The risk of anesthesia to pets


Whether a patient is human or animal, there are always risks associated with anesthesia during surgery. However, several studies have shown the risk of anesthetic-related death in humans is far less than that of veterinary patients.

According to one 2008 paper published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the estimated risk of anesthesetic-related mortality in dogs is approximately 0.1 percent or 1 in 1,000.

Though 0.1 percent is still low, the risk to humans is estimated to be much less, between 0.02-0.05 percent, or about two in every 10,000.

Stuart Clark-Price is a board certified veterinary anesthesiologist at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine. He is one of about 150 veterinary anesthesiologists in the country who has spent several years training after veterinary school to specialize in the field.

Minimum standards

Owners should be asking their veterinarian if they are meeting the minimum standards for anesthesia set forth by the American College of Veterinary Anesthesiologists, recommended Clark-Price.

He explained one reason there may be a disparity between the mortality rates of human and veterinary patients is the fact in human medicine a highly specialized anesthesiologist is usually involved.

In veterinary medicine, it is unlikely a board certified anesthesiologist will be monitoring your pet unless you go to a teaching hospital or seek out a specialty clinic.

Come a long way

While the risk to veterinary patients may be higher than what is seen in humans, it is important to note veterinary anesthesia has come a long way compared to where it was several decades ago.

With the advent of better drugs and more precise monitoring equipment, the complication rate has decreased.

“If you are going to place trust in your veterinarian, you should be able to ask them several questions regarding your pet’s care during and after surgery,” explained Clark-Price.

Questions to ask

Some of the questions you should be asking your veterinarian prior to surgery are:

– Are you using the most current techniques and medications?

– How are you monitoring the patient during and after surgery?

– Are you performing the surgery as well as monitoring the anesthesia of the patient, or will a separate person be designated to monitor the patient at all times?

– Will you be using equipment to monitor blood pressure and blood oxygenation?

Although some people may have heard of “pre-anesthetic” blood work, he said, “For the average young, healthy patient undergoing a routine dental or castration, the need for blood work is minimal.”

However, in more mature animals or geriatric patients, blood work is advisable.

“Induction and recovery are the most risky times for anesthetic death,” noted Clark-Price.

The increased risk is especially notable during recovery because the patient is no longer hooked up to monitoring equipment.

This is where it is important to either have one person designated solely to monitoring the patient’s vital signs or, at the least, make sure someone checks on the patient frequently.


To view the guidelines established by the American College of Veterinary Anesthesiologists or find a board certified anesthesiologist in your area, visit

If you have concerns about your pet’s care, speak with your local veterinarian.

(This column is provided by experts from the University of Illinois’ College of Veterinary Medicine.)


Up-to-date agriculture news in your inbox!



We are glad you have chosen to leave a comment. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated according to our comment policy.

Receive emails as this discussion progresses.