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3 Important Questions To Ask Before Your Dog Goes Under Anesthesia

I remember the day that Leroy had his emergency surgery to remove the 60 rocks from his stomach.

Specifically, the drive home after I left him there. 

The tears were running down my face because I thought this was it. 

He had run out of guardian angels and I was never going to see him alive again. 

I pictured myself getting the call that he didn’t survive the surgery because there was too much damage inside or that a complication arose with the anesthesia. 

He was high risk and I knew just enough to know that he was in the best care but also how many things could go wrong.

I called my sister sobbing and she breathed some confidence back into me.

She reminded me what a strong dog Leroy was and if anyone could pull through this it was him. 

She was right.

Leroy pulled through and while everything wasn’t perfect and this was the beginning of a long and neverending road, he’s still here. 

When your dog goes under anesthesia for a medical procedure it can be scary.

Pets, just like people, can die due to anesthesia complications.

It’s one of those things where the benefits outweigh the risks and facing that risk comes with dog ownership

Thankfully, being aware of the risks your dog faces with anesthesia and advocating for them before and after the procedure can reduce these risks.

You can start doing this by not just being focused on the outcome of the procedure but by also being focused on what goes on before, during and after the procedure. 

Anesthesia is a necessary part of a dog's surgery but there are some risks involved. Dog owner's should always ask what happens during the entire surgical procedure including induction and the recovery process

What type of anesthesia is being used on your dog?

There are different steps to putting a dog under anesthesia


Many vets will administer a mild sedative such as Acepromazine to calm a dog so he can be more easily handled and prepped for surgery.

Some dogs such as giant breed dogs like the Newfoundland can be sensitive to Ace because their weight suggests that they need a high dose but the way that their body metabolizes this sedation does not.

Veterinarians usually will give dogs sensitive to Acepromazine a dose on the lower end or give them another sedative. 

Side note:  Leroy has been given Ace more than once for his numerous medical procedures and he’s done fine but some Newfie owners refuse for this particular sedation to be given. 

Induction anesthetic. 

Most commonly, veterinarians use a quick-acting, injectable anesthetic drug to “knock out” a dog before moving on to the next phase of anesthesia, which is maintenance.

Once injectable anesthesia enters the dog’s body, it remains in the fatty tissue until the liver metabolizes it, or the dog receives a reversal agent. 

Propofol is a common injectable anesthetic used in dogs.

Propofol works rapidly and the dog slips into unconsciousness quietly.

The drug is metabolized quickly by the dog’s body and offers a short, smooth, and high-quality recovery.

Many practices use this agent for outpatient surgeries. However, propofol is short-acting and difficult to adjust when used for long periods, so it is not appropriate for lengthy procedures.

Other types of injectable agents, such as ketamine, are less expensive but may cause some spontaneous muscle activity upon induction and dogs tend to experience a rougher recovery period.

Ketamine is usually mixed with diazepam (Valium) or another sedative or tranquilizer to control these effects.

Inhalant anesthetic. 

This is what most of us think of when we think of our dog under “anesthesia” – a gas anesthetic.

Inhalant anesthesia requires a breathing tube, which is placed in the dog’s trachea to ensure that the dog gets the proper levels of anesthetic, as well as oxygen, during the surgery.

Most veterinary practices use isoflurane and sevoflurane as an inhalent 

Both can cause clinically significant vasodilation and decreased blood pressure. So owners should ask if their veterinarian monitors blood pressure during anesthesia.

This is Leroy being masked down to flush his ear canal. He does not have a breathing tube in because he was just masked down with no other medications and he was only under for a few minutes

“Masking down” is a procedure where the induction agent is skipped, and simply anesthetized the dog with the inhalant anesthesia, placing the mask over the face until the anesthesia kicks in.

The downside to this approach is that there is typically a period of struggle from the patient before the dog succumbs to the anesthesia, which can be stressful for the dog.

Who monitors your dog while they are under anesthesia?

While the anesthesia can be scary, what happens when the dog is under is the most crucial part of a procedure.

While the veterinarian is performing the surgery, who is monitoring your dog to make sure that they are doing o.k.?

While some specialty veterinarian hospitals will have an anesthesiologist on their team, most practices will not.

