Surgery Safety: Is Anesthesia Safe for Dogs?

by | Jan 25, 2023 | Dog Health

Administering anesthesia is a common procedure that canines undergo for extracapsular lateral suture (ECLS) stabilization, TPLO, and neutering. 

But is anesthesia safe? In some cases, dogs could still have allergic reactions to anesthesia and other medication. This blog will discuss what anesthesia is, how it works, its different side effects, and its safety for your dog. 

What is Anesthesia and How Does it Work?

Anesthesia is a medical treatment that controls unconsciousness, preventing your dog from moving or feeling pain during a procedure. The drug works by interrupting the pathways in the neurological system to block incoming pain signals from getting to the brain.

Depending on the treatment or operation, your vet may prescribe general anesthesia or targeted medication. General anesthesia is more potent and induces unconsciousness during the procedure. 

General anesthesia is implemented during invasive surgical procedures like spaying, neutering, tumor removal, and the like. Local anesthetics are more common in minor treatments like wound cleaning and closure, assisting dogs through labor, and treating traumatic injuries.

Factors to Consider Before Administering Anesthesia

Anesthesia is generally safe for dogs. However, not all canines will have the same reaction. Below are some factors to consider before administering anesthesia to your pet:


Some canine breeds are more sensitive to anesthesia due to a relatively low body fat percentage. As a result, they do not synthesize the drug properly, making them more prone to liver complications and organ failure. Anesthesia-sensitive breeds include greyhounds, boxers, boston terriers, bulldogs, pugs, shelties, and spaniels.


Older dogs are more prone to having health-related problems due to anesthesia. The mortality rate for pets that undergo anesthesia is higher in older dogs versus younger dogs. 


Small-sized dogs have a higher chance of experiencing anesthesia-related complications. For example, smaller canines could experience hypothermia after receiving anesthesia. Placing the catheter in smaller dogs is also more difficult than their larger counterparts.


The anesthesia dose also depends on your dog’s weight. Bigger dogs require more anesthesia since their body will have to metabolize the drug so it can spread and affect the whole body. 

What are the Risks of Administering Anesthesia on Dogs?

Even though anesthesia is considered safe for canine administration, some risks and complications may still arise. 

These reactions can be as simple as swelling at the injection site or an increased heart rate. A dog could go through anaphylactic shock or death in some severe cases. Below we’ve listed the other reactions dogs may experience due to anesthesia.


If your dog is scheduled for an operation, your vet may recommend restrictions on food or water. In particular, your dog should be fasted before undergoing anesthesia because it affects the ability of your canine to swallow properly. If your dog has food in its digestive tract, they may experience choking. It may also have trouble metabolizing the anesthesia properly. 

Other Health-related complications

It is your vet’s responsibility to minimize adverse reactions caused by anesthesia. Your vet should conduct a thorough physical examination and obtain blood and urine samples for different lab tests.

Although anesthesia-induced problems are rare, your dog can still experience complications if it has an underlying medical condition. Other issues caused by anesthesia complications include organ failure, blindness, seizures, and blood clotting. 

What are the Common Side Effects of Anesthesia on Dogs?

Apart from leaving your dog in a state of unconsciousness, administering anesthesia could also result in the following side effects: 

Before surgery 


Common signs of an adverse reaction to anesthesia include redness and swelling around the anesthesia injection site. Your vet will monitor whether this inflammation will subside before proceeding with the operation. Take note that mild swelling is normal and will eventually go away after the procedure.

During the surgery

Irregular heart rate

The doctor will keep track of the cardiac activity of your dog during surgery to prevent any sudden changes. Adjustments can be made if there are any drastic fluctuations in heart rate during the procedure. 

Chills and Hypothermia

During anesthesia, your pet may find it difficult to balance its internal temperature. A significant temperature drop could result in serious chills and hypothermia. Your vet should provide blankets to stabilize your dog’s temperature to prevent this.

Unstable Oxygen Levels

During the operation, your vet should insert a tube into your dog’s lungs to provide a constant source of oxygen, preventing any hindrance in your dog’s oxygen saturation and ability to breathe.

What to Expect Post-Surgery

After the treatment, give your dog enough time to recover from the surgery and any lingering effects of the anesthesia. Some side effects you can expect post-op include:

Difficulty maintaining balance

Anesthesia numbs the whole body because it affects the nervous system. When this happens, your dog may not be able to walk, run, or maintain proper balance. The severity may vary depending on the size and breed of your dog.

Grogginess and nausea

After being rendered unconscious, your dog may experience a type of “hangover” from anesthesia. Other than losing its sense of balance, your pet may feel lethargic and weak as it recuperates from the treatment. Your canine may also feel reluctant to eat or drink due to nausea.

Changes in behavior

Your dogs may seem quiet and disinterested in general activity post-op. Let your dog take its time as it recovers from the surgery. Constant reassurance and physical exercises can go a long way in helping your pet recover faster.

Irregular body temperature

Another common post-surgery side effect of anesthesia in dogs includes changes in body temperature. Keep an eye out for these changes so that your pet can recover quickly.

To learn more about how you can help take care of your dog and treat other conditions or injuries, explore the TLPOInfo blog today.

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