Anaesthesia & Dogs Explained

Anaesthesia & Dogs Explained

Health & Safety

You may have had to take your dog to the vets and signed a piece of paper allowing them to give your beloved pooch an anaesthetic so they can carry out some sort of procedure or surgery on them. Anaesthesia in dogs is much the same as it is when used on people and is used to put dogs in a state of unconsciousness. This is brought about by administering certain drugs that affect their nervous systems. The medication reduces a dog's awareness of pain and environment. The scary thing about anaesthesia is that not only can it make a dog to go into a profound state of slumber, but when used in extreme instances, it can also cause their death.

Anaesthetics are commonly used in a veterinary practice as a way to reduce pain felt by dogs and other animals and to immobilise a patient when surgery needs to be carried out on them. Anaesthesia makes an animal relax their muscles and is often used when an X-ray is needed to confirm a diagnosis – handlers place a dog in the X-ray machine and then walk away to avoid being affected by any harmful rays, so it is important for the dog to be anaesthetised at the time of the X-ray so they remain totally still.

Aggressive dogs are often given a mild anaesthetic so that handlers can examine them safely. If a dog is very nervous, they do may be given a mild anaesthetic so that everyone around them stays nice and safe because a scared or nervous dog might just bite their handler simply because they are scared or in pain.

Every Dog is Treated As a Individual Patient

When a dog needs any sort of anaesthetic, they are treated like an individual patient and as such the amount they receive will be determined by the vet carrying out the surgery on them. However, there is a standard procedure that most dogs will have to undergo which includes being administered a pre-med injection which is usually given via the mouth.

The most common drug used is called acepromazine or ACP which has very strong tranquillising effects on dogs. ACP is also favoured because of two other effects it has when used on dogs which is as an anti-emetic, this is a term that means it prevents the risk of vomiting. The second positive effect of using ACP first when anaesthetising a dog, is that it allows vets to use a lower dose of the second anaesthetic in order to perform the needed surgery. Another bonus of using ACP is that dogs tend to recover much faster and in better shape after their treatments.

Once the ACP has been absorbed into a dogs' system, vets can then induce total anaesthesia by giving your dog a second drug intravenously, which they usually do on a dogs' front leg. The vet would have clipped the leg in order to expose the vein. Once injected dogs are unconscious within a matter of seconds. The vet will then place a tube in your dogs' mouth which is called an endotracheal tube and this ensures they can breath easily throughout the procedure.

This tube has another role too as it prevents any vomit from entering into a dogs' lungs should they be sick during the operation – something that can be very dangerous to a dog when they are on the operating table.

The drugs used for anaesthesia tend to be quite short acting which means in most procedures, a vet will use an anaesthetic gas that is mixed with oxygen. This is administered directly into a dogs' lungs via the endotracheal tube that's been placed in their mouths.

Once the operation/surgery is finished, the anaesthetic gas is removed and dogs are just given oxygen through the tube for a few minutes so they can recover. When the vet feels a dog is able to breath normally on their own. the endotracheal tube will be taken out but only once a dog is able to swallow and cough on their own.

The Importance of Assessing Your Dog Before Administering an Anaesthetic

All vets will want to thoroughly assess a dog before administering any sort of anaesthesia to them. The things they will take into consideration are the following:

  • Age
  • Breed
  • Size
  • Underlying health conditions

If a dog is diabetic, their condition would need to be stabilised before a vet would even consider giving them any kind of anaesthetic. Dogs prone to epilepsy would have to be given Valium instead of ACP which is why a vet would need to do a thorough examination and then have a complete history of your dog before deciding on the best course of action.


It is a very worrying time for dog owners when their pets need to undergo any sort of surgery. It can be very hard taking your dog to the veterinary practice and then having to leave them there not knowing what is going to happen. Understanding how anaesthesia works on dogs and then knowing about the recovery period, offers you a little peace of mind that your beloved pooch is in very capable hands. A vet would never give a dog any sort of anaesthetic without having first assessed their overall health and well being – the good news is that modern drugs are so much better, safer and more effective than ever before!

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