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Dog Sedation and Anaesthesia: Everything You Need to Know

Dog Sedation and Anaethesia

Dogs are just as susceptible to disease and injury as humans are. However, unlike humans, you can’t properly communicate with dogs to prepare them for surgery or medical procedures, which is why sedatives and anaesthesia are essential. But when are they necessary, and how do they affect dogs?

Sedation and anaesthesia allow your dog to relax, calm down, or go into a deep sleep so they won’t feel any pain during surgeries or medical examinations where they may be stressed or nervous. Through sedation or anaesthesia, a vet can work on your pet safely and effectively.

If you’re concerned about sedating your dog for an animal surgical service or examination, you’re not alone. For pet owners like you, this article provides a comprehensive insight into dog sedation and anaesthesia.  

Read on as we answer all your questions!

Are Anaesthesia and Sedation for Dogs the Same Thing?

No, sedation and anaesthesia are not the same thing. They are both used to enable medical procedures to be carried out on dogs but tend to be used for different procedures, and different medications are used for each.

Sedatives are drugs that can help calm nervous or hyperactive dogs. They can also produce a sleep-inducing effect, which makes sedated dogs incredibly drowsy. On the other hand, anaesthetics are drugs that induce an impermanent loss of awareness or sensation.

Anaesthetics can be classified as local or general. A local anaesthetic affects a specific area of the body. A general anaesthetic affects the whole body and renders the dog unconscious for the duration of a medical procedure.

Sedation for Dogs

Because medical procedures can be stressful for your dog, especially if they are wounded, sedation is essential to guarantee the safety of your dog and the veterinary team.

Other forms of sedation can also be needed to calm down hyperactive or overly anxious dogs. Let’s find out more about sedation for dogs.

How Does Sedation Work for Dogs?

Sedatives are administered to dogs to help them calm down, relax, or doze off while a medical procedure is performed. Sedation doesn’t turn off physical sensation but inhibits their ability to move. This makes it easier for the vet to do their job.

The chemicals in sedatives interact with the neurotransmitters in the dog’s brain. Specifically, they trigger the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) to increase and work overtime, drastically slowing brain activity and blocking dopamine receptors.

Sedatives are usually administered orally or injected into a dog’s veins; it all depends on the required level of sedation. For oral sedation, acepromazine is most commonly prescribed by vets. Injectable sedatives include Telazol, dexmedetomidine, or a combination of acepromazine and butorphanol.

What Procedures for Dogs Require Sedation?

Sedation for dogs is required for medical procedures where your dog needs to be still and calm, such as X-rays, MRIs and CAT scans. Sedation can also be used for minor or painless procedures which may still be stressful for dogs, including ear cleans, grooming, fur clipping or nail clips.

Vets often administer sedatives when pets need to keep still during diagnostic tests. When your dog is calm and still, the vet can obtain more accurate results on scans and imaging. 

Sedatives can cause your dog to calm down, relax, or sleep, which makes it easier for the vet to treat your pet. Dogs with anxiety or reactivity issues may require sedation for routine procedures such as grooming, ear cleaning and nail clipping.

After the procedure, they’re usually given some time to recover at the vet before they’re ready to go home again.

What Kind of Sedation is Used for Dogs?

Sedatives can be orally administered or injected, depending on your dog and the procedure being done, with the most common type being Acepromazine. Sometimes, more than one drug is used to improve the dog’s responsiveness to the sedatives.

Oral – Although not as commonly used as injectable sedatives, orally administered sedatives still have their place in veterinary care and are invaluable for veterinary surgeons. The most common orally administered sedatives for dogs are:

  • Acepromazine 
  • Acepromazine and diazepam. The latter is a drug to ease anxiety.
  • Acepromazine and Telazol powder. The latter is an anaesthetic.
  • Phenobarbital and diazepam
  • Diazepam and Butorphanol. The latter is an opioid-based pain reliever.
  • A combination of dexmedetomidine (an anti-anxiety drug), ketamine (a pain reliever), and butorphanol, which can be absorbed through the dog’s oral mucous membranes.

