It is widely accepted that the reduction of pain, or analgesia, assists in a patient’s recovery from surgery. For this purpose, and to be most effective, analgesia should be instigated at the premedication phase, maintained across the surgery and continued well into the recovery phase.
The use analgesia prior to any procedure that is likely to cause pain is known as pre-emptive analgesia.
The administration of several analgesic agents with different modes of action (e.g. opioids, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and local anaesthetics) is known as multimodal analgesia. This technique can target more than one point in the nervous system, thus making the control of pain more effective.
Why Locoregional Anaesthesia?
Local anaesthesia is the reversible loss of sensation in a localised area of the body caused by the depression of excitation in nerve endings or inhibition of the conduction process in peripheral nerves (Covino and Vassallo, 1976). Where local anaesthetic is used to desensitise a region of the patient’s body, the term locoregional anaesthesia (LRA) is often employed.
There has been an increase in the popularity of LRA techniques within the veterinary profession over recent years and in human medicine it is well recognised that the use of local anaesthesia reduces the time to discharge versus the use of systemic analgesia alone. In addition to this, the appropriate application of local anaesthesia is likely to reduce the dose of anaesthetic required for both induction and maintenance. This in turn leads to less cardiopulmonary depression, reduces post-operative pain scores and results in a faster more stable recovery, increasing the likelihood of a safer anaesthetic (Taylor and Robertson, 2004; Caniglia et al. 2012; Romano et al. 2015).
How to Perform Locoregional Anaesthesia and Drugs to Consider
LRA may be performed either via a ‘blind’ technique, where the needle is placed in an appropriate location based on anatomical knowledge of nerve location, or via a ‘guided’ technique using ultrasound or electrical stimulation needles. Whilst a ‘guided’ approach may improve the accuracy of your peripheral nerve block (PNB), if the technique is to be practiced safely, it is vital that the clinician has a thorough appreciation for the associated anatomy. Iatrogenic nerve injury occurs in a reported one in 10,000 cases in human medicine following perineural analgesia and similar injuries are also reported in the veterinary literature (Forterre et al. 2007; Murdoch and Michou, 2015).
The drugs used for LRA mainly fall within three classes, these include:
Local anaesthetics are the primary drug class used for LRA although opioids and alpha2-adrenergic agonists may be added in certain circumstances. In general, preservative free drugs are preferred, especially when used intra-articularly or epidurally to avoid potential preservative related toxic effects (Borer-Weir, 2014).
1. Local Anaesthetics
Local anaesthetics elicit their effects via blockade of sodium ion channels on nerve axons, this prevents sodium ion influx and blocks nerve action potential and propagation of nerve impulse transmission.
Local anaesthetics are an unusual class of drug as their site of application is also their site of action. As a result, systemic absorption controls both the duration and offset of action (Borer-Weir, 2014). Systemic absorption of local anaesthetics is affected by:
- injection site,
- drug dosage,
- presence of added vasoconstrictor,
- or the pharmacological profile of the drug itself.
Common examples include:
|Drug||Lidocaine hydrochloride||Bupivacaine hydrochloride|
|Time to onset||2-5 minutes||5-10 minutes|
|Duration of action||1-1.5 hours||4-8 hours|
|Dose||3-4 mg/kg||1-2 mg/kg|
|Maximum safe dose||10 mg/kg (Dogs)|
6 mg/kg (Cats)
|2 mg/kg (Dogs and Cats)|
|Comments||Licensed formulations available. |
Combined with epinephrine which can prolong the anaesthetic effect.
|No current UK licence for use in veterinary species.|
Table 1. (Adapted from Dugdale, 2001 and Duke-Novakovski, 2016).
Toxic doses (see Table 1.) for these drugs exist and so their judicious use is recommended. Toxicity mainly results from inadvertent intravenous injection and so given the proximity of blood vessels to nerves it is vitally important to aspirate before injecting any local anaesthetic.
Signs of toxicity mainly include depression, sedation, seizure like activity and hypotension through cardiovascular depression.
Commercially available infusions of 20% lipid emulsion can be used at a dose of 1.5-3ml/kg administered over 30 minutes to treat toxicity from overdose of local anaesthetics (O’Brein et al. 2010). The mechanism of action is currently unknown, but theories include:
- By the stimulation of a ‘lipid plasma phase’ which attracts the lipid soluble local anaesthetic therefore reducing the amount of free drug within the plasma (Borer-Weir, 2014).
- By increasing myocardial calcium through fatty acid provision therefore countering the negative inotropic effects of the local anaesthetic.
- By preventing inhibition of the enzyme responsible for the transport of fatty acids, used for oxidative phosphorylation, into myocardial cells (Duke-Novakovski, 2016).
