Monitoring Vital Signs in Exotic Animal Species

Key Points

  • Essential physiologic parameters, such as heart rate and rhythm, respiratory rate and depth, body temperature, and mucous membrane color, should be evaluated in all patients, including exotic animal species.
  • Monitoring equipment is useful but cannot replace competent hands-on monitoring techniques.
  • Maintenance of normal body temperature is an important priority during general anesthesia. Young, growing animals, patients in poor body condition, and small species with a high body surface-to-mass ratio are all at particular risk for hypothermia.
  • During anesthesia and recovery, strive to maintain the body temperature of every reptile patient within its preferred optimum temperature zone.
  • A change in respiration is sometimes the first sign of a problem that requires intervention. Therefore, the patient’s rate, pattern, and depth of respiration should be closely monitored throughout the perianesthetic period.
  • Birds tolerate apnea much less than reptiles or mammals. If breathing stops for even 10-15 seconds in the avian patient, this is often an indication to reduce anesthetic depth and assist ventilation.
  • All reptiles require intermittent positive pressure ventilation at a surgical plane of anesthesia.
  • This article is part of a series on anesthetic monitoring in exotic animal patients. Additional topics available include:  blood pressure, capnometry, electrocardiography, and pulse oximetry.

Even the most steadfast and seasoned veterinary anesthetist can find themselves intimidated by exotic animal patients. Standard veterinary anesthesia monitors are not designed to read the extremely high (or extremely low) heart rates and respiratory rates of some exotic animal patients. Despite these challenges, valuable information can be gathered from monitoring tools as well as hands-on techniques. Essential vital signs, such as heart rate and rhythm, respiratory rate and depth, body temperature, and mucous membrane color should all be evaluated . . .


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