Most people are familiar with the concept of anesthesia being used during surgical procedures, even if they have not experienced it personally. Despite how common and incredibly low-risk anesthesia is, it can still make many people a little nervous.

Of course, it makes sense that we are nervous for our pets to be put under for their procedures too. However, understanding what anesthesia is, how it works, and why it is necessary can put your nerves at ease.

When Is Anesthesia Used?

Anesthesia is a treatment affecting the nervous system that induces an unconscious state, during which a medical professional can perform surgery. Anesthesia can be local or general. Local anesthesia does not induce unconsciousness but numbs a localized area on the body.

Anesthesia is used before many medical procedures to prevent pain and reduce anxiety in the patient. For pets, general anesthesia is more common than local anesthesia to prevent an animal from moving during surgery and experiencing pain. It is given through IV or in a breathable gas.

Dental Procedures

One common use is during oral surgeries. Dogs, cats, and other pets are unable to remain calm and still long enough for a veterinarian to perform a root canal or to pull teeth. Even routine teeth cleaning appointments may be easier if your pet is asleep.

Major Surgeries

Spaying and neutering are the most common major surgeries for pets. Other surgeries may be related to ongoing health conditions or emergency situations, like assessing and treating broken bones.

Of course, if your pet requires amputation or removal of cancerous growths, they will need to be placed under general anesthesia because these are invasive and painful circumstances.

How Safe is Anesthesia in Pets?

Thankfully, anesthesia for pets is safer than ever, and medical technology continues to improve. Less than 1 percent of cats and dogs suffer lethal side effects as the result of anesthesia during a medical procedure.

Pets with few to no prior health conditions are least at risk, while animals with preexisting conditions are at higher risk.

Veterinarians and technicians closely monitor your pet’s vitals during their surgery. Monitoring continues for an appropriate amount of time afterward because there is still a slight risk of complications for at least a few hours after the anesthesia has worn off.

Carefully follow the instructions and guidelines provided by your veterinarian to minimize interruptions in your pet’s healing process.

During a Procedure

Veterinarians and their teams keep a very close eye on your pet’s vitals during surgery. They ensure that your pet is fully asleep before the procedure. Pet healthcare workers care about your animal family, too, so they also comfort your pet while the anesthesia kicks in.

During a procedure, a team is present to monitor blood pressure levels, heart rate, and oxygen, among other important levels. These levels are especially important to monitor during emergency surgeries.

Pre- and Post-Op Guidelines

Even unexpected, emergency surgeries require some level of instruction from a vet to prepare for and recover from a medical procedure. Because anesthesia can make your pet feel temporarily ill, take care in following any instructions you are given.


Most vet offices will conduct a preoperative consultation during which they walk you through the entire process, can address your concerns, and answer any questions. The pre-op appointment is a great opportunity to confront any anxiety about the upcoming procedure.

Just like humans, pets are typically required to fast before being put under general anesthesia. This is because anesthesia works by affecting the nervous system and can make it difficult to swallow, and can also cause stomach upset. If your pet vomits, any food consumed within 12 to 24 hours may become a serious choking hazard.


Luckily, most pets are almost back to their normal selves within hours after waking up from anesthesia. Grogginess may last longer in some pets.

Veterinarians will continue to monitor your pet’s vitals after surgery until they are confident that it is safe to take your companion home. They will likely send you home with a post-op information packet and any necessary prescriptions. Be sure to follow their directions exactly to minimize risks to your pet’s health and to help speed up their recovery.

Anesthesia may make your pet sleepy for a while after surgery, but be sure to confirm with your vet when you should be concerned about excessive lethargy.

What Animals are at Higher Risk of Complications?

The animals at least at risk of side effects from anesthesia are ones who are easier to monitor, like large dogs and cats. Small animals are more difficult to read vitals for. However, vets are likely accustomed to working with even small canines and felines.

Less common pests, like rodents, reptiles, and birds are at higher risk because they are generally more sensitive to treatments and medications. They are also more difficult to monitor during surgery because of their size and unique biologies.

Some veterinarians specialize in working with “exotic” and uncommon pets, and your regular office may refer you to a specialist if they lack the necessary experience to perform surgery on your pet.


Most pets will need to be placed under general anesthesia during their lifetimes. You should not be fearful or hesitant to agree to a necessary, or even beneficial, the procedure for your animal companion just because it requires that they be put under.

Anesthesia has never been safer, and you should trust your vet to expertly handle your pet’s medical needs. Some uncommon pets may be at higher risk, but specialists are available in most situations.

Always attend pre-op (except in the case of emergencies) and post-op appointments, just as you would for your own surgeries. Ask your vet plenty of questions.

There is no need to feel anxious about anesthesia for your pet. It is a common and very safe medical treatment. Your veterinarian should inform you of any and all risks so that you can make an informed decision prior to scheduling a procedure or surgery.