Veterinary anaesthesia, when compared to human anaesthesia, is a relatively high risk procedure, ie 1 in 900 small animal (dog and cat) deaths compared to 1 in 200,000 human deaths..
Veterinarians must use general anaesthesia for many feline treatments as the patients will not allow us to use the far safer local anaesthesia - for instance, all dentistry involves general anaesthesia on a human paediatric gas machine.
Human anaesthesia always has a specialist totally dedicated to the anaesthetic. The vet, however, is usually in charge of both the anaesthesia and the surgery. Like small plane crashes, operator error comes out as a significant cause of death and will remain so until the owners are prepared to pay for a dedicated anaesthetist.
Equipment monitoring blood oxygen levels, heart and lung function are being used with increasing frequency to help decrease the risk...
Drugs (and the manner of their use) are becoming safer and the risk figures quoted are from a six-year-old survey, so perhaps they may be better now. The fact remains that all anaesthetic drugs are dangerous (in high concentrations they are euthanasia drugs).
Anaesthesia is an exciting subject - the bringing together of many aspects of science to have a stress-free and pain-free cat, successfully treated.
I would ask owners to acknowledge the risk and be aware of the convern your vet goes through when anaesthesia is undertaken. It is a huge responsibility for us and we probably work better if we know you are informed of the danger.
Induction is usually accomplished using a subcutaneous injection, thus avoiding the need for an intravenous needle that may cause pain and struggling.
A tube is placed into the trachea, a balloon around it is inflated and a gas and water tight connection to the lungs established. The patient is then connected to a paediatric anaesthetic machine that delivers Isoflurane gas with oxygen.
Monitoring equipment can be attached to the airway and to the tongue to aid in evaluating the progress of the anaesthesia. The procedure can be stopped if the cat appears to be at risk.