Injectable – Many vets prefer administering sedatives via injection as the dog’s response to the drug tends to be faster and more effective. The most common types of injectable sedatives include:

  • Acepromazine
  • Acepromazine and butorphanol
  • Telazol
  • Telazol and butorphanol
  • Diazepam and butorphanol
  • Dexmedetomidine 
  • Dexmedetomidine, ketamine, and butorphanol 

Sedatives can be “reversible.” This means that after the medical procedure is done, the pet receives an injection that allows them to wake up quickly. Some sedatives just wear off, and the pet comes to its senses once the effects of the drug vanish.

Anaesthesia for Dogs

When your dog is undergoing a procedure where they need to be unconscious and unable to feel pain is when your veterinary surgeon will use anaesthesia. Anaesthesia is administered through a gas that is inhaled or injected intravenously. 

Although anaesthesia and sedatives are often thought to be interchangeable terms, these two procedures are noticeably different in how they work, how they are administered, their application and the time it takes for them to wear off.

How Does Anaesthesia Work for Dogs?

Anaesthesia is a drug that causes a temporary loss of awareness or sensation for dogs, allowing vets to perform intensive surgery safely. Some anaesthetics trigger total but reversible unconsciousness and come in two types: local and general anaesthetics.

General anaesthetics result in a general loss of awareness, sensation, and consciousness. Local anaesthetics cause a loss of sensation in a specific or limited area of the body. Administering local anaesthetics usually doesn’t cause the dog to lose consciousness.

To administer the anaesthetic, a vet usually injects the drug into a dog’s vein or provides an inhaler for anaesthesia to be inhaled. Whatever the case, the bloodstream carries the chemical to the brain. Unlike sedatives which slow down brain activity, compounds in the anaesthetic block neurotransmitters. This effectively stops the brain from receiving messages from the dog’s nervous system. With the absence of any neural response, the dog won’t feel pain while they’re asleep.

What Procedures for Dogs Require Anaesthesia?

General anaesthesia is needed for major and invasive medical procedures, and anything which causes discomfort or pain. These include repairing a broken bone, getting rid of kidney stones, or desexing surgery.

General anaesthesia isn’t just for major surgeries. Vets can also anaesthetise dogs for dental cleanings and examinations rather than using sedation, as this ensures the dog remains cooperative for the length of the procedure. In addition to minimising discomfort, this helps ensure veterinary staff can safely work on the dog’s mouth and ensures a thorough dental clean. 

Anaesthesia may also be administered for taking X-rays rather than using sedation, especially if the body positioning for X-rays could be painful for an injured dog. 

Local anaesthesia is used to provide pain relief for a specific region of the body, rather than  inducing a loss of consciousness. In some cases, both general and local anaesthesia are administered for the same medical procedure or surgery to minimise pain.

What Kind of Anaesthesia Is Used for Dogs?

There are several kinds of anaesthesia that vets use on dogs. Isoflurane and sevoflurane are two of the most commonly used gas-administered general anaesthesia.

Isoflurane and sevoflurane aren’t the only types of anaesthesia used for dogs. Other commonly used types of anaesthesia for dogs include:

  • Propofol
  • Thiopental
  • Ketamine
  • Etomidate

What Are the Risks of Anaesthesia and Sedation for Dogs?

The most common risks of anaesthesia and sedation are mild vomiting and nausea, low blood pressure, hypoxemia (low oxygen levels) and prolonged recovery time. However, although these are the most common risks, modern anaesthesia is incredibly safe and very few dogs have noticeable side effects.

Although side effects are very uncommon, it’s important to remember that, just like any other medical procedure, these risks still exist. Risk factors usually include pre-existing medical conditions of the patient, unknown adverse reactions to certain drugs, improper mixtures of the sedative and anaesthetic compounds, and even human error.

Light to moderate risks or side effects of sedation in dogs include:

  • Mild vomiting after recovery
  • Pain and discomfort after recovery
  • Hypotension, or low blood pressure
  • Low heart rate
  • Hypoxemia, or low blood oxygen
  • Hypothermia and decrease in metabolism
  • Slow recovery from anaesthesia

Serious anaesthetic and sedation risks may include

  • Cardiac arrest
  • Anaphylactic shock
  • Stroke
  • Organ system failure
  • Aspiration pneumonia

However, don’t let these risks frighten you. As mentioned earlier, sedation and anaesthetic procedures, techniques, and knowledge have come a long way, making them safer than ever. If you have any concerns about risks associated with anaesthesia and sedation, make sure you discuss them with your local veterinary professional before having any procedures performed. 

