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May 01, 2020

AAHA updates guidelines on anesthesia for dogs and cats

Published on April 15, 2020

New guidelines from the American Animal Hospital Association present a framework for safe anesthesia for dogs and cats from home to hospital and back to home.

“The guidelines are laid out to emphasize the importance of anesthesia as a continuum of care, beginning with the pet at home, transitioning through the four phases of anesthesia—pre-anesthesia, induction, maintenance, recovery—and ending with the patient back at home, physiologically stable, calm, and pain free,” said Dr. Tamara Grubb, co-chair of the task force that prepared the guidelines. “We call it doorknob to doorknob.”

Vet tech monitors anesthetized dog
A veterinary technician monitors capillary refill time in an anesthetized dog. (Photo by Dr. Tamara Grubb)

The 2020 AAHA Anesthesia and Monitoring Guidelines for Dogs and Cats are an update to the 2011 AAHA anesthesia guidelines. Dr. Grubb, an assistant clinical professor at Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine, said the 2020 guidelines and accompanying website offer the following:

  • Expanded information on pre-anesthesia care, including new fasting guidelines and client communication tips.
  • More information on the role of anxiolytics in safe anesthesia.
  • Expanded dosing charts for all phases of anesthesia.
  • Recommendations for equipment care.
  • Specific monitoring and support guidelines, including prevention and treatment of anesthetic complications.
  • Diagrams for common local anesthetic blocks.
  • Detailed information for care of patients in recovery.
  • A variety of useful checklists.
  • A detailed curriculum for staff training on anesthesia.

“It is very important to realize that anesthesia is not defined solely as the period when the patient is unconscious,” Dr. Grubb said. “Thinking of all phases of anesthesia—starting at home and ending at home—improves patient safety and comfort along with pet owner satisfaction and understanding.”

Jennifer Sager, a veterinary technician specialist in anesthesia and co-chair of the guidelines task force, wrote the section on staff education and safety training. The section highlights the importance of veterinary technicians in anesthesia.

The guidelines appeared in the March/April issue of the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association. The website also has more tables, diagrams, flow charts, dosing charts, photos, checklists, and other resources.