Anesthesia – is it safe?

Some pet parents still become fearful when told their pet may need anesthesia or surgery. Having concerns for a beloved pet is normal, but fear of the unknown can cause people to unfortunately disregard or delay important procedures such as spays and dentals. Some pet parents may assume their pet may suffer ill effects from the anesthesia.  Let us lay your fears to rest.

AAHA accredited hospitals like ours who have a proactive, highly skilled veterinary team that properly support their patients every time with an IV (intravenous) catheter, IV fluids, warmth, and continuous blood pressure (BP) monitoring will help insure that pet anesthesia can be just as safe as human anesthesia.

Following are answers to some questions you might be asking yourself right now:

Will there be complications from anesthesia?

In all surgeries there is an element of risk, but complications due to anesthesia are uncommon in our practice. In most cases, the benefits far outweigh the risks.

Studies have suggested that the risk of anesthesia is about 1 in 2000 or 0.05% for normal, healthy pets. In pets that have some pre-existing disease or in situations where procedures have been delayed longer than ideal for whatever the reason, then the number can increase up to 1 in 500 or 0.2%.

Is anesthesia the same today as it was 10 years ago?

The answer is “no” in most veterinary hospitals. Most hospitals should have progressive, up-to-date protocols using small balanced doses of pre-medications tailored to an individual patient. This is usually followed by a quick induction and quick recovery anesthetic just like what is commonly used in people.

Dog undergoing surgery for Stem Cell Therapy

Years ago anesthesia in pets was not as safe as it can be today. Better drugs and better awareness and monitoring of patients have made a huge difference. Also having an IV catheter in place as a standard non-elective safety procedure keeps a pet more stable. This simple yet vital IV catheter provides continual surgical fluid support during the procedure and allows emergency access to the patient if ever needed. Also, it wasn’t standard practice to measure blood pressure, temperature and all vitals in pets like it is in people.


Are the same anesthesia drugs, protocols, equipment, and precautions taken by every animal hospital in your area or New Jersey?

The answer is “no.” The state does not regulate or enforce standards of care. It is important to ask your vet the right questions which we will list at the end. Today, in a modern and progressive animal hospital such as ours, anesthesia is more smoothly achieved and monitored by having an IV catheter usually in a front leg. We give intra-operative intravenous fluids to help maintain the pet’s blood pressure during anesthesia. Warm air circulating blankets keep patients warm throughout the procedure which also protects and keeps our patients more stable.  We have state-of-the-art monitors that continually check BP, temperature, EKG, oxygenation, and Co2.  These safeguards that are commonly used today for pets were not in place years ago.

Our doctors and technicians are highly trained in the proper way to administer anesthesia and the use of monitoring equipment and procedures to ensure your pet does well. The pet’s vital signs such as respiratory rate and heart rate are watched closely throughout the surgery to ensure the pet’s pain-free experience.

Dr. Martins, DVM, in surgery







Do the benefits of surgery outweigh the risks of anesthesia?

In general, the answer in most cases is “yes.” Your veterinarian will guide you and perform a complete exam with preoperative blood work to check the functioning of internal organs to ensure your pet is ready for a surgical procedure requiring anesthesia. Surgeries and dentals that are delayed by months or years because of owners’ fears often increase the chances for problems.

The time that a pet is under anesthesia is very important. Shorter anesthetic times are much safer than longer anesthetic times. Anesthetizing a pet on a more prophylactic basis for 20-30 minutes to perform routine dentistry cleanings is much safer than waiting too long. Many times patients with dental disease whose dentals are delayed to every 2-3 years will require much more time and cost to perform major dental extractions which increases anesthetic time and potential risks.

Rabbit Dental

Rabbit Dental

Another good example is spaying female dogs at 6 months which is much quicker and safer than waiting until they are older. Older female dogs quickly accumulate a lot of fat around their ovaries which can make surgery much more challenging and increases the risk of intra and post-operative bleeding.

When a mass or cancerous condition has been diagnosed, the removal of a malignancy under anesthesia to prevent further growth and  spread of the disease may far out-weigh the risk of not putting the pet under anesthesia to perform the procedure.

A final example may be the quality-of-life enhancing procedures such as many commonly needed orthopedic surgeries pets require to live comfortably without constant pain.

What standards should you look for when surgery has been advised?

Ask questions, because not every hospital may use the same procedures or practice the same highest standards of care.

Find out if the veterinary practice will use on your pet:

  1. Monitoring equipment that checks all vitals but specifically includes an EKG and measures Blood Pressure throughout the entire procedure
  2. Intravenous catheter
  3. Intravenous fluids
  4. Warm air circulating blankets
  5. Pain medications before and after procedures

At Belle Mead Animal Hospital, we have all of the above in place as well as procedures to respond to any type of surgical emergency.  We treat your pet as if he/she was our very own.

What should I do to prepare my pet for surgery requiring anesthesia?

At Belle Mead Animal Hospital, we will explain necessary fasting requirements and advise you of any important considerations the night before the procedure.  By following the instructions, you will help ensure you and your pet have a positive experience.

Dr. Joe Martins, DVM, Belle Mead Animal Hospital

Dr. Joe Martins, DVM, Belle Mead Animal Hospital

Dr. Joe Martins, DVM, Belle Mead Animal Hospital



This entry was posted in Exotics, General Pets, Sheep and Goats, Veterinary Medicine and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.
  • Recent Posts

  • Archives

  • Categories