As a pet owner and dog lover, I understand how scary it can be to think about your dog under anesthesia.
Most dogs will need to be anesthetized a few times during their life. First for their spay or neuter surgery, and later for dental cleanings to prevent or address periodontal disease. Some pets may need additional anesthesia for elective procedures (such as removing a lump or orthopedic surgery). Or emergency procedures (such as removing a foreign object, bleeding, abdominal tumor, or bloat).
If your veterinarian has recommended an anesthetic procedure for the sake of your pet’s health and comfort, read on to learn more. Begy will go over what to expect before, during, and after dog anesthesia. The guide adds tips on how to best care for your pet as possible.
Myths and misconceptions about anesthesia for dogs
One of the most common reasons an owner doesn’t want their dog under anesthesia is that they worry that their pet is too old. Many of the patients for which I recommend anesthetic procedures most commonly are older, as they have higher rates of dental disease or are more likely to develop lumps on or under their skin.
Ultimately, age alone is not a reason to avoid anesthesia. As many veterinarians say, “age is not a disease.” There are age-related considerations for anesthesia, such as the increased incidence of heart disease and organ dysfunction in older pets. But these can be investigated with preoperative testing.
Another common concern held by some pet owners relates to beliefs of breed-specific drug sensitivities. There are many myths that dogs cannot tolerate anesthetic medications. Many of these are genuinely myths and not backed by scientific evidence. However, some breeds are more prone to certain diseases that should be screened for before anesthesia.
Your veterinarian will discuss your pet’s risk level regardless of age or breed. Besides, recommendations for preoperative testing to ensure that your pet is a good anesthetic candidate.
Is anesthesia safe for dogs?
Anesthesia is never risk-free, but the drugs and monitoring equipment available at most veterinary hospitals have been developed and selected to minimize risk. There is a decrease in vital signs such as body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration. All of these are monitored before, during, and after the procedure. Veterinary teams will support the body by administering intravenous fluids and heat support throughout the process and in recovery.
The risk of death from anesthesia in healthy pets is shallow. According to the 2020 Anesthesia Guidelines published by the American Animal Hospital Association, the risk of death from anesthesia in a healthy dog is less than 0.05%. This low rate is because, through preoperative testing, veterinarians carefully select the patients they anesthetize and screen.
Preoperative Testing Before Dog Anesthesia
Your veterinarian will discuss minimizing the risks of anesthesia for your pet through preoperative testing. Many tests can be performed on the day of your pet’s anesthetic procedure. But some are more specialized and need to be sent to an outside laboratory. Sometimes, the test results may alter the anesthetic plan or result in your veterinarian determining that it is not safe to anesthetize or that your pet should see a specialist.
Recommendations will vary depending on your pet’s age, breed, and other health conditions. They may include:
- Bloodwork to assess your pet’s organ function (i.e., kidneys and liver), red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. Blood tests help your veterinarian detect hidden health issues that could make anesthesia life-threatening for your dog.
- Electrocardiogram to assess the electrical rhythm of your pet’s heart and check for abnormalities, or arrhythmias to ensure there is no pre-existing pathology that may increase the risk of adverse reaction for a dog under anesthesia.
- Radiographs (x-rays) may be recommended to assess your pet’s chest, abdomen, or bones. These are especially helpful if your pet has a heart murmur, is concerned about cancerous spread to the lungs (metastatic disease), or has an orthopedic procedure.
- Clotting tests are recommended in some situations and breeds (such as the Doberman Pinscher, which is genetically predisposed to Von Willebrand’s Disease) if there is a concern that your dog or cat’s blood may not clot normally, which can lead to excessive bleeding during surgery.
If your pet is undergoing a planned, elective procedure, testing can be performed before the day of anesthesia. All testing will need to be performed on the same day for emergency surgical procedures.
How to prepare your dog for anesthesia
24-Hours Before Dog Anesthesia
Preparing for dog anesthesia starts at home. You can help your pet have a safe anesthetic experience by following all of the instructions provided by your veterinarian. Instructions will include directions for:
- Fasting. Your veterinarian will tell you when to remove food from your pet. This is often the night before the scheduled procedure. Pets with food in their stomach are more likely to vomit while under anesthesia. This increases the risk of complications such as aspiration.
