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Dog Anaesthesia: Your FAQs Answered 

Written by Anna Hollisey


Sleeping German Shepherd taking it easy on the couch

Taking your dog for surgery is super stressful. The minutes feel like hours until the vet calls. They’re waking up! And they’ll soon be doing a happy wag when you arrive to collect them. Here’s a round-up of common questions about dogs and anesthetics. 

What is Dog Anesthesia?

Anaesthesia involves suppressing the animal’s central nervous system so that they can’t feel any sensations. Anesthesia can be local - they can’t feel any sensation in a localized area, or general, which means the animal will become unconscious. 

An anesthetic drug is usually given by injection or inhalation (through a tube). While they’re unconscious, your dog will be monitored very closely; heart-rate, blood pressure, and body temperature are all observed. 

Before administering anesthesia, your vet will carry out a few checks:

  • A physical check – listening to the heart rate and palpating the abdomen.
  • A dental check – ensuring that gums look healthy and the dog is hydrated.
  • A medical history check – looking for any prior issues or causes for concern.
  • If necessary, blood and urine tests will also be ordered.

When Is Dog Anaesthesia Used?

Many dogs will experience anesthesia when they are young, since it’s used to perform neutering and spaying surgery. Other common causes for anesthesia include:

  • Dental procedures, such as tooth removal
  • Removal of a benign tumor
  • Leg or hip surgery
  • Removal of foreign objects
  • Grooming, for elderly dogs with grooming/clipping issues. 

What are the Risks of Dog Anaesthesia?

For healthy dogs, anesthesia is usually considered very low risk. If your vet has diligently checked the medical history and physical health, they will be pretty confident that your dog will recover very well from anesthetic treatment. 

However, some dogs have a negative and unpredictable reaction to anesthesia. Between 0.001 and 0.1% will experience this – ranging from swelling at the site of the injection, a lowered heart-rate, a seizure, or anaphylactic shock. In rare cases, anesthesia can cause death.

What are the best ways to minimize the risk for your dog? 

Be sure that your vet has carried out all the pre-surgical tests, ensuring that your dog’s heart, kidneys and liver are healthy. At home, ensure that you follow the instructions for prep and recovery – including keeping your dog away from food at least 12 hours prior to surgery. 

What Do I Have to Do Before My Dog Undergoes Anaesthesia?

Before the surgery or treatment, your vet will probably give you a consent form to sign. It will outline the risks. This isn’t there to scare you – it’s simply to ensure that you’ve been told about the treatment, and you understand what will happen. This is a good time to raise concerns with your vet. It’s also a good moment to check that you’re aware of the costs, including post-treatment medications. 

The night before your dog goes to surgery, you’ll be asked to ensure they stop eating from evening onwards. This can seem awkward, especially if your dog is hungry at dawn! But it’s really important. If your dog has food left in their stomach, it can be regurgitated during surgery and, because the dog’s unconscious, it might be drawn into the lungs. This causes aspiration pneumonia, which can be serious. So take away all bowls (except water), tape up the dog food, and leave a notice on the food container so that everybody in the household sticks to the rule!

How Long Does It Take Your Dog to Recover after Anaesthesia?

Thanks to modern medicine, dogs tend to bounce back fast after anesthetic. In general, you can expect your dog to feel normal again after 12-48 hours. They may be sleepy, and your vet might advise keeping them indoors for the day. 

If your dog has a wound, it could remain inflamed and painful. Your vet will prescribe medication to help. Since your dog can’t tell you how they feel, observe them closely for signs of pain – if you see any, refer to your vet. 

What Are the Side Effects of Anaesthesia?

If your dog’s behaving weirdly, don’t worry. 

  • Some dogs are super hungry after an operation, while others feel nauseous. It’s not wise to give them a big heap of food – try half of their normal dinner, and feed the rest a little later. 
  • Drowsiness can last for 48 hours – give your dog plenty of space and time to rest.
  • After the surgery, your dog might have a shaved patch on their leg (injections) or a tickly cough (because of a tube in their windpipe). Your vet should explain what to expect.
  • If they have a wound, it might bleed during the 24 hours post-surgery; in general it should look clean. Bruising is fairly normal.

How Can You Help Your Dog to Recover after Anaesthesia?

Lots of love can help your dog to recover after a stressful operation. Give them their favorite treats (but not too many) and if they’re coming for a snuggle, lift them onto the couch. No vigorous games for a while!

  • Try to encourage them to rest for the following day – in a quiet place without many people. Limit them to the back-yard, but ensure they’re getting outside occasionally for wees etc.
  • It seems cruel, but that cone (Elizabethan collar) has a purpose! Your dog can pull out stitches very quickly, so don’t give them the chance. If you feel the cone is doing more harm than good, speak to your vet about using a donut collar instead.  
  • If your dog has a wound, monitor it for signs of infection (swelling, bleeding, discharge). 
  • If your dog’s had dental surgery, keep them on soft foods for at least a week, and don’t attempt to brush their teeth.
  • Your vet will advise about outdoor activity for the next 1-2 weeks, which will probably be restricted. They might tell you to stop your dog from swimming or jumping to prevent the wound from opening. 
  • If you’ve got a high energy dog that’s recovering from surgery, they’re probably going to feel better before they really are (especially if they’re on pain medication). In this case, a crate might be the best way to keep them calm and still when necessary, just make sure they’ve got some toys and mind puzzles to stop them getting too bored. 

What Is the Dog Anaesthesia Death Rate?

It is difficult to get an accurate figure on the rate of deaths caused by anesthetic. This might be because the dogs are undergoing surgery for a wide range of reasons, many of which can cause death – especially if treatment was unsuccessful. 

In 2022, one study looked at 157,000 dogs undergoing anesthesia. It reported a death rate of 0.1% (159) in the first 48 hours after sedation. The same study also identified factors which increase the risk of death:

  • Old age
  • Health conditions, especially cardiac
  • Urgency of surgery
  • Breed: Rottweilers and West Highland Terriers have greater risk than Cocker Spaniels.

It’s always scary when our beloved pets have to be put under anesthesia but it’s never something a vet would recommend lightly. More often than not, it’s to relieve pain or discomfort that’s negatively impacting their quality of life. All good vets will be more than happy to answer any of your questions and ensure you and your pup are as comfortable as possible.