absorption into the body, and enables the body to get rid of carbon dioxide in the air breathed out.  To extend our glance at this system of gas exchange to a global view, plants absorb carbon dioxide that we exhale and they exhale oxygen.  It’s a pretty efficient relationship.

Exhaled carbon dioxide is handled differently in the two different types of anesthetic breathing systems.  With a non-rebreathing system (Bain, Mapleson, etc), the exhaled carbon dioxide is managed with high oxygen flow rates.  The oxygen flow rate must be high enough to move the exhaled carbon dioxide out of the circuit and refill the circuit with fresh gas before the patient takes its next breath.

Exhaled carbon dioxide is managed differently in a rebreathing circuit.   By adding a carbon dioxide absorber into the circuit – thereby taking the exhaled carbon dioxide out of the breathing circuit – we are able to use lower oxygen flow rates which saves oxygen, anesthesia gas, patient body temperature, and money.  The carbon dioxide absorber most commonly used is a soda lime canister.

Soda lime is a granular mixture, consisting predominantly of calcium hydroxide, together with small amounts of potassium hydroxide and sodium hydroxide.  A color change indicator is also usually in the mixture which lets you know when the soda lime is spent and no longer absorbing carbon dioxide.

Since soda lime absorbs carbon dioxide, it stands to reason that it will reach its capacity at some point, and will need to be changed.  How do we know when that is?

There is a color change indicator in soda lime that many rely on as a signal to change the soda lime.  And it’s not to be ignored.  However, it can’t be the definitive indicator of saturated soda lime because the color changes back to white after prolonged disuse.  So, if the color changed on yesterday’s late shift but the soda lime wasn’t changed after that shift, when you come in the next morning, the color will have turned back to white and you wouldn’t know it needs attention.

The manufacturers of soda lime set the specific recommendations for changing the soda lime – and again, these recommendations are not to be ignored.  They recommend that soda lime be changed after 6 – 10 hours of use.  Although that’s a wide range of time, and it doesn’t take into account the size of your absorber relative to the size of the patients (larger animals on smaller-capacity absorbers will saturate the soda lime more quickly), there is a take-home message here: record the time of use somewhere on the gas machine.  Follow this link to download a chart that you can print and attach to your machine each time you change the soda lime.  It’ll help a lot.

Watching for color change and using a chart to record the time of use are great guidelines.  The final test is in your hands – literally.  Feel the soda lime granules.  Fresh soda lime crumbles easily when you crush it between your fingers.  Exhausted soda lime feels hard like tiny gravel between your fingers.

Put your gas machines on a regular maintenance program.  Set a time interval that you and your crew will break down the machines, clean them, and test them to be sure everything is working the way it should.  The interval will depend on how often you use the machines.  If they are used everyday, consider a weekly interval.  If they are used only occasionally during the week, the interval could be stretched out to monthly.  The important thing is that the maintenance day for the machines is set and regular.  Between maintenance days, watch for the soda lime color to change and tick off the time of use on the soda lime chart. But during each regular cleaning, be sure to test the soda lime with your fingers, and let that be the definitive indicator to change the soda lime.

For more information about carbon dioxide absorbers, click on the links below.

Soda Lime Usage Chart download

Sodasorb Manual of CO2 Absorbtion

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Ken Crump AAS, AHT is a writer and animal anesthetist, and writes Making Anesthesia Easier for DarvallVet, a division of Advanced Anesthesia Specialists.  He makes dozens of Continuing Education presentations on veterinary anesthesia and oncology across the United States and in Canada.  Ken retired from the Veterinary Teaching Hospital at Colorado State University in 2008.

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Are you ready for Dental Month?

toothDid you know that February 9th is National Toothache Day? No, really.  It’s a thing.  Along with National Toothache Day, American Heart Month, Black History Month, Valentine’s Day, and Creative Romance Month (again, it’s a thing), February boasts the AVMA-sponsored National Pet Dental Health Month.  It’s a time when many pet owners schedule their pet’s annual checkup.  Now is a perfect time to review ways to meet some of the challenges that come with anesthetizing pets for dental procedures.   At the end of this post, and interspersed throughout it, you’ll find links to more information that you might find useful.

Veterinary anesthesia is always improving and is safer now than it ever has been.  But we can’t dismiss our clients’ concern about the risks of anesthesia for dentistry.  After all, they are not unfounded. In a two-year study of nearly 200,000 pets, dental procedures ranked number three as a surgical procedure likely to result in death. Patient age, underlying systemic disease, length of anesthesia, and hypothermia are listed among probable contributors to the greater anesthetic risk among dental patients. Of those contributors, we have most control over preventing hypothermia.  Studies show that 84% of anesthetized dogs and 97% of anesthetized cats experience hypothermia. These studies clearly indicate hypothermia is one of the most predictable complications of anesthesia, and veterinary staff needs to be proactive in preventing heat loss and to monitor body temperatures continuously.

Preventing hypothermia has traditionally focused on skin warming and conserving body surface heat, but remember the margin of safety from causing significant thermal injury is surprisingly narrow in animals. Skin can be burned from devices supplying constant surface heat of as little as 115°F for one hour. Hot tap water can be warmer than that. Here are some tips for safely warming dental patients suggested by Portland’s award winning veterinary hospital and training facility, DoveLewis.

  • Place the patient on a solid surface like a mat. Laying a patient on a towel over a water table provides more surface area to lose body heat.
  • Place the patient on any type of approved heating pad.
  • Bubble wrap layers over the patient to help retain heat
  • Baby socks on their feet retains heat
  • An emergency reflective blanket tented over the patient traps heat
  • Attempt to keep the head as dry as possible and take time to wipe it dry periodically.

Breathing cold oxygen from an anesthetic gas machine can be a major contributor to cooling anesthetized patients, especially in the early stages, right after intubation. Normally the nose and pharyngeal mucosa transfer heat and moisture to inspired air and then recover much of the heat during expiration. An endotracheal tube bypasses the nose and pharyngeal mucosa and delivers cold gases directly into the lungs. That leaves no chance of temperature recovery during exhalation. This costs a 25 pound dog nearly 3000 calories of warming energy in the first hour of anesthesia alone. Warming the inspired gases to near normal body temperature and delivering it from the moment of intubation is a great way to prevent the loss of core body temperature caused by the body’s attempt to warm cold inspired gases.  It literally warms from within.