- Removal of Water. While your pet’s stomach should be empty before anesthesia, water usually only needs to be removed for a few hours. This will help to keep your pet from being dehydrated before surgery.
- Medication. If your pet is on prescription medication, your veterinarian will let you know if you should still give the medicines on the day of anesthesia. Make sure that your vet is aware of any over-the-counter medications and supplements your pet is receiving as well. Some medicines can interact with anesthetic medications and should not be given close to an anesthetic procedure.
- Preoperative Sedation. If your pet is incredibly aggressive or anxious when going to the vet, pre-visit sedation may be recommended. These medications can be used even if your pet is going to have anesthesia. Minimizing stress is essential to maximize safety for your pet and the veterinary staff on the day of your pet’s procedure.
If your pet has a long-term medical condition, like diabetes, make sure that you review the preoperative instructions carefully as they may differ from standard recommendations. Do not hesitate to call your veterinary office if you have any questions.
On The Day Of Your Dog’s Anesthetic Procedure
Your veterinary clinic will have a designated drop-off time for patients undergoing anesthesia. Veterinary nurses will review your pet’s medical history and any information specific to their procedure during this time. Make sure to let your pet’s veterinary team know of anything that has changed since your last visit (i.e., change in appetite, diarrhea, vomiting, decreased energy, or behavior changes).
At some clinics, your pet’s procedure may not be performed until several hours after drop-off. While it may make you nervous about having your pet waiting at the vet office, arriving before their procedure allows the vet team to prepare medications, run preoperative tests and start any pre-anesthetic treatments that are needed.
For most anesthetic procedures, your pet will have an IV catheter placed. This allows the veterinary team to deliver drugs and fluids directly into your pet’s bloodstream without having to stick needles through their skin multiple times. Having an IV catheter is essential for making anesthesia safe, mainly if a complication occurs.
Your dog will likely receive a combination of injectable medications for sedation and pain relief as well as gas anesthesia, which is usually delivered through an endotracheal tube (or E-tube). They will also receive oxygen during the procedure.
A trained veterinary staff member will monitor your pet before, during, and after the procedure to ensure they tolerate the medication well and recover safely.
Planning For Dog Anesthesia Recovery
It is very typical for your pet to be still a bit groggy after being released from the hospital. Most routine procedures are outpatient procedures where your pet will be sent home after they are alert, comfortable, and mobile.
Some anesthetics can last in a dog’s system for up to 12 or even 24 hours. Your pet may whine, act confused, or be a bit unsteady on their feet with difficulty walking after anesthesia. Sometimes, a pet’s normal behavior will differ, so they should always be supervised around children or other pets after surgery.
It is usual for your pet not to have a bowel movement for a couple of days after an anesthetic procedure. Anesthetic drugs can slow down your pet’s gastrointestinal tract, which will already be slowed by the preoperative fasting period.
Your pet should be fully recovered from the effects of anesthesia within a day or two of surgery. However, surgical recovery will take longer, so be sure to follow all post-op instructions for exercise restriction, incision care, pain medication, and wearing an e-collar.
If you have any concerns with your pet’s recovery, call your primary veterinarian to discuss your pet. If your regular vet is closed, an after-hours or emergency veterinary hospital can help answer questions you may have.
How much does dog anesthesia cost?
The cost of anesthesia for dogs can fall anywhere between $90 and $1,200 depending on your pet’s size and health condition, as well as the type of procedure they undergo. Some vets charge by the hour or half-hour, whereas other systems are priced by weight because larger dogs need a larger dose of sedative drugs. High-risk patients that may require veterinary specialists on standby also cost more to aestheticize, as are dogs who undergo emergency surgery at an animal hospital.
Your veterinarian will provide an estimate of the expected costs for the procedure ahead of time, along with the anesthetic consent form and care protocols.
Pet insurance can help cover some procedures’ costs, including anesthesia, preoperative testing, and postoperative care. However, pet insurance will not cover pre-existing conditions, so you’ll want to make sure that you enroll in a policy while your dog is young and healthy, long before they might need anesthesia.