Anesthesia for Cats and Dogs: What You Can Expect

Properly administered anesthesia will keep your pet comfortable and stress & pain free during his/her medical procedure. Unfortunately, there are many myths and misconceptions surrounding its use. Whether it’s for surgery like spaying/neutering or for annual dental work, anesthesia is a routine part of the veterinary hospital, and it's highly likely your pet will need it at least a few times during his/her life.

One of the most common myths about anesthesia is that it's risky. While there are risks associated with any medical procedure, the incidence rate for complications due to anesthesia is quite low - less than 1% in cats and dogs combined (including elderly and/or ill pets)!

Healthy pets rarely have problems with anesthesia, and the health benefits from procedures requiring it, such as annual dental cleanings, generally outweigh the risks. However, it's important to make sure your cat or dog doesn't have any underlying problems the doctor should know about beforehand.

Safe procedures start with assessing your pet's health before deciding on which anesthesia protocol to use. As part of that assessment, we usually recommend doing preliminary pre-anesthetic blood work to determine if there might be any potential problems and/or which type of anesthetic will work best. Additionally, it's vitally important that you follow all directions given by the doctor beforehand (including fasting Fido or Fluffy before the procedure).


Types of Anesthesia

There are two primary ways anesthesia is administered. There’s the inhalant type where your pet inhales the agent and there’s the injectable type which is administered intravenously.

According to Cornell’s Manuel Martin-Flores, DVM, “Anesthetic agents, which are administered by injection under the skin, intravenously, or by inhalation, may be either local or general, their selection depending on the nature and duration of a procedure and the origin of the potential pain.”

While your pet may get one or the other type, many anesthesia protocols involve using a combination of both injectable and inhaled agents. Common drugs used include, but are not limited to, propofol, TTDex, and isoflurane.


Monitoring During and After

While your pet is under the anesthesia, his/her vital signs will be monitored by someone trained to do so. 

Typically, during the procedure, a breathing tube is inserted in your pet to help keep the airway open and unobstructed so oxygen can continue to flow. Vital signs will be monitored while Fido or Fluffy is "out" and while s/he is recovering from anesthesia.

Typical vitals measured include:

  • Body temp
  • Respiration and pulse rates
  • Blood pressure
  • Blood oxygen and CO2 (carbon dioxide) levels
  • ECG or EKG


Contrary to popular ideas, if complications are going to arise, they most commonly arise during recovery. This is why it's important that Fido and Fluffy stay for a few hours after the procedure is completed, so trained veterinary professionals can keep him/her under observation, making sure everything goes well.

Common side-effects of anesthesia can be seen during recovery, including a reduced ability to control his/her body temperature (so s/he may seem cold or, less commonly, hot), increased vocalization due to disorientation, and a lack of coordination. These effects pass relatively quickly, though, and your pet should appear at least mostly normal to you by the time you pick him/her up after a procedure during which s/he received anesthesia. 


Recovery at Home 

When you return home, Fido and Fluffy may seem sleepier than normal and their behavior may be somewhat altered. These are both normal. However, you should monitor their behavior. Recovering animals may seem disoriented or bite, even if they're normally docile and trustworthy, so it's a good idea to make sure small children aren't left alone with them for a few days. Luckily, this side effect resolves within a few days, and your furry friend will return to normal.

The first day or two after surgery your pet may sleep more than normal. It's easy to mistake this as a side-effect of the anesthesia. However, while in small part it is, sleepiness is more a response to the surgery itself and any pain medications that have been prescribed. This time afterwards is the the body’s opportunity to heal. You probably know from your own experiences that recovery involves lots of sleep!

Of course, just like with our own recovery, if it seems like your furry friend is sleeping excessively, has behavior changes that aren't resolving, seems to be in excessive amounts of pain, or is showing other signs of distress or abnormality beyond what was described to you when you picked him/her up from discharge, you should call your veterinarian.


As always, if you have any questions about anesthesia, we will be happy to answer them. Do you need to make an appointment for your cat or dog?


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