The first heated breathing circuit for veterinary use was introduced to the United States in 2013 by Advanced Anesthesia Specialists of Australia. These heated circuits have a heating element embedded into the tubing of the inspiratory limb of the breathing circuit. A sensor molded in the tubing at the Y piece monitors gas temperature and a microprocessor controls heating. Closed-loop feedback is provided by a patient temperature probe which enables the microprocessor to monitor the animal’s body temperature and it turns off the heater if either sensor detects temperatures above the presets.  The heated circuit is distributed by DarvallVet in North America.  Heated breathing circuits offer a new way to capture control of a dental patient’s body temperature from the moment of intubation, and puts an effective new tool in your hypothermia-management toolbox.

In addition to surface warming with an approved veterinary warming device (for instance a warm air blanket system) and the use of a heated breathing circuit, there are other ways to protect your patients from losing body heat.  High oxygen flow rates are not only expensive and an inefficient use of anesthetic gases, they also rapidly siphon body temperature from your patient.  Selecting a circle system rather than a non-rebreathing, and then running the circle system at a lower oxygen flow rate is an excellent way to prevent heat loss from your patient.  Visit the DarvallVet website to learn more ways to help keep your patients warm before, during, and after anesthesia or give them a call at 866-931-3292 to discuss any of your anesthesia challenges.  Their anesthesia staff has over 35 years’ experience as animal anesthetists.

Here’s a list of additional referenced posts on this subject (click title to view):


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Ken Crump AAS, AHT is a writer and animal anesthetist, and writes Making Anesthesia Easier for DarvallVet, a division of Advanced Anesthesia Specialists.  He makes dozens of Continuing Education presentations on veterinary anesthesia and oncology across the United States and in Canada.  Ken retired from the Veterinary Teaching Hospital at Colorado State University in 2008.


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ECG and Me – What do I need to know?


Look at a list of recommended anesthesia monitoring tools. You’ll always see an ECG, usually near the top of the list.  The 2011 AAHA Anesthesia Guidelines for Dogs and Cats even lists it first on their list, although I can’t tell if there is significance to the order of the list.  But it’s safe to say that an electrocardiogram is highly recommended.  At one time or another we’ve all watched an ECG wave form crawl across a screen.  And we’ve all used little sayings to remember how to hook up the electrodes.  Sayings like “white right, snow over grass, brown ground, and smoke over fire…”.  Frankly I struggled to memorize all of those cute little ditties until I realized the placement location is written on each electrode.  Then I promptly forgot them all.  For the longest time, that’s all I really knew about an ECG: where to connect the electrodes.

It turns out, even that tidbit of knowledge is flawed.

Since I’m using an ECG monitor on my anesthetized patients, what should I really know about it?  Let’s start with the basics of what the ECG tells me and what it doesn’t tell me (but I may think it does).

  • ECG and EKG mean the same thing. The first ECG/EKG was manufactured in Germany where all things ‘cardiac’ begin with the letter “K”
  • It tells you that there is electrical activity at the heart
  • It graphs a tracing of the heart’s electrical activity
  • It does not tell you that the heart is responding to the electrical activity
    • The ECG does not tell you that the heart is beating

That last bullet – it doesn’t tell you that the heart is beating – was a bit of a wake up call for me.  How can that be?  The answer goes to the previous bullets: the ECG graphs the heart’s electrical activity, but it doesn’t tell you that the heart muscle fibers are responding to the electrical activity.  Oh, it will in time, but not immediately.  At least not at my level of skill interpreting ECG wave forms.

As a veterinary technician who does anesthesia, where should my level of skill interpreting ECG wave forms be?  I find electrocardiography fascinating, and I’ve spent long hours with a cardiologist looking at wave forms and cardiac ultrasound images.  But as an anesthetist, I only need to know one thing about an ECG wave form: what normal looks like.  And if it looks anything other than “normal”, I draw the doctor’s attention to it.

A normal ECG wave form repeats a PQRST-1series of ‘blips’ in a row.  Each normal blip has a designated letter identifier.  The full complex contains the waves “P, Q, R, S, and T” with Q, R, and S usually combined and referred to as “QRS”.  What each wave indicates with reference to the heart’s activity, is a conversation for another time.  The important thing for us is that we see each of the lettered waves appear, and in order.

All of that said, sometimes the “P” wave is missing.  Sometimes the “T” wave looks upside down.  In other words, sometimes normal doesn’t look exactly normal, and it will take a little time, practice, and conversations with your DVM to recognize when a deviation from normal is significant.


But once we’ve established what a normal ECG is supposed to look like, it gets pretty easy to recognize what abnormal looks like.   For instance, the image on the left is very obviously abnormal.  You can easily see the normal order of the P, QRS, and T waves is interrupted by a very abnormal wave complex.  This merits the attention of the doctor.

So the responsibility is on us to establish a readable ECG wave form to start with. Picture1 copyIf our initial ECG wave looks like the one on the right, we have no hope of identifying anything normal or abnormal.  It’s not enough to clip the leads to the animal.  We need an ECG tracing we can use.

Let’s talk about clipping the electrodes to the animal, because this sometimes requires some creativity.  Earlier I mentioned that the one thing I knew about the ECG (where to clip the electrodes) is flawed.  It helps to understand ‘flawed’ by realizing what the ECG actually does. The ECG detects and graphs electrical activity between two electrodes.  That’s all.  Most practices use an ECG with three electrodes, which reads the electrical activity between any two, and the third just has to be in contact with the body.  The electrodes are labeled RA (Right Arm), LA (Left Arm) and LL (Left Leg).standards

Now, stay with me because this is where it gets a little fussy.  The two electrodes between which the ECG reads electrical potential are determined by the “LEAD” you select on the ECG machine.  The standard leads are described in the picture on the left: Lead I, Lead II, and Lead III.  Most ECG machines default to read Lead II, so unless you actively change that setting, your ECG will default to read the electrical activity between the electrodes labeled RA and LL.  That means the electrode labeled LA need only be in contact with the body.

In order for the ECG to read a Lead II, the heart must be between standards copythe RA and LL electrodes.  Again, the LA electrode can be anywhere, just as long as it is in contact with the body.  To illustrate, imagine you decided to clip the RA electrode near the paw of the right foreleg, and the LL electrode a little farther up the same leg (as shown). You would not get a readable tracing of a Lead II because the heart is not between the two electrodes.  But that’s the only thing you have to remember about placing electrodes: the heart must be between the two electrodes that are reading electrical activity and the third electrode must be in contact with the body.  Follow that rule and you’ll get an ECG tracing you can use every time.  That leaves us a lot of opportunity to be creative about where we place the electrodes.  And often that can be really helpful.