Why Do I Have to Sign an Anaesthetic Consent Form?

A consent form legally confirms that you accept the risks involved with your dog receiving anaesthesia for surgery. The form also indicates your consent to allow the vet to perform the specified diagnostic testing and medical procedure.

Anaesthetising your pet through an experienced vet is generally safe. However, as with any other medical procedure, you should understand that there are risks involved, no matter how remote. As such, you normally need to sign a consent form before the vet starts the anaesthetic procedure.

Signing a consent form shouldn’t be a cause for alarm, in fact, it’s standard procedure. You won’t be able to find a vet willing or legally able to perform surgery on your dog without signing a consent form. This form will confirm that the vet has spoken to you about the reasons for the procedure and the potential risks, clarifying that everyone is on the same page about how to proceed.

What Are the Chances of a Dog Not Waking up From Anaesthesia?

The chances of your dog not waking up from anaesthesia are incredibly low, as low as 0.11%. Dogs that don’t wake up from anaesthesia often have other pre-existing conditions or complications, and the risk is discussed in advance. If your dog is healthy, they are even less likely to be at risk.

According to Veterinary Practice News, the risk of an anaesthetic death in dogs is around 0.5 to 0.11 per cent. Research also suggests that the breed, weight, and pre-existing medical conditions of your dog can affect the risk of serious complications.

To minimise the chance of anaesthetic and sedation risks for dogs, the vet will do a thorough examination before administering medication. Your vet will do everything in their power to ensure that your dog makes it through their procedure with no issues, and won’t go through with the surgery if it poses a serious risk to your dog.

If your dog does have a medical condition, but the vet feels the benefits outweigh the risks, your veterinarian will take you through all the options ahead of time and help you make an informed decision about your dog’s care.

Is Sedation and Anaesthesia Safe for Old Dogs?

Although sedation and anaesthesia poses more risks for older dogs than younger dogs, it’s still generally safe for older dogs. Sedation and anaesthesia are typically safer for dogs than the disease or injury to be treated, no matter how old they are.

The dogs of today have longer lifespans thanks to vast improvements in veterinary medicine, nutrition, and quality of life. However, just like elderly humans, senior dogs are more susceptible to complications arising from medical procedures, including sedation and anaesthesia, because of physiological deterioration that comes with natural ageing.

However, it’s important to note the likelihood of complications of sedation and anaesthesia. Although older dogs are more likely to suffer from anaesthesia related complications, the chances are still low, especially if your dog is otherwise healthy. Age alone shouldn’t be a reason to avoid a necessary surgery or medical procedure for your dog.

Your vet will guide you on what to do in case you have a senior dog that needs to undergo sedation or anaesthesia. They will let you know the chance of complications before going ahead with any procedure, and will inform you if they believe the benefits of the surgery outweigh the risks.

How Do I Prepare My Dog for Sedation or Anaesthesia?

The most important ways to prepare your dog for sedation are to follow the instructions provided by your vet, which often include fasting for at least 12 hours.

Some of the most common ways to prepare your dog for sedation or anaesthesia include:

  • Fasting – Generally, 12 hours is how long your pet needs to fast before surgery. Fasting prevents food and water in your dog’s system from causing complications during the surgery. 
  • Voiding bowels – Have your dog empty their bladder and bowels by taking them for a walk before the operation.
  • Monitoring – Monitor your pet for any new signs of illness or unusual behaviour. If there is, let the vet know before the procedure is carried out. This can be very important, depending on the behaviour your dog is displaying. 
  • Attention – Your pet has feelings, and they may be frightened or nervous when they’re about to be wheeled into the operating room. Soothe them with encouraging words and lots of hugs, pats, and kisses. Assure them that they’re going to be fine.
  • Rest – Rest is important after a medical procedure. Prepare a quiet, warm, and comfortable place for your pet to recover when they return home. They will be groggy and disoriented for a few days.
  • Recovery – Separate your dog from your other pets while they recover and heal.

Always follow your vet’s advice and instructions before, during, and after the medical procedure.

Can My Dog Eat Before Being Sedated?