Morphine is the opioid that is most often used in LRA techniques, and there is increasing evidence to suggest that there are opioid receptors on the peripheral terminals of sensory nerves (Borer, 2006). Low doses of morphine are required when used in this manner, typically 0.1mg/kg providing local analgesia when used epidurally (Borer, 2006). The upregulation of opioid receptors that occurs within inflamed joints means that opioids will also exert an analgesic effect when injected intra-articularly (Lindegaard et al. 2010).
3. Alpha2- agonists
The addition of an alpha2- agonist to local anaesthetic when used as a peripheral nerve block has also found to have beneficial effect. For example, Lamont and Lemke, 2008 found that the addition of medetomidine to mepivacaine prolonged both motor and sensory blockade after radial nerve block in dogs.
Please note that not all the drugs discussed in this article are licenced for use in small animals despite their frequent use in veterinary practice. Their use is the responsibility of the administering veterinary surgeon following an appropriate risk/benefit analysis in each case and in line with the cascade.
Please keep an eye out for Part 2 where we will discuss some of the more common practical applications of LRA in veterinary practice.
Originally published: Thursday, 31st May 2018
Last updated: Thursday, 14th June 2018
- Borer, K. 2006. Local analgesic techniques in small animals. In practice. 28(4): 200-207.
- Borer-Weir, K., 2014. Analgesia. In Veterinary Anaesthesia (Eleventh Edition): 101-133.
- Caniglia, A.M., Driessen, B., Puerto, D.A., Bretz, B., Boston, R.C., Larenza, M.P. 2012. Intraoperative antinociception and postoperative analgesia following epidural anesthesia versus femoral and sciatic nerve blockade in dogs undergoing stifle joint surgery. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 241: 1605–1612.
- Covino, B. G., and Vassallo, H. G. 1976. Local Anesthetics: Mechanisms of Action and Clinical Use. New York, San Francisco, London: Grune & Stratum.
- Duke-Novakovski, T. 2016. Pain management II: local and regional anaesthetic techniques. In: BSAVA manual of canine and feline anaesthesia and analgesia (Third Edition). John Wiley & Sons.
- Dugdale, A., 2011. Veterinary anaesthesia: principles to practice. John Wiley & Sons.
- Forterre, F., Tomek, A., Rytz, U., Brunnberg, L., Jaggy, A. and Spreng, D. 2007. Iatrogenic sciatic nerve injury in eighteen dogs and nine cats (1997–2006). Veterinary surgery. 36(5): 464-471.
- Lamont, L.A. and Lemke, K.A. 2008. The effects of medetomidine on radial nerve blockade with mepivacaine in dogs. Veterinary anaesthesia and analgesia. 35(1): 62-68.
- Lindegaard, C., Gleerup, K.B., Thomsen, M.H., Martinussen, T., Jacobsen, S. and Andersen, P.H. 2010. Anti-inflammatory effects of intra-articular administration of morphine in horses with experimentally induced synovitis. American journal of veterinary research. 71(1): 69-75.
- Murdoch, A.P. and Michou, J.N. 2016. The effect of loco-regional anaesthesia on motor activity induced by direct stimulation of the sciatic nerve in dogs. The Veterinary Journal. 209: 139-143.
- O'Brien, T.Q., Clark-Price, S.C., Evans, E.E., Di Fazio, R. and McMichael, M.A. 2010. Infusion of a lipid emulsion to treat lidocaine intoxication in a cat. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 237(12): 1455-1458.
- Romano, M., Portela, D.A., Breghi, G. and Otero, P.E. 2016. Stress‐related biomarkers in dogs administered regional anaesthesia or fentanyl for analgesia during stifle surgery. Veterinary anaesthesia and analgesia. 43(1): 44-54.
- Taylor, P.M. and Robertson, S.A. 2004. Pain management in cats—past, present and future. Part 1. The cat is unique. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery. 6(5): 313-320.
Paper summary: Heated intravenous fluids alone fail to prevent hypothermia in cats under general anaesthesia.
In this summary of a paper by Jourdan et al (2017) we examine the common practice of warming intravenous fluids and the effect on patient temperature.Read On...
This summary of a publication by Panti et al., examines the effect of orally administered omeprazole on gastro-oesophageal reflux in the anaesthetised dog.Read On...
In this paper we explore perceptions and opinions of Canadian pet owners about anaesthesia, pain and surgery in small animals.Read On...
How can a Veterinary version of the ASA Physical Status Classification help you achieve safer anaesthesia? To find out how watch our webinar.Read On...
This scientific paper assessed whether the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) Physical Status Classification correlated with the risk of anaesthetic death in dogs and cats.Read On...
This is our third product launch this year, and the latest addition to our anaesthesia and analgesia portfolio, Methadyne, contains 10mg/ml methadone as its active ingredient. It can be administered for analgesia of moderate to severe pain in dogs and cats, to provide neuroleptanalgesia, and as part of a patient’s premedication protocol prior to general anaesthesia.Read On...