Picture1This patient requires that we be creative about where we place the ECG electrodes.  The right forelimb is to be amputated.  With your ECG set to a Lead II, where would you attach the RA, LL, and LA electrodes so they would not interfere with the surgery, but would still offer a useful ECG tracing?  There are any number of correct answers to this question.  My choice would be to clip the LL electrode to the cat’s left hind leg, and then clip the RA and LA electrodes together and slide them into the cat’s mouth.  I would not clip them to the tongue or oral mucosa (ouch!).  I would just slide them into the mouth.  The moist oral cavity provides good contact to the electrodes, and having them clipped together assures that the LA electrode makes contact with the body.  The heart is between the two electrodes that the ECG is reading (RA and LL) so I will get a useful tracing. And I will have access to all three electrodes throughout the surgery in case they need adjustment.  Simple.  Creative.  Effective.

We are not cardiologists, so perfectly placed electrodes and carefully positioned patients are not necessary for us to get good information from an ECG tracing.  That allows us to “hack” the placement of electrodes to suit awkward situations we sometimes find our patients in.  As long as we learn to recognize abnormal wave forms and draw attention to them when we see them, and remember to keep the heart between the right two electrodes, the ECG is a simple and useful monitoring tool for the veterinary anesthetist.


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Ken Crump AAS, AHT is a writer and animal anesthetist, and writes Making Anesthesia Easier for DarvallVet, a division of Advanced Anesthesia Specialists.  He makes dozens of Continuing Education presentations on veterinary anesthesia and oncology across the United States and in Canada.  Ken retired from the Veterinary Teaching Hospital at Colorado State University in 2008



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Why Monitor CO2?

My guess is that you have just purchased a vital signs monitor that includes the ability to monitor CO2.  Kudos to you.  That single purchase has improved the quality of your anesthesia monitoring exponentially.  Nicknamed the “Anesthesia Disaster Early Warning System,” the ability to monitor expired CO2 in real time is said to be responsible for the reduction in death rates during general anesthesia in human medicine from 1 in 5,000 in 1983 to 1 in 300,000 in 2005.  It’s no coincidence that the AAHA Anesthesia Guidelines for Dogs and Cats and Banfield’s comprehensive new book Anesthesia and Analgesia for the Veterinary Practitioner: Canine and Feline (and others) recommend monitoring CO2 during anesthesia as standard of practice.

Measuring exhaled CO2 is noninvasive and can tell us quite a lot about our patient’s cardiovascular and ventilatory status.  But we can get useful information just by detecting CO2, long before it’s measured.  For example, detecting CO2 in expired gas confirms that the endotracheal tube is in the trachea and not in the esophagus.  If you’ve placed an endotracheal tube and your CO2 monitor does not detect any CO2, then the tube is very likely in the esophagus and not the trachea.  It’s good practice to connect the capnometer to the endotracheal tube as soon as intubation is complete – even before you tie the tube in place.  Regardless of your level of skill at intubation, it’s always a comfort to confirm you have been successful.

When I was first began navigating the value of monitoring CO2 in an anesthetized patient, I locked onto the basics.  I learned that CO2 defines ventilation, although I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant.  The easiest way to understand the relationship between carbon dioxide and ventilation is to let go of the notion that breathing is about taking in oxygen.  It took a little while to remove the word ‘oxygen’ from my brain when thinking about breathing.  Taking in oxygen is an important function of breathing, but the stimulation to take a breath is most often triggered by CO2.  Eventually I learned to look at carbon dioxide values when trying to determine a patient’s breathing status, or ventilation status.  Normal values for end-tidal carbon dioxide (ETCO2) are between 35 mmHg and 45 mmHg.  That generally means that if the carbon dioxide reads greater than 45 mmHg, then CO2 is building up in the lungs.  Since the body rids itself of CO2 when it exhales, a buildup of CO2 indicates the body isn’t exhaling often enough.  In other words, the patient is hypoventilatingconscious-breathing-carbon-dioxide-controls-breathing edit Simple, simple.  To correct hypoventilation, I can breathe for the patient a few extra times each minute until the CO2 is back to within normal limits.  If the capnograph reads below 35 mmHg, then the opposite is true.  There is not enough buildup of CO2 in the lungs and so the patient is hyperventilating.  Although not quite as simple to resolve, the approach to treating hyperventilation is logical: get the patient to breathe less often so CO2 has a chance to build up.  This illustration (at right) shows the influence of carbon dioxide on ventilation.

As much as I love the circular illustration of carbon dioxide’s influence on breathing, the top of the illustration simply says, “Carbon dioxide is produced.”  To step beyond the basics and increase the value of monitoring CO2 during anesthesia, we have to look closer at the top of the circle.

“Carbon dioxide is produced” everywhere in the body.  Carbon dioxide is a byproduct of metabolism, so it is being dumped into the blood stream from literally everywhere in the body.  It is then transported to the lungs, triggering the breathing center, and is exhaled.  Examining how the carbon dioxide in the blood stream is transported to the lungs is key to recognizing the relationship between ETCO2 and the cardiovascular system.  Transportation of carbon dioxide to the lungs is dependent on the heart. The heart pumps blood.  So, there is a significant relationship between ETCO2 and cardiac function. To take that relationship to the extreme, if the heart is not beating, then blood isn’t moving.  If blood isn’t moving, then CO2 is not brought to the lungs.  If CO2 is not brought to the lungs, then the capnograph can’t read it.  You see where this is going, right?

breath-baumanThe relationship of carbon dioxide and the cardiovascular system is actually much deeper than just plus-or-minus CO2 going to the lungs.  There is a lot to discover as you integrate the use of a capnograph in your practice of anesthesia.  You can experience some of the cardiovascular effects of CO2 yourself, simply by holding your breath for awhile.  The changes you may notice – the urgency to breathe (which you once thought to be a need for oxygen, but now realize that it’s the need to get rid of CO2), your increased heart rate, the pounding of your ears (indicating increased cardiac output) – are all related to changing levels of carbon dioxide in your blood.  It’s commonly said that CO2 drives the cardiovascular system, and there’s a lot of truth to that.

Let’s take a broad look at how your brand new, fresh-out-of-the-box “Anesthesia Disaster Early Warning System” End-tidal CO2 monitor is a non-invasive, low risk assessment tool for the veterinary anesthetist.

  • It tells you that the endotracheal tube is in the trachea
  • It detects –
    • Extubation
    • Disconnection
  • Cardiac arrest
    • Faster than SPO2
    • Faster than ECG
  • Indicates changes in cardiac output
  • Respiration rate
  • Detects inspired CO2
    • From dead space
    • From circuit misfit (resistance)
  • Indicates ventilation status
    • Hypoventilation
    • Hyperventilation
  • Can be useful to assess the effectiveness of CPR efforts

There are many resources online to further your understanding of carbon dioxide and capnography.  Here’s a short list of resources I have called upon.

