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Anesthesia Myths

Reviewed by Bill Saxon DVM, DACVIM, DACVECC on Tuesday, May 13, 2014
Posted May 14, 2014 in Dog Surgery A-Z

Of all the worries pet owners may have around surgery, anesthesia probably tops the list. Unfortunately, their concerns are often the wrong ones. Here are 10 anesthesia myths we hear regularly.

1. Anesthesia is risky

Okay, so this is not a complete myth. Of course there is always a risk with anesthesia, but it’s immensely smaller than most pet owners believe.

Of ALL patients, including the healthiest and the sickest, what percentage of pets don’t make it through anesthesia? 30%? 20%? 10%? 5%? 1%?—what would you guess?

David Brodbelt, a British board-certified anesthesiologist, studied the medical records of over 98,000 dogs and 79,000 cats that underwent anesthesia at over 100 different practices. This was an extravagantly large study by veterinary standards. According to PubMed, Brodbelt found that the “overall risk of anesthetic and sedation-related death in dogs [was] cats 0.24%.

As you can see, this indicates that anesthesia is very safe overall—much safer than most would think. With our improved knowledge of anesthesia drugs and excellent advancements in monitoring equipment, the percentage of dogs and cats that die under anesthesia is a fraction of 1%.

Surely, specific conditions (trauma, diseases and infections) can increase the risks, but these issues are more manageable than you might think. By performing pre-operative blood work and tailoring the anesthesia drugs for each pet, veterinarians can minimize the risks.



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Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a board-certified veterinary surgeon and author. His traveling practice takes him all over Eastern Pennsylvania and Western New Jersey. You can visit his website at, and follow him at