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.
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
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.