Capnography in Dogs

Dead Space – Cause, Effect, & Management Basics

AVMA 2017: Anesthesia Monitoring With Capnography


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Ken Crump AAS, AHT is a writer and animal anesthetist, and writes Making Anesthesia Easier for DarvallVet, a division of Advanced Anesthesia Specialists.  He makes dozens of Continuing Education presentations on veterinary anesthesia and oncology across the United States and in Canada.  Ken retired from the Veterinary Teaching Hospital at Colorado State University in 2008


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Nerve Blocks for Veterinary Oral Surgery

KentalYou’ve been to the dentist, right?  Yeah, me too.

February is right around the corner, and in honor of AVMA-sponsored National Pet Dental Health Month, this post is about making dental anesthesia easier for you and your animal patients by remembering to use regional anesthesia to eliminate pain before, during, and after oral surgery.

We sometimes forget that we have all experienced some degree of pain similar to what our animal patients might experience during a dental procedure.  So we can draw on our own experiences to be proactive for the animals in our care.  For instance, I have often recited the anesthesia mantra, “pain is easier to prevent than to overcome,” but all I really have to do is to remember that my dentist applies a regional nerve block inside my mouth before he fires up the drill.  Despite the fact that I always steel myself against the needle’s approach, I appreciate his timing.

Regional nerve blocks contribute to multi-modal pain management by interrupting the impulse transmission along the pain pathway, which inhibits the pain response. One of the greatest benefits of a regional block is that we can maintain our patients at a much lighter plane of general anesthesia, thereby significantly reducing some risks associated with general anesthesia.  When surgical pain is fully controlled with local anesthesia, we are able to use anesthetic gas for what it does best: patient restraint. Regional blocks also provide smoother recoveries because the pain impulse never reaches the cerebral cortex, so even when the animal is fully awake, there is no recognition of pain.

To Begin

The internet and YouTube are full of tutorials on where and how to place regional anesthesia for dental procedures in animals.  And by now we’ve all learned how to qualify sources and use the resources we find online appropriately.  For this overview, I lean heavily on a 2014 article by Dr Brett Beckman entitled Nerve Blocks for Oral Surgery in Dogs.  In the article, Beckman provides step-by-step technique with photographs, as well as drugs, dosages, do’s-and-don’ts, and tips.  Whether your role is to place the blocks or to assist, Beckman’s article is worth the read.

Tools of the Trade

One of the beautiful things about regional nerve blocks for oral surgery is that you don’t need any special equipment to place them.  Here’s your short list of supplies to gather.

  • Syringe (sized to the infusion volume)
  • Fine gauge needles
  • Local anesthetic of choice
    • Bupivacaine is a long-acting anesthetic frequently used for regional anesthesia.  Interestingly, a 2016 study showed that adding buprenorphine to the bupivacaine significantly increased the time many animals were pain free.
  • Optional: a canine skull or other visual guide to anatomic landmarks
    • I always used Miller’s Guide to the Dissection of the Dog

Types of Nerve Blocks

maxresdefaultNerve blocks are commonly used in four regions of the oral cavity.   Beckman suggests that the nomenclature for these blocks is confusing in that the name of a block may refer to the region that it blocks or it may be named according to the actual nerve that is blocked.  He offers a simplification and clarification of nomenclature to describe the region affected rather than the nerve blocked.  Beckman describes the four most common blocks as follows:


A quick directional review

  • Rostral maxillary block
    • Known as infraorbital block
    • Affects bone, teeth, and soft tissue in the mouth from the maxillary third premolar rostral to the mid-line.
  • Caudal maxillary block
    • Affects bone, teeth, and soft tissue in the mouth from the last molar rostral to the mid-line, including the soft and hard palates.
  • Rostral mandibular block
    • Known as mental block
    • Affects bone, teeth, and soft tissue in the mouth from the mandibular second to third premolar rostral to the mid-line.
  • Caudal mandibular block
    • Known as inferior alveolar block
    • Affects bone, teeth, and soft tissue in the mouth from the mandibular third molar rostral to the mid-line.

Whether you are placing nerve blocks yourself or assisting someone else, remembering to use this valuable tool will enhance patient safety during the surgery and patient comfort afterward. Local blocks are easy to administer and require no special equipment to perform. Their use is paramount in providing the best patient care for oral surgery.

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Ken Crump AAS, AHT is a writer and animal anesthetist, and writes Making Anesthesia Easier for DarvallVet, a division of Advanced Anesthesia Specialists.  He makes dozens of Continuing Education presentations on veterinary anesthesia and oncology across the United States and in Canada.  Ken retired from the Veterinary Teaching Hospital at Colorado State University in 2008


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Top 5 Anesthetic Complications


I stumbled upon a 2016 article by Dr Kate Cummings and Dr Lois Wetmore on common anesthetic complications entitled Top 5 Anesthetic Complications.  It’s such a simple, clear, and informative article that I had to share it.  According to Cummings and Wetmore, the five complications that commonly occur during anesthesia are hypotension, hypothermia, abnormal heart rate, hypoventilation, and difficult recovery.  If you’ve had any experience anesthetizing animals, I’m sure you responded to each of these the same way I did: “Yep.” “Oh yeah.” “Been there.” “Definitely.” and “Saw that yesterday.”  Here’s an overview of the 5 complications.


They define the minimum acceptable mean arterial pressure for anesthetized small animals is 60 mm Hg. Less than that is considered hypotension or low blood pressure. A study by Dr Anne Wagner and Andrea Gordon further explains that vital organs like the brain and kidneys have the ability to adjust blood supply to meet their metabolic needs, but only if the mean arterial blood pressure is above 60 mm Hg.  A survey of anesthetic records at the Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital indicated that 32% of dogs were hypotensive at some point during anesthesia.  A survey of twenty veterinary practitioners in Colorado published in 2002 suggests the percentage in private practice may be higher. In that survey, the only veterinarian who considered hypotension to be a problem during anesthesia was also the only veterinarian who regularly measured blood pressure in all her patients.  Coincidence?

Cummings and Wetmore describe the most common causes of low blood pressure during anesthesia, and include a very handy treatment tree labeled Hypotension Management.Top 5 Anesthetic Complications-Tx Tree


Hypothermia is a complication near and dear to my heart.  DarvallVet focuses on developing innovations for patient warming, including the Darvall Heated Breathing Circuit that warms from within.  The article attributes much of the direct causes of hypothermia to the drugs used for sedation, analgesia, induction and maintenance of general anesthesia.  Additional causes include IV fluids, shaved fur, open body cavities, high oxygen flow rates and surgical prep solutions.   Additional studies report that most of patients’ lost body temperature occurs before they ever reach the surgery suite, during premeds and surgical prep.  Using a heated circuit from the moment of intubation prevents most of that temperature loss.  Preventing hypothermia is as simple as using a better breathing circuit.

