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Preanesthetic Planning & Screening Tests in Animals
Veterinary & Aquatic Services Department, Drs. Foster & Smith
veterinary exams & procedures
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Preanesthetic screening

tube of blood and blood smearsBefore your pet undergoes a procedure that requires sedation or anesthesia, it is ideal for him to have a complete physical examination by a veterinarian to determine his overall health. The veterinarian may also recommend blood tests such as a CBC and chemistry panels to check the health of some of the internal organs such as the kidneys and liver. Some types of anesthesia are eliminated from the body through these organs. An EKG of the heart may be performed to make sure it is beating in a normal electrical rhythm. If a potential problem is uncovered during any of these exams or tests, it may indicate that an elective procedure should wait until the problem is solved, or may indicate the need to use a different form of anesthesia or monitoring than was planned. These tests also help predict the length and smoothness of recovery from the anesthesia and surgery. If your pet has had anesthesia previously, it is helpful for the veterinarian to know how the animal responded to the anesthesia and what type of anesthesia was used. This is especially important if the animal had difficulties during the anesthesia or recovery, since other anesthetics could be used instead. Preanesthetic screening tests help to make anesthesia as safe for your pet as possible.

Fasting from food and water

cat eating from a bowlA pet is typically fasted from food for 6-12 hours before anesthesia and from water for several hours. This allows the stomach time to empty, which helps prevent vomiting and aspiration of the vomitus into the lungs. The length of time without food and water varies depending on the pet's age and health. An eight-week-old kitten will have food withheld for a shorter time than an adult cat, since the pediatric pet does not have as much energy stored as an adult cat. An older animal may not have water withheld as long because of kidney disease.

To increase the safety of the anesthesia, especially during longer procedures, intravenous (IV) fluids are given. The fluids received by the animal will help maintain a healthy blood pressure and protect the kidneys from dehydration. The catheter used to give these fluids also provides easy access to the circulatory system in case of an emergency.


Antibiotics may be started a day or two in advance of procedures, such as dental cleanings. If the oral health of the pet is very poor, pre-surgical antibiotics may help prevent the spread of infection through the body that may occur due to bleeding during the cleaning and extraction of infected teeth. If antibiotics are prescribed before or after a procedure, they should be given according to the instructions. If a reaction occurs, such as vomiting or diarrhea, contact your veterinarian, since another antibiotic may need to be substituted.


Planning ahead for elective procedures helps to reduce the risks associated with anesthesia. Remember, anesthesia is necessary at times, and is safer now than ever before.

References and Further Reading

Cornick-Seahorn, J. Formulating an anesthetic plan for your patients. Veterinary Forum 2000; 46-53.

DVM, Foster, R; DVM, Smith, M. Just What the Doctor Ordered. Howell Book House. New York; 1996.

McKelvey, D; Hollingshead, W.K. Small Animal Anesthesia Canine and Feline Practice. Mosby. St. Louis, MO; 1994.

Plumb, D. Veterinary Drug Handbook, 3rd Ed. Iowa State University Press. Ames, Iowa; 1999. 

Parts & Function of a Gas Anesthesia Machine for Pets 
Stages of Anesthesia in Animals 
How Anesthetic Gases Work in Animals 
Types of Anesthesia, Sedatives & Tranquilizers in Animals 
Monitoring the Anesthetized Animal 
Click here for a pdf version of this article.  See related products at Pet Supplies  
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