Anesthesia is a method of keeping your pet asleep so that they don’t feel pain and remain still during medical treatments. Anesthesia procedures can seem intimidating, especially if your pet has never needed anesthesia before.
Here are the nuts and bolts about dog anesthesia, how it's done, why vets choose to use it, and what it may cost you.
When Vets Use Anesthesia for Dogs
Anesthesia isn’t just used for major surgeries. While it may seem excessive, anesthesia can be a routine practice and typically performed safely every day. Vets may use anesthesia for a lot of different procedures — such as teeth cleanings, MRIs, and X-rays — to make sure pets stay safe while the vet cares for them.¹ While there is a risk of anesthesia complications, they rarely occur in healthy animals.¹,²
What To Expect When Your Dog Gets Anesthesia
Let’s demystify the process of anesthesia by walking through what it usually looks like at a vet’s office.
First, your vet may spend a lot of time talking with you about what to expect. They’re likely to ask you about your dog's normal routine and medical history. All this information about their routine and history will be added to their records along with the results from their physical exam and blood tests.¹,²
Next, your pet may be given a sedative so they can relax prior to administering anesthesia. The sedative will make it easier for the vets to place IVs, catheters, and other wires to monitor your pet’s vitals. There are two kinds of anesthesia your vet may use: one through a gas inhalation mask or another through an IV. Some vets choose to use both but this isn’t a common practice.¹ The method they choose depends on your dog’s body size, breed, health condition, and the procedure they’re receiving.²
Once your dog is comfortably sedated, then the anesthesia process can begin. The anesthesiologist might first insert an endotracheal tube down your pet’s windpipe to deliver oxygen because your pet may need assistance breathing while they’re sedated. There are safety precautions taken to make sure the tube stays in place.
Anesthesiologists will have multiple sizes of endotracheal tubes on hand to make sure they have one that fits your dog’s body size. On top of that, they’ll use a stabilizing string to keep the tube from moving during the procedure.1
While the oxygen is flowing, then the anesthesia will be sent through the IV or gas. These medications are typically a dosage of pain medications and sedatives to make sure your pet is as comfortable as possible.
The anesthesiologist will observe your dog’s blood pressure and body temperature just in case dosages need to be adjusted.¹ In some cases, the vet may use an electrocardiogram (EKG) to track their heart rate and use warming blankets for procedures that could take several hours.¹
Slowly, the vet will make sure your dog can breathe on their own before removing any IVs or monitoring equipment.¹ Afterwards, your pet will likely be moved to a warm, dim kennel with plenty of blankets so they wake up in a welcoming environment.¹
What happens now depends on the procedure your pet underwent. If it's an outpatient procedure, their breathing tube will be removed after a few hours. You’ll pick your pet up and then be sent home with aftercare instructions. If your pet is kept overnight, however, the care team will watch them closely to make sure they stay hydrated and their vitals are normal until they’re ready to be discharged.
Potential Side Effects of Anesthesia in Dogs
Most dogs don’t experience adverse side effects from anesthesia, but keep in mind that pain medications can last anywhere between 8 to 12 hours. Normal side effects of anesthesia in dogs can include:
- Decreased bowel movements
- Lack of coordination
- Lack of appetite
Pet parents should expect that their dog may act a bit wonky for up to a full day afterward. If this continues for multiple days, it’s recommended to consult your vet.
The risk of anesthesia in dogs
While anesthesia deaths are rare in healthy dogs, senior dogs and puppies may experience complications.² Certain breeds of dogs — like greyhounds — may be predisposed to cardiac arrest while others may experience breathing issues.² If you’re a pet parent with a special breed, you should discuss these concerns with your vet prior to your appointment so you can prepare accordingly.
Be sure to ask your vet plenty of questions about what to expect after the procedure and what you should do at home.³ Watch your pet closely for signs of complications while following your vet’s care instructions.
When to call the vet
There are some telltale signs that something might not be right with your dog after they wake up from anesthesia. If after 24 hours, you see any of these dog anesthesia side effects, it’s recommended to call your emergency vet immediately:³
- Crying that persists for more than 30 minutes to an hour
- Refusing to eat or drink
- Difficulty waking up or excessive sleepiness
- Wobbliness or bumping into furniture or walls
- Constipation that last for more than a day
How Much Does Dog Anesthesia Cost?
Estimates for sedating a dog at a vet’s office vary considerably but you may be charged per half hour for labor and the amount of anesthesia medications used. Usually, fees for anesthesia are part of an itemized bill, so try to get a quote ahead of your dog’s procedure so you can budget accordingly.
For example, anesthesia can be required for a dog’s MRI, so that the cost will likely be bundled together. Another cost to consider is if your pet will need to be kept overnight for monitoring. Your final bill at the vet can easily cost hundreds of dollars once anesthesia is added on.
Other factors that influence the cost are your dog's size, breed, and how long the procedure is. Like all veterinary costs, dog anesthesia costs can depend on where you live and which vet you go to, so don’t be shocked if a vet in a city center charges more than dog owners living in rural areas.
Dog Insurance Could Help You Save on Anesthesia
Anesthesia can be a relatively safe procedure that is a normal part of veterinary medicine, but it can easily tip a budget-friendly bill into a financial pickle. A good way to help pet parents save money may be to invest in dog insurance with MetLife Pet Insurance.
No matter if you have one older pup or three young puppies running around — you can cover them with one policy towards your deductible that could save you thousands on routine pet care over their lifetime. Get started today with a free quote from MetLife Pet Insurance, winner of the “Pet Insurance of the Year'' Award in the 2022 Pet Independent Innovation Awards Program.
Protect your Dog
¹ “When Your Pet Needs Anesthesia,” American Veterinary Medical Association
² “Dog Anesthesia: What Every Dog Owner Should Know,” American Kennel Club
³ “What Can I Expect When My Pet Needs Anesthesia?,” American Animal Hospital Association
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