Cummings and Wetmore report that hypothermia is known to have negative consequences on coagulation and overall immune function.  Dr Robertson elaborates in the Proceedings of the World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress of 2015 to say that as the core temperature falls there is a drop in blood pressure, changes in cardiac rhythm, and altered platelet function. Metabolism is slowed and liver function is impaired, delaying breakdown of anesthetic drugs which will prolong recovery times. In human studies, intra-operative hypothermia has been linked to increased post-operative wound infection, and humans report that waking up cold is extremely unpleasant.

Top 5 Anesthetic Complications- Cat copyAs important as it is to protect the patient’s body temperature, we are warned of the dangers of using warming devices that are not specifically designated for warming veterinary patients. Pictured here is thermal injury to a cat after direct contact with a warm fluid bag.


Abnormal Heart Rate

Abnormal heart rate and rhythm during anesthesia are distressingly common. The article stresses the need to monitor the heart with a combination of ECG, pulse oximeter, and stethoscope.  Cummings and Wetmore carefully explain common abnormal heart rates and rhythms, and provide a useful table of treatments for heart complications and others.  The table is organized by complication, then by drug name, and then dose range.  This section of the article is fact-packed, and merits extra time and attention.


Normal respiratory rates for dogs and cats vary based on size and positioning. Most dogs breathe at 6–10 breaths/minute and cats at 16–20 breaths/minute. Hypoventilation is actually difficult to understand at first, since we usually equate breathing with oxygen. Yet ventilation is defined by carbon dioxide.  It takes a mental moment to shift away from thinking about oxygen, and start thinking about carbon dioxide.  Capnography is discussed a lot in the practices I visit, as awareness of the value of monitoring CO2 increases, and the price of capnographs (carbon dioxide monitors) come down.  Dr Hendrix presents a good overview in her article Carbon Dioxide Monitoring in Anesthetized Animals.

Difficult Recovery

The take-home message of this section is that more than half of anesthetic deaths happen during recovery.  Just when you think you’re out of the woods, sometimes you’re just entering the hard part.  This highlights the need to continue close monitoring during the recovery period.  The article describes the two most common difficulties during recovery: the rapid, dysphoric recovery, and the prolonged recovery.  Hypothermia is a common contributor to the prolonged recovery, reminding us again of the importance of protecting our patient’s body temperature during anesthesia.

As Cummings and Wetmore stated in the article, anesthetic management of small animal patients relies on thorough patient assessment, diligent anesthetic monitoring, and supportive care into recovery. Being prepared to treat anesthetic complications offers the best outcome.  Their article provides a clear understanding of the 5 complications and an easy-to-navigate path toward recognizing them and treating them.

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Ken Crump AAS, AHT is a writer and animal anesthetist, and writes Making Anesthesia Easier for DarvallVet, a division of Advanced Anesthesia Specialists.  He makes dozens of Continuing Education presentations on veterinary anesthesia and oncology across the United States and in Canada.  Ken retired from the Veterinary Teaching Hospital at Colorado State University in 2008
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Anesthesia protocols. What do these drugs do?


Milton Burro has a hoof abscess.  You have to be a certain age to know why Milton Burro is a funny name.  He’s my burro, but I don’t take credit for naming him.  And he’s not wearing a blindfold in this picture.  It’s a fly mask.  He can see through it.  I only mention that because I had to be told myself.

When I first started anesthetizing large animals, I was proud to say that I could tell a horse from a cow without first counting their toes.  Let’s just say I was more of a small animal guy.  I know a lot about horses now – but only when they’re laying down.  I still have a lot to learn about them when they are standing up.  I’m taking horsemanship lessons, so it’s getting better.

Milton’s doctor told me to soak his foot in warm Epsom salts solution and give him Bute twice a day.  I know that Bute is phenylbutazone, but I’m embarrassed to say – after all these years in vet-med – I had no idea what phenylbutazone does.  I never bothered to learn any more about it than its name.  I had to look it up.

I imagine this also happens with the anesthesia protocols I see taped to the walls in the hospitals I visit.  Everybody knows the drug names, the dose per pound of body weight, and what the bottles look like, but what does each drug do?  How does each drug fit into a balanced anesthetic regimen?

This stuff is hard, but I think I can help.  In this post, I’ve gathered information about drugs I commonly see used in private practice.  They are informally grouped in three categories, according to when they are likely to be used in an anesthesia protocol: Premeds, Induction, and Maintenance.


Acepromazine / Ace – Generic Name: Acepromazine – Benefit: Sedation

Advantages: Acepromazine is a potent tranquilizer and is probably the best drug in veterinary medicine for reducing anxiety.  Its onset of action is 30 – 35 minutes after SQ or IM injection. It can be given IV.  Its effects are long lasting and dose-dependent.  It offers some protection to the heart against certain kinds of arrhythmias.

Disadvantages: Acepromazine provides no analgesia and can cause dose-dependent hypotension.  It may contribute to patient hypothermia, and occasionally to aggressive behavior.

Antisedan – Generic Name: Atipamezole – Benefit: Reverses Dexmedetomidine

Advantages: Antisedan is a reversal agent specifically for alpha-2 agonist drugs like dexmedetomidine, and it is also very effective for reversing xylazine and detomidine.  Sedation, analgesia, and muscle relaxation are all reversed.

Disadvantages:  There is some anecdotal evidence of cardiac arrest following atipamezole administration while under gas anesthesia.  Care should always be taken when administering it under general anesthesia.

Atropine – Generic Name: Atropine – Benefit: Increases heart rate

Advantages: Atropine increases heart rate by inhibiting the effects of stimulation of the vagus nerve.  It also reduces salivation and respiratory secretions.  Its onset of action is 10 – 15 minutes after SQ or IM injection and its duration is about an hour.  It can be given IV.

Disadvantages: Atropine can cause tachycardia (rapid heart rate) and other arrhythmias.

Buprenex – Generic Name: Buprenorphine – Benefit: Pain management

Advantages: Buprenorphine is an opioid that provides long term analgesia (up to 12 hours) and mild sedation with no excitement.

Disadvantages: Because of its affinity for its receptors, it is difficult to reverse the effects with naloxone (see Narcan).

Dexdomitor – Generic Name: Dexmedetomidine – Benefit: Sedation and pain management

Advantages: The use of Dexdomitor markedly reduces anesthetic requirements of induction and maintenance drugs. Dexdomitor produces good sedation and analgesia, and there is evidence to suggest the sedation lasts longer than the analgesia.  Sedation and analgesia occur within 5 to 15 minutes, with peak effects at 30 minutes.  Dexdomitor may be reversed with atipamezole (see Antisedan), however once reversed it provides no analgesia.

