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It’s common to have questions and concerns about the safety of sedation, and while there’s a risk with any procedure, sedation can be an important part of the veterinary treatment plan. Without sedation, moving forward with procedures when your pet is distressed can create long-lasting, negative effects, and increase fear, stress, and anxiety for the next appointment.  This can make future medical care difficult and have negative effects on your pet’s health.

Using sedatives prior to veterinary care or prior to an anesthetic procedure can lower patient and staff stress, improve ease of patient handling, and can even reduce the amount of inhalant anesthetic that the patient may need. Sedatives can also help obtain more accurate lab work because some values may change with increased stress during blood collection.  The degree of sedation needed will depend on the situation and procedure being performed.

Using sedation not only helps decrease your pet’s stress but also increases the veterinary team’s safety. When a patient undergoes a veterinary procedure while they’re painful, fearful, stressed, or anxious, the pet may panic. Unfortunately, pets don’t understand why they’re being poked or restrained and may do everything in their power to make this scary situation stop. This behavior can include aggression, such as growling, lunging, and biting, which can injure veterinary team members, even if this is out of character for your pet. By providing sedation at the onset, this scenario can be prevented, your pet is calmer, and the procedure can be completed safely and effectively.

Although daily or “pre-visit” antianxiety medications used prior to a routine examination do not cause drowsiness or decreased mobility in pets, it’s normal for heavy sedation or anesthesia to have lingering effects for 24-72 hours after the procedure. Your pet may have temporary behavioral changes where they have difficulty recognizing people or familiar surroundings. They may be restless and unwilling to lie down or relax when they get home, or they may be sleepy but still rousable and able to walk around if needed. These effects are normal and usually resolve in a few days.

Your pet will be discharged from the hospital when they are fully awake, warm (normal body temperature), and comfortable. This may be 1 to 4 hours post-procedure depending on the procedure and type of sedation or anesthesia used. Because most sedatives and anesthetics reduce body temperature, your veterinary team may also advise keeping your pet in a warm room to help control their body temperature. Lastly, it’s important to recognize that obese animals can often have delayed recoveries. Most of the medications used are fat soluble, so the more body fat the pet has, the longer it will take for their system to remove the anesthetic.

Every patient responds to sedatives and anesthesia differently. Talk to your veterinary team to create a full sedation/anesthetic plan that would work best in your pet.

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