Monitoring a pet is then usually left to a veterinarian technician who should solely be responsible for monitoring and charting your dog’s vitals while they are under anesthesia.

They should be properly trained and in some cases, certified in anesthesia management. 

This isn’t always the case though. When I was a vet tech I monitored surgery and I was not certified in anesthesia management but I was supervised and trained by a tech that was. 

The highest risks for patients under anesthesia and while in recovery are low blood pressure, reduced breathing, low body temperature, and slow heartbeat.

A dog’s vitals should be monitored at least every 5 minutes until the patient is alert and responsive. This should also include oxygen saturation-how well your dog is distributing oxygen.

Is a catheter placed? If something goes wrong it’s a lot easier and faster to get to an IV catheter than go searching for a vein. 

Also, administering IV fluids during a surgical procedure can help to keep your dog’s blood pressure above critical levels. 

Who monitors your dog after the surgery?

An anesthetized animal should NEVER be left unattended for any reason.

Monitoring of the anesthetized patient is a continual process throughout the entire event from pre-medication to full recovery.

Veterinarian Dr. Geoffrey Truchetti says that “The vast majority of deaths occur during the post-operative recovery period (50-60% of deaths in the first 48 hours after anesthesia/surgery and most of them, within 3 hours post-anesthesia) ” so ask about the recovery process for your dog.

Where do they recover? Who monitors them and what steps are taken to make sure that they are comfortable while recovering?

If you have a dog like the Newfoundland that is sensitive to heat, and they will be staying the hospital for a few days, ask if they have fans in case your dog gets hot. 

When Leroy was in ICU for nearly a week following his IBD diagnosis, which included going under anesthesia, he was monitored 24/7. There was someone that sat at a desk in the ICU unit and monitored the patients that were in there. There were charts on the dog’s cages that showed their vitals and any other important information. 

I was 100% confident that Leroy was getting the best care possible and that’s how everyone should feel when their dog is in the care of someone else. 

Other Important Things To Consider When Your Dog Goes Under Anesthesia

Your dog’s general state of health affects the chance that complications may develop.

A sick dog is at a higher risk than a healthy one.

An overweight dog is not as healthy and a dog at an ideal weight.

Pre-operative bloodwork, which is bloodwork done prior to a dog’s surgery, can check for things like liver and kidney function which play an important role during any dog’s surgery. 

A full exam should be completed prior to surgery also. 

Specific procedures come with their own risks.

Longer procedures require a dog to be under longer so the risk increases.

Emergency procedures may be higher risk since the dog may be very ill or in pain.

A catheter

Following your veterinarian’s instructions before and after surgery is important.

Rest for a few days will usually be recommended after many surgical procedures so make sure that you follow those directions. This is for your dog’s safety and health.

Make sure to follow your veterinarian’s instructions of withholding food/water before and after anesthesia.

Some medications used during surgery can cause a dog to become nauseous.

A nauseous dog could vomit and that’s not something you want when they can’t swallow on their own.

This is why it’s super important to not feed a dog prior to surgery. 

Communication with your veterinarian and their staff is important.

Be sure to make your vet aware of any reactions that your pet may have had to vaccines or medication in the past.

Let your veterinarian know ALL of the medication that your dog takes. This includes vitamins, supplements, and CBD oil products

Follow your veterinarian’s instructions regarding any medications you should or should not give your pet prior to anesthesia. 

Keep in mind that most dogs will do well during and after surgery. 

Some dogs may have minor reactions and make a full recovery on their own. 

Knowing the risks and being more aware of what happens during the entire procedure can help keep your mind at ease.

Anesthesia is a necessary part of a dog's surgery but there are some risks involved. Dog owners should always ask what happens during the entire surgical procedure including induction and the recovery process.


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Ducky's Mom

Sunday 4th of August 2019

Excellent post as always, Jen! Knowing the "steps" to surgery and recovery is so important. And trusting that our dog - or any other pet - is receiving the best care available is paramount to the parent/guardian's peace of mind during such a scary time.


Wednesday 7th of August 2019

Thank you for the kind words Sue. It is such a scary time for most of us.

Tails Around the Ranch

Sunday 4th of August 2019

Terrific info about the anesthesia process. P.S. LOVE your 'new film.' ?


Wednesday 7th of August 2019

Thank you so much!!

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