Is anesthesia safe?

Veterinarians anesthetize animals on a daily basis. It is very common for pet owners to express concerns about anesthesia: Is it safe? Will my pet survive the procedure? Modern anesthesia is very safe. The risk of a pet dying under anesthesia is less than 1%. The rare patients that are lost under anesthesia are generally emergency surgeries, when the patient’s condition is extremely critical. The risk of a pet dying under anesthesia while undergoing a routine spay, neuter, dental cleaning or mass removal is extremely low, but this risk can be affected by the anesthetic drugs used and the monitoring of the patient.

Can you imagine an anesthesiologist in a human hospital using ether or chloroform in the 21st century? Of course not. But, unfortunately (and surprisingly), there are no standards of care for veterinary anesthesia, and some clinics are still using out of date techniques. We have a variety of precautions we take to ensure your pets safety while under anesthesia including recommending pre-anesthetic bloodwork, placing an IV catheter (which allows us to give fluids or emergency drugs if needed), and tracheal intubation (which protects your pet’s airway and allows us to assist your pet’s breathing if needed). In addition we closely monitor your pet while under anesthesia and utilize very modern anesthetic drugs and pain management.

It is important that surgery be done on an empty stomach to reduce the risk of vomiting during and after anesthesia. You will need to withhold food for at least 8 to 10 hours before surgery. Water can be left down for the pet until the morning of surgery.


Another concern many pet owners have is the cost of anesthesia: Why is it so expensive? Why does one clinic charge $200.00 for a dental cleaning and another clinic only charges $100.00? As you can see from the above information, modern anesthesia involves a lot of equipment and expertise, and this unfortunately costs money. Reducing costs by not intubating patients, not keeping patients warm, or skimping on pain medications and monitoring can save money, but the result is decreased comfort and safety for your pet.

Is pre-anesthetic blood work neccessary?

We request that all patients have pre-anesthetic blood work run. All patients, not just the old or sick, should have basic pre-anesthetic blood tests performed, checking various parameters such as blood sugar, kidney values and red blood cell count. Many animals will require more extensive pre-anesthetic blood work. Even in animals under 1 year of age, blood work will occasionally detect abnormalities that could affect anesthesia.

Will my pet have stitches?

For many surgeries, we use absorbable sutures underneath the skin. These will dissolve on their own, and do not need to be removed later. Some surgeries do require skin stitches or staples. With either type of suture, you will need to keep an eye on the incision for swelling or discharge. Most dogs and cats do not lick excessively or chew at the incision, but this is an occasional problem you will also need to watch for. If your pet is licking at the incision you may need to use a cone (e-collar) to limit this. If there are skin sutures, these will usually be removed 10 to 14 days after surgery. You will also need to limit your pet’s activity level for a time and no baths are allowed for the first 10 days after surgery.

Will my pet be in pain?

Anything that causes pain in people can be expected to cause pain in animals. Pets may not show the same symptoms of pain as people do; they usually don’t whine or cry, but you can be sure they feel it. Pain medications needed will depend on the surgery performed. Major procedures require more pain relief than things like minor lacerations.

For dogs, we may recommend an oral anti-inflammatory the day after surgery and several days after to lessen the risk of discomfort and swelling. We use newer medications, which are less likely to cause stomach upset and can be given even the day of surgery. If your pet is not eating, has vomiting or diarrhea please let us know as stomach upset is an occasional side effect of anti-inflammatory medication.

Because cats do not tolerate standard pain medications, we are limited in what we can give them. Recent advances in pain medications have allowed for better pain control in cats than ever before. We often administer a pain injection along with their anesthesia. After surgery, pain medication is given on a case by case basis. Any animal that appears painful will receive additional pain medication.

What other decisions do I need to make?

While your pet is under anesthesia, it is the ideal time to perform other minor procedures, such as dental cleaning, ear cleaning, or implanting an identification microchip. If you would like an estimate for these extra services, please call ahead of time. This is especially important if the person dropping the pet off for surgery is not the primary decision maker for the pet’s care.

When you bring your pet in for surgery, we will need to 5 to 10 minutes of time to fill out paperwork and make decisions on the blood testing and other options available. When you pick up your pet after surgery you can also plan to spend about 10 minutes to go over your pet’s home care needs.

We will call you 1-2 days before your scheduled surgery appointment, to confirm the time you will be dropping your pet off and to answer any questions you might have. In the meantime, please don’t hesitate to call us with any questions about your pet’s health or surgery.