A retrospective comparison of two analgesic strategies after uncomplicated tibial plateau levelling osteotomy in dogs.
In this review we summarise a publication by Bini (2018) examining two protocols for the administration of methadone following TPLO surgery in dogs.Read On...
In this article we have identified the key clinical peer reviewed papers to support the use of Alfaxan for maintenance of Anaesthesia in Cats and Dogs.Read On...
Paper summary: Effect of benzodiazepines on the dose of alfaxalone needed for endotracheal intubation in healthy dogs
This paper examined whether a benzodiazepine, administered as a co-induction agent with alfaxalone, improved endotracheal intubation, and reduced the dose of alfaxalone, in the dogRead On...
In this article we examine why methadone could be considered the analgesic of choice for many of our patients and understand its importance in modern veterinary medicine. The article includes a link to a downloadable summary sheet.Read On...
In this article from the Perspectives on Premeds series, Karen takes us through the properties and uses of phenothiazines in modern veterinary practice.Read On...
This study looks at the effects of three methadone doses combined with acepromazine on sedation and some cardiopulmonary variables in dogs.Read On...
We have extended our anaesthesia and analgesia portfolio with the launch of AceSedate®. Containing the tried and trusted, long-acting sedative agent acepromazine as its active ingredient, AceSedate can be used for the premedication, sedation and tranquilisation of cats and dogs.Read On...
Caesarean Section Survival Guide. Part 2: Anaesthetic Protocol Selection & Peri-operative Considerations.
In this second instalment of the 2-part article, we explore premedication, induction, maintenance & monitoring, recovery and analgesia for the Caesarean section patient.Read On...
In the first instalment of this 2-part review Karen examines the physiological changes that occur during pregnancy and how those adjustments can affect the selection of anaesthetic protocols for the increasingly common Caesarean section.Read On...
No leeway for the spay: A comparison between methadone and buprenorphine for perioperative analgesia in dogs undergoing ovariohysterectomy.
This recent paper compares post-operative pain scores and requirement for rescue analgesia following premedication with methadone or buprenorphine, in combination with acepromazine or medetomidine, in 80 bitches undergoing ovariohysterectomy.Read On...
Cardiac arrest in dogs and cats is, thankfully, relatively rare. However, when it does happen it can have devastating consequences for the animal, owner and the veterinary team. This study examined the common causalities leading up to a cardiac arrest with the aim of changing protocols to improve outcomes.Read On...
In this article, Carl focuses on the benefits of introducing a safety checklist in practice to reduce patient morbidity, mortality and to improve communication between members of the veterinary team. The article contains links to the AVA safety checklist as well as a link to a customisable list that you can adapt to your practice needs.Read On...
The effects of hypothermia are very far reaching throughout the peri-anaesthetic process. In this article, James takes us through the interesting mechanisms of body cooling and warming, the clinical relevance of hypothermia and what we can do to prevent it.Read On...
All patients are exposed to the risks associated with general anaesthesia. Continuously monitoring anaesthetised patients maximises patients safety and wellbeing. In this article, Dan takes us through the common monitoring techniques that provide information about the cardiovascular status of your patient.Read On...
Despite being widely recognized in humans, postoperative nausea and vomiting (PONV), and the role of maropitant in reducing inhalational anaesthetic requirements have been poorly documented in dogs. This recent study evaluates PONV and isoflurane requirements after maropitant administration during routine ovariectomy in bitches.Read On...
Little information is available about the effect that different doses of medetomidine and butorphanol may have when using sevoflurane for maintenance of anaesthesia in dogs. This recent study evaluates heart rate and median sevoflurane concentration required at different dose rates.Read On...
In this second article of the capnography series, James provides a guide to a few of the most common traces that you will encounter during surgery. Scroll to the end of the article to download a printable capnography cheatsheet.Read On...
Pain, what a Pain! (Part 2) – Practical Tips On How To Perform Dental Nerve Blocks In Companion Animal Practice
In this second article of the Pain, what a Pain! series, Dan takes us through the LRA techniques associated with dental and oral surgery. In this article, you will find practical tips and pictures on common dental nerve blocks as well as safety concerns to consider.Read On...
This recent retrospective study looks at the cases of 185 pet rabbits admitted for sedation or general anaesthetic and evaluates the incidence and risk factors contributing to peri-anaesthetic mortality and gastrointestinal complications.Read On...
Read the highlights of a recently published research paper that evaluates cardiorespiratory, sedative and antinociceptive effects of dexmedetomidine alone and in combination with morphine, methadone, meperidine, butorphanol, nalbuphine and tramadol.Read On...
This study evaluates the effectiveness of two methods of preoxygenation in healthy yet sedated dogs and the impact of these methods on time taken to reach a predetermined haemoglobin desaturation point (haemoglobin saturation (SpO2) of 90%) during an experimentally induced period of apnoea.Read On...