What Complications Can Happen at Home After Anesthesia? (Part 4)

Even though a pet may have gone through surgery and anesthesia very smoothly, they can still have a few complications after they leave the hospital.
In part 1, we discussed breathing complications.
In part 2, we discussed cardio-vascular complications.
In part 3, we discussed other complications that can happen during anesthesia.

Today, let’s discuss other complications that can happen AFTER anesthesia.

Let’s go over the most common ones – which can also happen in people.

1. Constipation

Many pets will not have a bowel movement for the first few days after anesthesia and surgery. There are several reasons for that:

  • Your pet has been fasted prior to surgery
  • Your pet may not have eaten well during the hospital stay or the first few days at home
  • Anesthesia drugs and pain medications may slow down your pet’s transit

If your pet does not have a bowel movement within 4-5 days after returning home, your vet or surgeon will often suggest a stool softener.

Please always follow a vet’s advice, because some “human” stool softeners are toxic to pets, mostly in cats.

Also note that some pets will occasionally have the opposite reaction and will have diarrhea, possibly due to stress.

2. Lethargy, nausea, poor appetite

All these can happen after anesthesia.

Your pet simply doesn’t feel well after anesthesia and/or surgery.

The drugs do get out of the body very quickly (some within minutes, most within hours).

Still, it may take a few days to get over anesthesia, just like in a person.

3. Dysphoria

This can certainly happen in cats, but it’s more obvious in dogs who wake up from surgery.
They are often discombobulated.
They have no idea what happened to them.
They may not know who you are and where they are.
They’re spacey or groggy or loopy, while the full effects of anesthesia wear off.
They pace. They can’t sit still. They can’t rest.
They can’t “seem to get comfortable.”
They won’t lie down for hours at a stretch.
If you’ve ever had anesthesia, you likely felt the same way.
You may also have seen videos of kids or adults waking up from anesthesia, after dentistry or surgery, and they say the weirdest or funniest things – which they don’t even remember later.
Since dogs don’t understand what’s happening, it causes anxiety.
And they don’t know how to express that, except through whining.
While it’s stressful to any pet lover, the good news is that it should go away after a good night’s sleep – rarely longer than that.
If you doubt it, let me give you a classic example. If we only sedate a dog (not even full anesthesia) to take X-rays or change a bandage or trim their nails, and reverse the drugs, they may experience dysphoria.
We haven’t done anything painful, yet they cry like they’re in severe pain.
Why is that? Well, it’s exactly for the reasons explained above. It’s not pain. It’s dysphoria. They’ll get over it, so please be patient with your pup!
Bottom line: This type of crying should stop or at least improve when you sit next to your dog, or you call his or her name.

Thankfully, all of the above complications are most often short-lived.
If not, you should definitely call your vet or surgeon to discuss the situation.

There is no guarantee with any anesthesia.

Yet these days, the risks of severe complications are small, and most complications resolve quickly.

The secret is to have good monitoring equipment, and above all, experienced anesthesia nurses.

Every patient we anesthetize has a dedicated anesthesia nurse, whose only job is to keep her patient safe.

If you would like to learn how we can help your pet with safe surgery and anesthesia, please contact us through www.DrPhilZeltzman.com

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Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ, Fear Free Certified

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Dr. Phil Zeltzman

Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a traveling veterinary surgeon in Pennsylvania & New Jersey. An award-winning author, he loves to share his adventures in practice along with information about vet medicine and surgery that can really help your pets. Dr. Zeltzman specializes in orthopedic, neurologic, cancer, and soft tissue surgeries for dogs, cats, and small exotics. By working with local family vets, he offers the best surgical care, safest anesthesia, and utmost pain management to all his patients. Sign up to get an email when he updates his blog, and follow him on Facebook, too!