Disadvantages: Dexdomitor reduces heart rate and initially causes vasoconstriction (increasing blood pressure) and then causes vasodilation (decreasing blood pressure). Due to the negative cardiovascular effects of Dexdomitor, be cautious when using it in dogs or cats with cardiovascular disease, respiratory disorders, liver or kidney diseases, or in conditions of shock, severe debilitation, or stress due to extreme heat, cold or fatigue.

Glycopyrrolate – Generic Name: Glycopyrrolate – Benefit: Increased heart rate

Advantages: Glycopyrrolate is very similar to atropine, but has a duration of about 4 hours and does not cross the blood brain barrier.  It is also less likely to produce tachycardia.

Disadvantage: At times the long duration can be a disadvantage as well, causing prolonged increased heart rate, dry mouth, etc.

Morphine – Generic Name:  Morphine – Benefit: Pain management

Advantages: Morphine is inexpensive and the gold standard by which all other opioid pain relievers are compared.  It works well administered SQ or IM in conjunction with acepromazine as a sedative/analgesic in dogs and cats.  Morphine is long lasting, providing good analgesia up to 6 hours.  Morphine is also an excellent choice for post-operative pain management.  The effects of morphine can be reversed with naloxone (see Narcan).

Disadvantages: As with the other opioids, dose-dependent excitation is seen in cats when administered high doses of morphine. Morphine can cause bradycardia (atropine and glycopyrrolate responsive) and respiratory depression. Respiratory depression may become severe at higher doses. Morphine commonly causes vomiting and defecation when used as a premed.  Combining morphine with acepromazine will reduce the likelihood of vomiting and defecation. Avoid IV administration of morphine as it may cause a release of histamine which can cause cardiovascular collapse.

Narcan – Generic Name: Naloxone – Benefit: Reverses opioids

Advantages: Reliably reverses respiratory depression produced by most opioids. Micro-doses may limit the degree of reversal to only reversing respiratory depression and sedation, while maintaining analgesia.

Disadvantages: At higher doses it will reverse the analgesia produced by opioids. Narcan’s duration of action is not as long as some opioids (like morphine), so the reversal agent could wear off over time and the effects of the opioid may return.  Narcan does not reliably reverse Buprenex because Buprenex has such a strong affinity for the mu receptor.

Numorphan – Generic Name: Oxymorphone – Benefit: Pain management

Advantages: Oxymorphone is an opioid offering good sedation and good analgesia.  It has a long duration of action with a peak effect lasting 1 to 3 hours.  It is ten times more potent than morphine. The cardiovascular effects of oxymorphone are similar to morphine, but less profound. The effects of oxymorphone can be antagonized with naloxone (see Narcan).

Disadvantages: Oxymorphone can cause bradycardia. Panting is often produced and is not changed by depth of anesthesia.  Panting may be reduced by administration of acepromazine. Despite a high respiration rate, oxymorphone causes respiratory depression. Oxymorphone will produce an exaggerated response to loud noises.  High doses may cause excitatory behavior, especially in cats and its use IV is generally not recommended in cats. It occasionally induces vomiting or defecation. Oxymorphone is more expensive than morphine.

Torbugesic / Torbutrol / Torb  – Generic Name:  Butorphanol – Benefit: Pain Management

Advantages: Butorphanol is a type of opioid that provides moderate visceral analgesia and potentiates the action of other anesthetic drugs.  Duration of action is very short in dogs, and moderate in cats.  Butorphanol is reversible with naloxone (see Narcan).

Disadvantages: Butorphanol does not reliably provide sedation when used alone, but good sedation is produced when used in combination with a tranquilizer.   It is not as effective for severe pain.

Valium – Generic Name: Diazepam – Benefit: Muscle relaxation

Advantages:  Valium is used most frequently to potentiate the effects of other anesthetic drugs. It induces muscle relaxation.  It is also used to treat acute seizure activity.  Valium can be reversed with flumazenil.

Disadvantages: Alone, Valium does not produce sedation in most animals.  Due to its propylene glycol preparation, IM injection may result in pain and its absorption from IM injection may be unreliable.  It does not mix well in the same syringe with others drugs, and may form a precipitate when mixed.

Versed – Generic Name: Midazolam – Benefit: Muscle relaxation

 Advantages: Versed is a muscle relaxant similar to Valium.  It is water-soluble, which minimizes irritation at the injection site when given IM or SQ.  Unlike Valium, it mixes well in the same syringe with other drugs.  Versed offers excellent sedation and muscle relaxation in birds.  Versed can be antagonized with flumazenil.

Disadvantages: Versed does not produce sedation in normal dogs and cats, but may sedate depressed patients.  It may cause agitation and irritability in calm dogs and cats when administered alone.


Alfaxan – Generic Name: Alfaxalone – Benefit: Induction of anesthesia

Advantages: Alfaxan is another anesthetic with a rapid onset and short duration of action with minimal side-effects. In general its clinical use and properties can be compared to propofol. Similar to propofol, Alfaxan is an induction agent that, because of its short half-life in dogs and cats, is suitable for repeated bolus injections or a continuous rate infusion (CRI).  Unlike propofol, Alfaxan has little or no cardiovascular effects when given in the normal dosage. Alfaxan can be safely combined with premeds.

Disadvantages: Rapid IV administration of Alfaxan causes apnea, and it is recommended to administer it slowly IV; over a minute or so. Alfaxan should not be considered a significant analgesic. Recovery from Alfaxan can be agitated, especially when little or no premeds are used.  Cats recovering from Alfaxan seem to be extra sensitive to outside stimuli, and the recovery should be in a quiet, darkened room.

Ketalar / Ketaset / Vetalar – Generic Name: Ketamine – Benefit: Induction of anesthesia, pain management

Advantages: Ketamine administered IV induces smooth and rapid anesthesia.  It can be administered IM as a premed or induction agent to aggressive cats and dogs. Ketamine is an appropriate induction agent for sighthounds.

Disadvantages: Ketamine increases salivation, muscle rigidity, and is painful on IM injection. Vocalization, and delirium or seizure-like activity during recovery have been reported following higher doses.  Atropine or glycoppyrolate will control the excessive salivation. To decrease the muscle rigidity, administer a muscle relaxing drug like Valium or Versed with the ketamine.

 Propoflo – Generic Name: Propofol – Benefit: Induction of anesthesia

 Advantages: Propofol is an ultra-short acting intravenous injectable anesthetic agent.  It produces a smooth, rapid induction and is unlikely to cause arrhythmias.  The soy bean oil and egg protein emulsion of its base causes no reaction if inadvertently injected perivascularly. It provides a brisk recovery. Propofol can be used as an induction agent or can be delivered by constant rate infusion with minimal cumulative effects, to maintain anesthesia for short procedures.

