Anaesthesia in exotic pets—managing the risks

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Copyright: luckybusiness / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: luckybusiness / 123RF Stock Photo

With the growing popularity of exotic pets such as rats, reptiles and birds, more of these species are presenting for veterinary care; in particular, there has been an increase in the number of exotic pets requiring anaesthesia.

While good outcomes for anaesthetised dogs and cats are generally expected, the mortality rates associated with anaesthesia are significantly higher in exotic pets than they are in traditional companion animals.

At this week’s Unusual Pet and Avian Veterinarians (UPAV) and Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAVAC) Combined Annual Conference in Brisbane, focusing on current and emerging issues in the veterinary care of unusual pets and birds, Dr Bob Doneley, head of the Avian and Exotic Pet Service at the University of Queensland, spoke about the use of anaesthesia in exotic pets and ways to improve safety for these species.

“Generally speaking, the number of exotic patients that are anaesthetised each year is low compared to dogs and cats. However, it’s widely accepted that anaesthetic mortality rates of exotic pets are much higher,” he said.

“The good news is that recent data indicates that anaesthesia in exotic patients is safer than popular belief, but it’s still more dangerous than small animal anaesthesia.”

Anaesthesia mortality can occur during a procedure and up to 48 hours afterwards. Dr Doneley said there are a range of factors that make caring for these exotic patients more challenging than dogs and cats.

“Exotic patients are predisposed to hypothermia and hypoglycaemia. Their high body surface area to volume ratio also makes the calculation of dose rates and the administration of drugs more challenging. Another distinct difference is that many exotic patients are ‘prey species’ and are likely to release adrenalin, which when combined with the effect of anaesthetic drugs, leads to cardiac arrest.”

Dr Doneley advised that a thorough assessment and adequate preparation, as well as increased monitoring and extensive post-operative support, are critical to successful outcomes for an anaesthetised exotic pet.

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