Dog Anesthesia: What to Know

anesthesia for dogsIt makes sense to be apprehensive about anesthesia for your dog because it puts them to sleep in such a way that seems like death. Witnessing or imagining your dog unconscious can be unsettling and worrisome. However, with modern vet medicine, the risk for major dog anesthesia side effects and complications is extremely low. Dog anesthesia is commonly and safely used to assist in a host of necessary veterinary procedures.

What is dog anesthesia?

Often considered a “medically-induced coma,” anesthesia for dogs is the same as it is for humans: a combination of drugs that suppresses the nervous system, allowing for pain-free and relaxed surgical procedures. Dog anesthesia may be recommended more frequently or in cases it wouldn’t normally be recommended for humans, such as for a teeth cleaning, nail trimming or diagnostics. Since dogs will fight any uncomfortable procedures, anesthesia for dogs is often necessary to keep their body still so it can be worked on.

Types of dog anesthesia

There are different types of dog anesthesia ranging from local numbing and sedation to complete unconsciousness. With general anesthesia posing the most potential risk for side effects and complications, it is weighed against other options and only used when absolutely necessary.

As opposed to nerve blocks, painkillers or more mild sedatives, general anesthesia brings your dog out of consciousness; relaxing their muscles and body so it is completely still for a veterinary procedure. Your dog will not dream and will awake with no memory of what happened. They will have felt no pain and been unaware of what was happening during the procedure.

For less invasive or complicated procedures, local anesthesia is often used to block pain in a certain part of the body and mildly sedate or calm your dog rather than bringing them out of consciousness.

Dog anesthesia side effects and complications

Being under the influence of drugs can be risky. In the case of dog anesthesia, the risk for side effects and complications is similar as it is for humans: the risk of death being the ultimate. However, as modern vet medicine advances, the risk for dog anesthesia side effects and complications continues to become less and less.

Side effects and complications can include:

  • Inflammation at the site of injection
  • Decrease in cardiac output
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Visual impairment
  • Organ failure
  • Death

While it may seem bleak, it unlikely your dog will experience catastrophic complications from dog anesthesia and likely they will only experience normal, mild side effects such as:

  • Nausea
  • Decreased respiration
  • Grogginess

dog anesthesia side effectsYour dog may awake from anesthesia tired and groggy and remain that way for several hours. However, your vet should advise you on what is normal and what to look out for. By the next day, the normal effects of anesthesia will have worn off and it is most likely that your dog will not experience further effects.

How to minimize the risks of dog anesthesia

Senior dogs and dogs that are otherwise immunocompromised or unhealthy are at greater risk for developing negative side effects and complications from anesthesia. Ensuring your dog is as healthy as possible is the best thing you can do as a dog owner to prevent dog anesthesia side effects and complications.

Know your dog’s medical history and condition and be sure to consult your vet. Certain conditions such as diabetes, liver disease or obesity can affect how anesthesia will work on your dog so be sure your vet is aware of any prior conditions and ailments.

Follow dog anesthesia protocols

Your vet will instruct you before the procedure on what you need to do to prepare your dog for anesthesia. It is extremely important you follow pre-procedure protocols which includes a period of fasting in which your dog should have no food or water within a day of their procedure. This is to prevent your dog from vomiting while under anesthesia, which could be life-threatening if it is inhaled into their lungs.   

Ensure optimal dog health and wellness

An overall healthy dog will take to anesthesia better than if their health is compromised. Taking care of your dog’s health and wellness including ensuring proper nutrition and exercise will increase their odds of complication-free dog anesthesia.

While senior dogs are at higher risk for complications, properly caring for dog aging will give your senior dog the best possible chance of successfully undergoing dog anesthesia.


Knowing a bit more about anesthesia for dogs will hopefully help you feel better in the likely case that your dog will need it.


Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Information contained or made available through the ColoradoDog website is not intended to constitute or substitute for legal advice or veterinary advice.

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