In general, you should not feed or force your dog to eat before being sedated. Your vet will most likely instruct you not to feed your dog 12 to 14 hours before the scheduled operation.

The presence of food or water in your dog’s digestive system can interfere with the sedative or anaesthetic, affecting the effectiveness of the drugs. If your pet has eaten before surgery, it can cause them to throw up which can cause serious health complications.

Depriving your dog of food during the fasting period is not cruel, and your dog will be able to fast for over 12 hours without any issues. On the other hand, allowing your dog to eat before surgery will actually put them in harm’s way.

If your dog accidentally eats before surgery, make sure you tell your vet what they ate, and how much they ate. It may be necessary to delay or reschedule the surgery to ensure your dog makes it through the procedures safely.

The Sedation & Anaesthesia Process for Dogs

During the initial pre-op examination, your dog is given a sedative either orally or intravenously. This allows the vet to examine and work on your dog without them moving around or feeling pain. After the procedure is done, your dog will slowly wake up and be provided painkillers for any lingering pain.

Sedatives are either given orally or through an injection. What sedative drugs to use depends on your pet’s specific condition, medical history, and results of their physical exam. Several factors are also considered to determine the exact amount of sedative to be administered. The vet will also determine if they’ll be using “reversible” sedatives or those whose effects simply wear off.

While your pet is under sedation and throughout the medical procedure, your pet’s vital signs are closely monitored.

For anaesthetics, a pre-anaesthetic procedure is performed to ensure the proper, safe, and effective administration of the anaesthetic. The vet may first do a physical evaluation to determine if the dog can be safely anaesthetised; this is especially true if general anaesthesia is involved.

The procedure may also uncover existing medical conditions and if these conditions can interfere, harm, or increase the risk associated with anaesthesia or surgery. The pre-anaesthetic procedure may be done a few days to a few weeks before the scheduled operation. Note however that this evaluation usually isn’t necessary for local anaesthesia.

A sedative is sometimes used to prepare the pet for anaesthesia. Once under sedation, an intravenous catheter is inserted into the dog’s vein. In the case of anaesthetic gases, an endotracheal tube is inserted into the canine’s windpipe. The anaesthetic agent is then carefully administered.

The medical procedure of administering general anaesthesia is a delicate and exacting one, so the process should be done by a trained vet or veterinary nurse who is supervised by a licensed anaesthetist. Monitoring equipment may also be hooked up to ensure that the pet is comfortable and pain-free while under anaesthesia.

Finally, postoperative medication is administered to help the dog deal with the pain and discomfort after surgery.

How Are Dogs Monitored Under Anaesthesia or Sedation?

Dogs under anaesthesia or sedation, dogs are monitored through a range of machines and monitors. They are also constantly monitored by a surgery assistant or veterinary nurse to ensure fast response times if there are any complications.

Sedation or anaesthesia is an artificially induced state. Thus, a sedated or anaesthetised dog’s vital signs need to be monitored to ensure that the animal is safe and stable. Most anaesthetic monitoring equipment found in a veterinary hospital is comparable to those found in any normal hospital.

The most common ways of monitoring a sedated dog include:

Surgery assistant or anesthesiologist – observes and monitors the dog through the entire medical procedure. If needed, they can adjust the levels of anaesthetics depending on the dog’s vital signs.

Electrocardiogram – displays heartbeat rate and pattern. This allows the surgery assistant to detect abnormal heart patterns, allowing them to modify anaesthetic levels.

Heart rate monitor – determines the number of heartbeats in one minute. When under sedation or anaesthesia, the dog’s heart rate should be maintained within a specific range.

Blood pressure monitor – provides accurate measurement of the systolic and diastolic blood pressure.

Respirometer – provides accurate measurement of the number of breaths in one minute.

Temperature probe – measures the core body temperature. Maintaining optimal body temperature is important in a prolonged surgical operation.

Pulse oximeter – monitors the oxygen level in the blood as well as the dog’s pulse rate.

End-tidal CO2 monitor – measures the concentration of exhaled carbon dioxide during anaesthesia.

Other instruments and monitoring methods may be used, depending on your pet’s condition. Make sure you discuss your dog’s health and any underlying conditions with your vet, as it can help them ensure they have all the machines necessary to monitor your pet safely.

