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  • Writer's pictureJames Wickham

Potential Complications of Surgery and Anaesthesia

There is a range of general and specific complications associated with sedation, anaesthesia, and the various procedures we perform.

As part of the informed consent process, it is important you are aware of these prior to your animal's procedure.

  • Haemorrhage:

Haemorrhage is bleeding from cut tissues. Many surgeries involve the transection of blood vessels and subsequent ligation (‘tying off’) or sealing of these vessels. Bleeding, either during or after such surgery, is a potential complication.

Post-operatively, signs of internal bleeding to be aware of include lethargy, pale gums, rapid breathing rate and exercise intolerance.

  • Infection:

When performing surgery, meticulous attempts to maintain a bacteria-free surgical site are made, as they apply to the patient, theatre, surgeon and equipment preparation. This is especially important with the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and the need to limit antibiotic use to preserve effectiveness.

Some surgeries present increased risk of a post-surgical infection (entry into the gastrointestinal or reproductive tracts, contaminated wounds, for example).

Post-surgery, licking or scratching at a surgical wound increases the likelihood of a wound becoming infected. Elizabethan collars and incisional bandages are effective methods of preventing access to a surgical wound.

  • Wound breakdown

Closure of surgical wounds is typically achieved with suture material.

Excessive post-operative exercise, or self-trauma of the surgical site, increases the risk of these sutures failing before tissue has healed adequately.

  • Implant failure:

Successful orthopaedic surgery is dependent on the outcome of a race between bone healing and failure of the implants used, even if they are of suitable size and correctly placed.

Excessive stress or loading of the implants post-surgery dramatically increases the odds of failure before bone healing is complete. Compliance with the prescribed exercise restriction post-surgery is critical.

  • Eye damage:

The anatomy of the skull is such that the ocular structures are very close to the roots of teeth. During oral surgery, even with careful technique, trauma to the eye or infection around the globe is a very rare possibility.

  • Nerve damage:

During surgical dissection, inadvertent or even necessary trauma to nerves is possible (for example, removal of a tumour that is closely associated with a nerve). It is very rare for functional loss to occur with the majority of nerve damage caused by surgery.

  • Seroma:

Seroma is the accumulation of fluid in a potential space. This is relatively common in surgeries where a large amount of tissue has been removed (for example, removal of a large tumour).

Excessive post-surgical activity increases the risk of a seroma forming.

Seromas typically self-resolve over 2 – 4 weeks and drainage is not recommended, due to the potential for the introduction of infection.

Heat-packing can increase the rate of seroma resolution.

  • Jaw fracture:

In very small patients, particularly where there is significant periodontal disease and bone loss present, fracture of the mandible (lower jaw) is possible, but extremely rare with careful technique.

  • Anaesthetic/sedation-related death:

Anaesthesia and sedation carry inherent risk, even in healthy patients, due to their effect on the cardiorespiratory and circulatory systems.

We aim to mitigate these risks as much as possible, via constant/dedicated anesthetic monitoring by skilled nurses, multi-parameter monitoring, active patient warming, IV fluid support of blood pressure and the use of low-dose, multi-modal anaesthetic drugs, and local anaesthesia where possible.

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