Expanding Your Veterinary Practice To “Pocket Pets”? What Are Your Anesthesia Options?

If you've recently discovered an unfilled need in your community for veterinary care for hamsters, ferrets, guinea pigs, and other "pocket pets," you may be looking into the purchase of some small rodent-friendly examination and veterinary anesthesia systems from places like Keebovet to help expand these services to members of your community. The ability to treat infections and illnesses and perform minor surgical procedures on these pets can be invaluable to their owners and allow you to gain an entire new niche of clients; however, treating pocket pets, and anesthetizing them in particular, can be far more of a challenge than treating dogs, cats, and other larger pets. Read on to learn more about the nuances of anesthetizing small animals, as well as how you'll want to get started when purchasing veterinary anesthesia equipment.

What anesthesia is best for hamsters and other small pets?

Properly anesthetizing small pets can be a tremendous challenge, as these pocket pets are not one-size-fits-all when it comes to sedation. In general, when general anesthesia is deemed necessary in order to keep the pet still during a procedure or provide pain relief during internal surgery, an injection of ketamine is the preferable method. Inhaled anesthetic like nitrous oxide often doesn't have a consistent effect on consciousness or pain management, and you run the risk of causing heart failure or having a hamster "come to" and run away mid-procedure. With injected ketamine, on the other hand, you can easily measure out the amount and strength of the anesthesia you'd like to administer. 

In other cases, you may want to rely on small doses of several medications to avoid overwhelming the pet's cardiac and respiratory systems. For example, using a tiny amount of morphine or opiates can provide mild pain relief without running the risk of respiratory distress, and combining this small amount of morphine with a sedative that helps your pet gently fall asleep can ensure he feels no pain and remains still and sleeping during the entire procedure. Because pain relievers and sedatives are processed differently from each other, this diversified approach can prevent the pet's heart, lungs, liver, or kidneys from being put under too much strain. 

What equipment or supplies will you need in order to anesthetize small pets?

Using ketamine to anesthetize your small pet clients can help avoid the expense and hassle of purchasing a teeny nasal mask to administer nitrous oxide. However, you'll still need some equipment before you get started. 

First, you'll want to invest in some eye ointment. Hamsters and other small rodents don't close their eyes while they're under anesthesia, and having their eyes wide open under bright lights can be very drying and irritating. Applying eye ointment as soon as the pet is out cold can protect his eyes and make the recovery process much smoother. 

Next, you'll want to ensure your scale is correctly calibrated and fine-tuned. When anesthetizing a 100-pound dog, you have some room for error when it comes to the amount of anesthetic to use, small animals can be vulnerable to anesthesia problems, leading to cardiac arrest, respiratory distress, or even stroke with the difference of a microgram or two. Ensuring the pet's weight is completely accurate, down to several places beyond the decimal, will allow your dosing to be accurate and safe.

Finally, you'll need some heating pads or a heated surgical "theater." When animals are rendered unconscious by anesthesia, especially small animals, they can become at risk of hypothermia. Placing them on a heating pad or other heated surface during the procedure can help them maintain a consistent temperature and avoid illness or immune weakness.