Q: I have a 3-year-old purebred Persian cat named Tiger Lily. Her breeder says that Persians have special problems with anesthesia and that I shouldn’t let vets put her under except to be spayed, which we did. Now her vet is saying that she has gingivitis and eyelid problems and needs her teeth and eyes cleaned under anesthesia. He says the risk is slight and that Persians do well under anesthesia, but I’m worried. Should I be?
A: Lots of purebred owners are told by breeders, trainers, groomers, friends, family and acquaintances (not to mention Dr. Google) that their pet’s breed suffers from an unduly high anesthetic risk.
Many times this information is couched in terms of “breed sensitivity,” which suggests that pets will have a bad reaction to the anesthetic drugs. But veterinary research into this shows that very few purebred pets suffer from true anesthetic drug sensitivities.
Which is not to say some breeds and breed types aren’t predisposed to problems. Some are. But that usually has more to do with the breed’s tendency to have healthcare problems in general and breathing and/or cardiac problems in particular.
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Persian cats, like snub-nosed breeds and breeds with specific cardiac problems (Cavalier King Charles spaniels, Boxers and Dobermans, for example) do suffer from a higher incidence of anesthetic complications related to their respiratory concerns and potential cardiac challenges.
Flat-faced breeds like yours suffer from brachycephalic airway syndrome, a condition that’s characterized by teensy nostrils, a skinny trachea that draws air inadequately into the lungs, and a fleshier airway overall. Whenever they’re anesthetized, their upper airway has a tendency to contract and narrow even further. Which is why we keep them intubated at all times. Problem solved.
More concerning, however, is the possibility of cardiac disease, which is relatively common among Persian cats like yours and the aforementioned breeds of dogs (among others). In these cases, diagnosed by listening to the heart, X-rays or echocardiogram, special care must be taken to rule out the presence of existing heart disease before anesthesia.
Which isn’t meant to scare you. In fact, it should reassure you to know we consider anesthetic issues on a patient-by-patient basis, especially since patients with respiratory or cardiac diseases can still undergo anesthesia safely as long as their veterinarians are aware of the problem.
I’m not saying not to worry. I’m just saying that you shouldn’t necessarily worry about anesthesia more than her periodontal and ocular concerns.
Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is drpattykhuly.com. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.