When a pet requires surgery, a CT scan or to have their teeth cleaned they need to also have an anaesthetic. Unlike people, who will almost always have a specialist doctor to care for them under anaesthesia, pets will typically be monitored by your vet or a veterinary nurse. I would like to tell you a little bit about my job as a mobile, specialist, veterinary anaesthesiologist.
My purpose is to advocate for your pet's wellbeing and keep them safe and comfortable when they are at their most vulnerable.
A question I am often asked is “what is a veterinary anaesthesiologist? I‘ve not heard of that before”. That’s understandable as (at the time of writing) I am the only one practicing in Singapore. In short – the answer is that I am a fully qualified veterinarian who has gone on to complete a prescribed course of closely supervised postgraduate training – specifically in the field of anaesthesia and analgesia.
During my training I worked under the supervision of qualified anaesthesiologists. The training is similar to that which an anaesthesiologist who cares for people will undergo. It is referred to a senior clinical training scholarship (or residency depending on where in the world you are). After the three year training period is finished a person wishing to call themselves a specialist must then publish a number of scientific papers and pass a rigorous set of examinations.
One of the things I love about my job is that no two workdays are the same. I don’t have a veterinary clinic of my own – instead I travel to different clinics and hospitals all around Singapore. I help regular (GP) vets manage their patients who need anaesthesia. You may see me trundling along with a great big trolley of equipment that comes everywhere with me. I carry everything needed to make sure that the pets I care for are as safe and comfortable as possible before, during and after their procedure. Needless to say that adds up to a LOT of bags & boxes.
When they book an appointment with me the GP vet sends me all the details about the pet I’m going to be looking after, including their full medical history and the results of any tests they have already had. I comb through all this information and identify anything that could potentially be a problem during anaesthesia. I may ask for a few more tests or some extra information at this point.
Problems I encounter are varied and could be related to the pet’s breed – for example some breeds such as shelties can be very sensitive to anaesthetics, squishy faced (brachycephalic) dogs like pugs and bulldogs can have trouble keeping their airway open, Maine coon cats can have a predisposition to a particular type of heart disease, rabbits, who are generally very tiny patients, may get very very cold (and have surprisingly tiny lungs for animals which are so athletic!).
Sometimes I need to consider the reason anaesthesia is needed, if surgery is being performed I expect the procedure could be painful. I can plan in advance to prevent pain using a slew of different techniques. Some surgeries mean that a patient will require extra help to breathe properly or they may be at risk of loosing a lot of blood. If they are having an X-ray or CT scan we want them to wake up quickly so they can go home to their guardians ASAP.
Some pets may have a pre existing problem with their kidneys, heart, liver or brain. They may be diabetic or very small. All these things affect how I make my plan. Medications that are being given can also affect how a patient may react to the anaesthetic. Some medications for seizures or behaviour can interact with anaesthetics and lead to the patient needing a lower dose. Certain heart medications can lead to dangerously low blood pressure if not accounted for.
Once I have reviewed everything I generate a problem list and make sure I have a solution for every possible issue that may crop up. On the day of the procedure I stay with the patient from before the start of the anaesthetic right through until they are completely recovered. This may be when they are ready to be handed back over to the clinic staff for further care or be sent home.
The very best parts of my job; being able to reassure worried guardians and seeing my patients wake up quickly & comfortably !