Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Meet the Veterinary Specialists: The Anesthesiologist

Pet Column for the week of September 13, 2004

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Services - Veterinary Profession

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Kim Marie Labak
Information Specialist

Editor's Note: As people have become more health-conscious, and bonds between humans and their pets have deepened, the demand for veterinary specialties such as dermatology, behavior, pathology, and surgery has risen. The following is part of a series exploring these specialties and the University of Illinois veterinarians who practice and teach them.

The work of anesthesiologists is highly recognized and valued within the medical and veterinary community, although pet owners may have little awareness of it. Anesthesiology has made possible the advancement and in some cases existence of surgery, medicine, dentistry, radiology, and other specialties. Anesthesiology options are especially important to veterinary practitioners because animal patients can't be asked to cooperate for uncomfortable or painful procedures.

Dr. William Tranquilli, a board-certified veterinary anesthesiologist at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana, explains that anesthesiology is basically delivery of a toxic agent to the central nervous system in a reversible way in which no permanent damage is done to the patient. To master the nuances of advanced anesthesiology, a specialist needs in-depth training in pharmacology and physiology as well as experience practicing anesthesiology regularlysomething general practitioners or other specialists don't have.

Board certification in veterinary anesthesiology requires graduation from an accredited veterinary college, 1 to 2 years of experience in a veterinary practice, and a 2- to 3-year residency under supervision of at least two boarded anesthesiologists.

For simple or quick procedures, such as neutering, dental cleaning, and taking X-rays, general practice veterinarians can perform anesthesia with the help of veterinary technicians. Surgical referral clinics that perform more advanced diagnostics and surgery requiring advanced anesthesia or those dealing with very ill or geriatric patients may benefit from having an anesthesiologist on staff.

Anesthesiology is one of a few veterinary specialties that are very similar to their human medicine counterpart. Unlike other specialties that may deal with conditions and treatments that vary from species to species, anesthesiology deals with the universal premise of alleviating pain. Although nervous systems are different across species with some variation in pain response and perception, there are still many similarities. In fact, many of the anesthesiology and pain drugs used in veterinary medicine are identical to those used in human medicine.

Besides working with other clinical specialists such as surgeons, anesthesiologists are directly involved in pain research and education. Pain management is becoming a central issue in veterinary medicine and the pharmaceutical industry, as better care allows people to keep their pets alive longer, and the veterinary community sees more geriatric conditions such as arthritis.

Veterinary anesthesiologists also work with doctors, dentists, and other specialists in human medicine to study pain perception and pain management, and some veterinary anesthesiologists supervise the care of laboratory animals to ensure they experience the least amount of pain possible.

Currently, there are more than 150 board-certified veterinary anesthesiologists in the world. More than 15 of them were trained at the University of Illinois over the past 20 years.

For more information about veterinary anesthesiology and other veterinary specialties, visit the AVMA Web site at and click on "Veterinary Specialty Organizations."