Disadvantages: Propofol causes dose-dependent apnea and hypotension. These can be minimized by slowly administering the drug over 30 ‑ 60 seconds.  Cumulative effects after prolonged infusions (resulting in prolonged recovery from anesthesia) are reported in cats. Occasional aberrant muscle twitches are observed following IV administration to dogs. Propofol has poor analgesic properties.

Telazol – Generic Name: Tiletamine-zolazepam – Benefit: Induction of anesthesia

 Advantages: Telazol is a combination of the drugs tiletamine, a drug similar ketamine, and the muscle relaxant zolazepam, which is similar to Valium.  It has a more rapid onset of action following IM injection, and longer duration of anesthesia compared to a combination of ketamine and valium. It provides good muscle relaxation and is an appropriate induction choice for sight hounds. It is a very useful drug for sedation of aggressive dogs.  It comes as a powder in a single vial and needs to be reconstituted.  Since it needs to be reconstituted, it can be reconstituted to concentration.  This flexibility makes it an ideal capture drug for field anesthesia.

Disadvantages: Increased salivation in dogs and cats, pain on IM injection in cats, vocalization during recovery in dogs, and delirium or seizure-like activity during recovery have been reported as side effects.  Recovery from Telazol in dogs tends to be rough.  Cats have long recoveries which are occasionally rough. Refrigeration is recommended after reconstitution to prolong shelf-life.


Isoflurane – Generic Name: Isoflurane – Benefit: General anesthesia

Advantages: Isoflurane produces rapid induction and rapid changes in anesthetic plane, with minimal metabolism.  It provides good muscle relaxation and usually does not cause cardiac arrhythmia.  Very little isoflurane is metabolized by the body and the effects go away by breathing out the gas.

Disadvantages: It is a potent respiratory depressant.  Isoflurane also causes dose dependent hypotension, largely attributed to vasodilation.

SevoFlo / Sevo – Generic Name: Sevoflurane – Benefit: General anesthesia

Advantages: Sevoflurane’s low solubility produces rapid induction, rapid changes in anesthetic plane, and rapid recovery. Sevoflurane does not appear to sensitize the heart to arrhythmias, although it will increase heart rate above resting values.

Disadvantages: Sevoflurane causes dose-dependent respiratory depression and hypotension, similar to isoflurane. At a surgical plane of anesthesia, it decreases mean aortic blood pressure, stroke volume, and cardiac contractility.  It will also cause systemic vasodilation.

This is by no means a comprehensive review of all the anesthetic agents you might find in a small animal practice.  This is just a thumbnail sketch of the drugs I most often see on protocol sheets.  It’s the kind of information I wanted to know about Bute, before I gave it to Milton.  For more comprehensive information about these drugs and other drugs not listed here, visit the online Veterinary Anesthesia and Analgesia Support Group (VASG).  VASG is a site maintained by veterinary professionals who have made a commitment to anesthetic and pain management excellence.

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Ken Crump AAS, AHT is a writer and animal anesthetist, and writes Making Anesthesia Easier for DarvallVet, a division of Advanced Anesthesia Specialists.  He makes dozens of Continuing Education presentations on veterinary anesthesia and oncology across the United States and in Canada.  Ken retired from the Veterinary Teaching Hospital at Colorado State University in 2008
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Anesthesia for Pocket Pets


With nearly 44 million exotic small animal pets in the US, sooner or later you’ll find yourself anesthetizing one in your practice.  And with pet rats becoming the ever more popular exotic pet of choice – especially in states where other exotic mammals are banned as pets – chances are you’ll be anesthetizing a rat.

In his article Oh, Rats! Why the Rodents Are Becoming Increasingly Popular Pets, Kenneth Miller recounts how he and his wife swallowed their misgivings and bought a pair of female rats for their daughter, who is allergic to more conventional pets.  He writes, “Ounce for ounce, Cookie and Blueberry have more personality than many conventional domestic animals. They run excitedly to their cage door when we enter the room. They enjoy being tickled and playing peekaboo behind the sofa cushions.”

He admits that as small critters go, there’s something about rats that generates particular “ardor” among their owners.  And according to statistics from the American Pet Products Association, that ardor has led the number of households with pet rats to nearly double in just a few years.  And families who love their pocket pets bring them to veterinarians for medical attention, anticipating the same level of care given to more conventional pets.

Fortunately when we are occasionally faced with anesthetizing a pocket pet, we can turn to the research industry that has pioneered rodent anesthesia, to provide us with normal physical parameters and suggestions for appropriate drug combinations.  But most of us rely on gas anesthesia for our clinical practices, and finding an effective gas anesthesia delivery system for rodents and pocket pets, outside of the research environment, is another story.

Despite the ongoing progress made by researchers in rodent anesthesia, there are still longstanding challenges anesthetists need to address.  Common among these are

  • Morbidity / mortality due to hypothermia
  • Waste gas contamination of the workplace
  • Long, uncontrolled inductions
  • Variable, unpredictable depth of anesthesia
  • High cost of anesthetic gas and oxygen

DarvallVet has developed innovative solutions to these longstanding challenges that have been adopted by such prestigious institutions as the new FDA White Oak research campus in Maryland, and AbbVie, home to 29,000 scientists, researchers, and manufacturing specialists located around the globe.  Now the same gas anesthesia delivery systems that reduce hypothermia and eliminate waste gas contamination in research institutions are available to clinical practice.  Whether your practice sees several pocket pets a year, or several a day, DarvallVet has the right breathing circuit for you.

ZDS Mask –

ZDS-MaskThe Darvall ZDS Mask is perfect for the clinical practice that sees only the occasional bird or pocket pet.  It’s also a great answer for anesthetizing small puppies and kittens.  Its clever design delivers fresh gas directly to the patient, preventing resistance to breathing and eliminating dead space.  As a matter of fact, ZDS stands for “Zero Dead Space”.  The ZDS Mask provides rapid and predictable anesthesia and is efficient enough to allow reduced flow rates, saving time, money, and protecting your patient’s body temperature.  It comes with two different sized diaphragms to prevent waste gas from leaking into the room.  The overall concept is simple enough that you could make one yourself just by looking at the picture, but it’s so reasonably priced that it’s hardly worth the effort.  It’s available in autoclavable and non-autoclavable models, although it’s the rare clinical practice that would need to spend the extra money on an autoclavable model.