What to Expect After Anaesthesia or Sedation in Dogs

Once the operation is done and the effects of the sedation or anaesthesia wear off, your pet may exhibit some strange behaviours within the sedation recovery period, such as grogginess, lethargy and light bruising.

Here are some normal things to expect post-operation:

  • Grogginess – Your dog may be drowsy or groggy after the sedative or anaesthetic has worn off. This is perfectly normal and should wear off in a few hours, or days at most. 
  • Lethargy – Your pet may be lethargic and be unwilling or unable to move much. Much like drowsiness, lethargy is common and should wear off quickly. 
  • Bruising – Bruises may appear on the area where the IV or catheter is inserted. While these bruises shouldn’t be a concern, make sure you are watching the site, as dogs may lick the insertion site and cause an infection.

If your dog has difficulty waking up or if you notice anything that worries you, contact the vet immediately.

How Long Will It Take My Dog to Recover From Anaesthesia?

The typical dog sedation recovery time is generally within 12 to 48 hours provided everything went smoothly. If the anaesthesia is expected to take longer to wear off, your vet will inform you.

If your vet used reversible sedation drugs, your dog may exhibit virtually normal behaviour by the time they’re discharged, which is usually on the same day as the procedure. They may be a little bit tired or sleepy, but none for the worse.

If your dog is still not back to normal after the time your vet has told you, you should get in contact with them. It may simply be that your dog is just taking longer to recover from the anaesthesia, which can be due to anything from diet to individual reactions. But it’s best to be safe and stay in contact with your vet after any major procedure that requires anaesthesia.

What Can I Do for My Pet That Has Been Sedated?

While your pet recovers from the effects of sedation and anaesthesia, you need to do a few things to ensure they recovers smoothly, including:

  • Prepare a warm and quiet place indoors
  • Clean their bed and resting place
  • Watch over them from time to time as they recover
  • As your dog recovers, feed them small portions of their favourite food or treat. Gradually, their appetite will increase and return to normal as the effects of the sedatives or anaesthetics wear off
  • Your dog can do light exercise after they’ve rested. Gradually increase their exercise regimen during the recovery period
  • Once they recover, you can take your dog for a short walk to allow them to void their bowels

In a day or two, your furry friend should be able to resume their normal activities. As mentioned before, always follow your vet’s instructions regarding medication and how to take care of your dog given their condition.

Related Questions

Should You Sedate Dogs for Grooming?

Normally, it’s not necessary to sedate dogs if you need to have them groomed. Some dogs may be jittery or hyperactive, but most groomers are trained to handle difficult-to-handle dogs. However, a vet may suggest sedation for grooming if the dog is suffering from extreme fear or anxiety. 

Sedation may also be warranted if the dog is known to have violent outbursts, which endangers the safety of the groomer. This will be at the discretion of your vet, and should always be performed at a veterinary clinic for proper monitoring.

Should You Sedate Dogs for Teeth Cleaning?

Sedation is often necessary so the vet can carefully evaluate their dental health, clean their teeth, and treat any dental condition your pet may be suffering from. Because dental care can be uncomfortable for your dog, sedation helps keep the vet safe and your dog calm. 

How Much Does Dog Anaesthesia Cost?

The cost of anesthetising dogs varies widely from around $100 to $1000 or more, depending on the type and length of the procedure. Other factors which affect the cost include the size of your dog, their health condition, and the kind of sedatives or anaesthetics that they need. 

The rule of thumb: the bigger your dog, the more high-risk they are, or the more specialised care they need, the higher the cost. Some pet insurance policies also cover the cost of certain procedures and surgeries, including sedation and anaesthesia. Check with your pet insurance provider for details.

Do Dogs Feel Pain When Sedated?

Sedated dogs are incredibly sleepy and although they might feel some discomfort, it’s not exactly something that would equate to pain. Sedation is administered to pets when they undergo procedures that are quick and pain-free.

For more painful and invasive surgeries, dogs typically undergo a general anaesthetic, similar to humans.


This article is published in good faith, for general informational and educational purposes only. Paws and More Vet Centre does not make any warranties about the ongoing completeness and reliability of this information. This article should not be used as a substitute for veterinary advice, including for diagnosis or treatment of a pet’s medical condition. Always consult a veterinary professional before making decisions on your pet’s health.