General anaesthesia and sedation is performed daily in veterinary practice, and is necessary to perform a number of procedures, from routine neutering and imaging, to emergency surgery. Understandably having your dog undergo an anaesthetic can be one of the most nerve-wracking things you can experience as an owner, and does not come without some risk – something that can be hard for owners to overcome.
There has been plenty of research conducted over the years looking into the risk of anaesthesia. Most recently, a paper titled ‘Mortality Related to General Anaesthesia and Sedation in Dogs under UK Primary Veterinary Care’ has been published that has looked at the outcomes of GAs and sedations in dogs visiting first opinion practices in the UK. Let’s have a look at what this important study has shown, and what it means for our dogs that may require anaesthesia in the future.
What are the key findings from this study?
The study looked at data from over 150,000 dogs under the care of first opinion practices in the UK. Dogs selected for this study were anaesthetised or sedated at least once, for a multitude of reasons, ranging from routine neutering to emergency surgery.
The risk of death is relatively low
It was found that the risk of anaesthesia or sedation related death within 2 weeks of the procedure was equivalent to 14 in 10,000 dogs (0.14%). The risk within 48 hours of the procedure was 10 in 10,000 dogs (0.1%). In dogs undergoing routine neutering (castration or spaying), the risk was even lower, at approximately 1 death in 10,000 (0.009%).
Anaesthesia will be riskier in some dogs than others
This study highlighted a number of risk factors, or variables that are likely to make the risk of death higher in a particular animal. The following were highlighted:
- Old age
- Poor health status prior to anaesthesia
- Urgent/emergency surgery
- Breed – Rottweilers and West Highland White Terriers were shown to have a higher risk of death in comparison to their mixed breed counter parts
Dolichocephalic (long-nosed dogs) were also noted to have a higher risk of death in 48 hours and 2 weeks after anaesthesia.
Brachycephalic (flat-faced breeds), which are notorious for having difficult anaesthetics, were also further investigated. However, they were shown to have no greater risk; perhaps because of practices being better prepared, or opting not to anaesthetise at all.
Making an anaesthetic as safe as possible
The key here, as highlighted by this study, is careful planning. This means preparing for and pre-empting complications before they even happen.
Your vet should give your dog a good check over prior to anaesthetic. This includes listening to the heart and feeling pulses to ensure there are no heart murmurs of arrhythmias, checking the lungs are clear, and looking at the gums to see if they are pink and moist. If there is anything on the examination that concerns your vet, and an anaesthetic is not required immediately, they may recommend rescheduling the procedure.
Your vet may also recommend a pre-anaesthetic blood test. This is to check red and white blood cells, as well as liver and kidney function. Again, if anything out of the ordinary appears on this, your vet may recommend rescheduling or having further investigations.
Taking any past or current conditions into account
As highlighted in the study, poorer health status prior to anaesthesia can increase the risk of death. Therefore, if your dog has a history of anything that could affect their anaesthetic, it should be taken into consideration while developing their anaesthetic plan.
Your dog will be very carefully monitored on induction of, during, and after anaesthesia. This will be done by a highly trained individual, be that a vet or a nurse; with the help of dedicated monitoring equipment. They will be regularly checking lots of different parameters to ensure that the level of anaesthesia is appropriate, and if any interventions are required.
This recent study has highlighted that the risk of death in dogs undergoing general anaesthesia and sedation is relatively low; even more so in dogs undergoing routine neutering procedures. Factors increasing the risk include old age, poor health, emergency surgery and certain breeds.
The risk of anaesthesia can be a great cause of concerns in many owners. But perhaps this study has shown that the benefits certainly outweigh the risks. Remember, your vet will be more than happy to chat if you have any more questions.
- Downing, F. & Gibson, S., (2018) Anaesthesia of brachycephalic dogs. Journal of Small Animal Practice – Wiley Online Library
- Shoop-Worrall, S., O’Neill, D., Viscasillas, J. and Brodbelt, D., (2022) Mortality related to general anaesthesia and sedation in dogs under UK primary veterinary care. Veterinary Anaesthesia and Analgesia, 49(5), pp.433-442.