ZDS Qube –

300-dpi-fatso-and-blockThe Darvall ZDS Qube is the all-around anesthesia workhorse for the exotics practice or practices that see a number of small pocket pets every week.  Its patented unidirectional low-flow design allows you to turn the oxygen flow rate down to a minimum (see your vaporizer’s recommended minimum oxygen flow rate) saving up to 80% of the cost of oxygen and anesthetic gas, as well as protecting your tiny patient from the how high flow rates syphon off body temperature.  To further maintain crucial body temperature in very small pets, the ZDS Qube is available in heated and non-heated models.  The Heated ZDS Qube warms the inspired gases, warming your patient from the inside out.

MasksThe ZDS Qube is an aluminum block weighing about a pound, adding security and stability to patient positioning.  There is a full range of interchangeable ZDS Qube masks and diaphragms available to minimize waste gas contamination and to fit any bird, pocket pet or positioning situation.  And like the ZDS Mask, the ZDS Qube provides rapid, consistent, and predictable anesthesia.

Developed for use in the best research institutions in the world, both the ZDS Mask and the ZDS Qube attach easily to your clinical gas machine without tools.  They’re simple to set up and simple to use, providing state of the art delivery of anesthetic gas to your clinical practice.

“They promptly won our hearts,” writes Miller about Cookie and Blueberry. Like half a million other American families, his has fallen in love with this less-than-conventional pet. Whether your practice sees the occasional rat or is an exotics specialty practice, it is now possible to borrow a page from the experts’ playbook and provide safer, predictable gas anesthesia to your clients’ pocket pets.white-rat-golden-teddy.jpg.838x0_q80

“To own a rat,” says Dale Burkhart, Vice President of the American Fancy Rat and Mouse Association, “is to know that forever your heart will walk outside your body on four little feet.”



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Ken Crump AAS, AHT is a writer and animal anesthetist, and writes Making Anesthesia Easier for DarvallVet, a division of Advanced Anesthesia Specialists.  He makes dozens of Continuing Education presentations on veterinary anesthesia and oncology across the United States and in Canada.  Ken retired from the Veterinary Teaching Hospital at Colorado State University in 2008
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Let’s Just Mask Him Down

ZDS kitten

The Quizlet flashcard question asks, “What are the uses of mask induction?”  Quizlet  is an online study tool that uses flashcards to help improve your retention.  They call it a simple tool for learning anything.  The mask induction flashcard is part of a section for veterinary technicians on induction and patient prep for anesthesia.  The answer on the reverse side of the flashcard states: “When IV induction is difficult, mildly uncooperative cats and small dogs, neonates, small mammals, birds, debilitated patients subject to the negative effects of premedications or induction drugs.”

Mask inductions fit nicely into the “less is more” mindset we often adopt when it comes to anesthesia.  It seems safer because the fewer drugs we use the less that can go wrong, right?  In a recent article, John Jacobson DVM, DACVAA, lists these perceived advantages of mask inductions.

  • Inhalation anesthetics can be easily eliminated from the body with ventilation; they are not nearly as dependent on redistribution and metabolism for recovery as most injectable agents are.
  • The change in anesthetic depth is typically gradual compared with boluses of intravenous induction agents, giving the patient time to compensate for cardiovascular changes.
  • Intravenous access is not required.

All of this builds a pretty good story for mask inductions being fairly benign.  However, even Dr. Jacobson goes on to say that he avoids them.

“Significant cardiovascular and respiratory depression occurs under halothane and isoflurane anesthesia,” explains Dr. Nancy Brock, also a veterinary anesthesiologist. She states that although induction of anesthesia by mask is perceived by many as a safer method, gas anesthetic agents are not innocuous or inherently any safer or easier to control than injectable agents.

This cautionary information about mask induction is clearly outlined in the Veterinary Anesthesia and Analgesia Support Group (VASG) section on induction of anesthesia.  VASG is the well-respected online anesthesia resource founded by Dr. Bob Stein, a site that currently hosts over 20,000 visitors per month.  VASG states that mask inductions are not recommended for most patient groups.  Here are the reasons they list as why:

  • Increased patient stress, which could increase arrhythmic risk.
  • Unnecessary staff exposure to anesthetic agents.
  • Time required for complete induction of anesthesia is longer than compared to IV agents.
  • Prolonged period of unsecured airway with an increased risk of airway compromise or obstruction.
  • High concentrations of inhalant agents are required to achieve mask induction. Higher doses produce more cardiovascular and respiratory depression than seen with comparable doses of IV induction agents.
  • Contraindicated in brachycephalic patients.

In a special report on veterinary medical care guidelines for spay-neuter programs, the Association of Shelter Veterinarians also states that mask inductions should not be performed routinely and should be avoided whenever possible.  In addition to the reasons listed by VASG, they include the high cost of delivering high flows of oxygen and high concentrations of anesthetic gas directly into the scavenge system.  The report goes so far as to say, “If mask supplementation becomes frequent or regular, other options should be considered for patient and staff safety.”

I did a fair number of mask inductions early in my career.  In one practice, it was the standard protocol for induction of most cats and small dogs.  I had occasion to use a gas analyzer during that time.  A gas analyzer measures the actual concentration of anesthetic gas that’s delivered from a gas machine (as opposed to the concentration indicated by the vaporizer dial), and also the concentration of anesthetic gas exhaled from the patient.  That taught me that for a while after induction, the concentration of anesthetic gas exhaled by the patient was higher than the concentration of gas coming from the vaporizer.  For example, I had the vaporizer set at 1.5% for the surgery, but the patient was actually exhaling twice that concentration.  So my patient was over anesthetized until it could blow off the excess gas required for the induction.  That was an enlightening realization for me.  I had been inducing with anesthetic gas, the most hypotensive drug I use for anesthesia, in high concentrations, in an uncontrolled manner, to a patient who was not intubated and had no monitoring equipment on, and I thought it was the ‘safest’ plan.

Mask inductions have their place in our anesthesia toolbox.  But, if you routinely mask induce or use a chamber to induce patients, it’s time to reevaluate the safety, the cost, and the efficacy of that protocol. As the AAHA Anesthesia Guidelines for Dogs and Cats  warns, mask inductions should be reserved for situations where other alternatives are not suitable.  VASG is an excellent resource to begin marking a trail through the forest of anesthesia protocol possibilities. I know it can be difficult to change an anesthetic protocol.  We all become comfortable with a few ways to do things, and are reluctant to risk trying something different.  But VASG founder Dr. Stein suggests a way to gain confidence with a variety of advanced anesthesia techniques by periodically utilizing them on low risk patents.

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Ken Crump AAS, AHT is a writer and animal anesthetist, and writes Making Anesthesia Easier for DarvallVet, a division of Advanced Anesthesia Specialists.  He makes dozens of Continuing Education presentations on veterinary anesthesia and oncology across the United States and in Canada.  Ken retired from the Veterinary Teaching Hospital at Colorado State University in 2008
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