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ANAESTHESIA underpins modern veterinary medicine by enabling invasive diagnostic, surgical and medical interventions to be carried out in a humane way (Taylor 2014). As veterinary interventions continue to advance and public awareness of pain and safety increases, anaesthesia will become even more pivotal to our profession. Despite this, little is known about the quality and safety of the anaesthesia that we, as a profession, provide to our patients.
In general terms, anaesthesia should be concerned with keeping animals safe and maintaining welfare during procedures by identifying, minimising and managing risks and by ensuring that pain is recognised and treated as appropriate. However, anaesthesia can often be viewed as a means to an end; a necessary step performed merely to facilitate the performance of another procedure. With this mindset, it is easy to undertake anaesthesia with little care and attention, cutting corners in the name of efficiency and economy or in the belief that certain tasks are not always necessary.
We often consider the biggest threat to the anaesthetised patient to be adverse effects of drugs. These drugs, by definition, are potent depressors of the central nervous system and therefore affect cardiovascular, respiratory, neurological and metabolic function. Such effects are often exacerbated and more pronounced in sick patients. Derangement in one, several or all of these physiological systems has the potential to cause harm to the patient and could lead to death. We do what we can to recognise, reduce and manage these complications, but our efforts have their limitations and it would therefore appear, superficially at least, that death due to the administration of anaesthetic drugs is an inevitable, inherent component of anaesthesia that we can do little about. So, case by case and day by day, we accept this ‘risk of anaesthesia’ in the light of the vast array …