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Dog and Cat Anesthesia Myths Part 1

Reviewed by Bill Saxon DVM, DACVIM, DACVECC on Tuesday, May 13, 2014
Posted April 16, 2014 in Dog Surgery A-Z

Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a traveling, board-certified surgeon in Allentown, PA. His website is He is the co-author of “Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound” (

Kelly Serfas, a Certified Veterinary Technician in Bethlehem, PA, contributed to this article.

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 four 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 aesthetic 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.

2. Most complications occur during surgery or while under anesthesia
Here’s a great example of a classic urban legend. Most of the time, the biggest risks are not during surgery and anesthesia but during recovery.

As a pet awakens, there are a number of complications that can arise. In the Brodbelt study I mentioned earlier, over 50% of pets who died after surgery, died within 3 hours of the procedure ending; this is why it is critical to take your pet to a hospital where trained nurses will continue to closely monitor your pet after anesthesia.

3. All vets offer and practice the same anesthesia techniques
Actually, every veterinarian seems subject to personal opinion when it comes to anesthesia; the same way everyone has their own personal preference when

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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