How risky is Anesthesia?

By November 29, 2012 February 28th, 2019 Uncategorized

We’ve all heard stories of animals or people not waking up after an operation. That’s why we take anesthesia very seriously at the Animal Hospital of Unionville. But, how often does this happen?

Over the years, we’ve done many thousands of anesthetic procedures without any accidents. I often compare anesthesia with a commercial airline flight. We all heard of planes crashing, but how often does it really happen?

Just like with airlines, safe and comfortable anesthesia depend on a proper protocol and diligence. The pilot has a checklist and doesn’t take off until everything is checked and double checked. We do the same. Then it is safe. You’ll need to check with blood samples whether the kidneys and liver are functioning well enough to clear some anesthetics from the system, whether there is enough protein and red blood cells, etc. Only when every system is checked, we feel comfortable. Of course, age of the patient, breed, preexisting conditions, type of procedure to be done, etc. will all be considered in detail.

It’s a team approach. It is normal for you to have concern if your pet is about to undergo a procedure that requires anesthesia. Because of this fact, we invite you to be a part of our anesthetic team. Your primary responsibility is to let us know of your concern. You will have access to your doctor to discuss any of your concerns and to set up a custom protocol for your pet, taking its specific needs into consideration. Only when you are comfortable with the situation will we proceed any further.

How many anesthetics can an animal take during a lifetime? There is no limit. Modern day anesthetics do not accumulate in the body. They are excreted fast and completely within hours. We use frequently the exact same anesthetic agents and equipment as in humans.

When is an animal too old for anesthesia? Just like in people, there is no age limit. I just witnessed how an 80 year old lady was anesthetized in the emergency room to set a broken wrist joint and woke up within 20 minutes feeling completely well. If you do things properly, then there is no age limit.

Of course the “I think s/he is too old… “question really means “I don’t want to do this because…”. And there are good reasons why an owner chooses not to do something. Then we need to explore what those concerns are and help you make the right decision for you and your pet.

The main piece of equipment we use is a machine that allows us to administer anesthetic as a gas. This is a very safe and effective way to administer anesthesia, and is especially important for us doctors that work on exotic animals. New and safe injectable anesthetics are used more and more in dog and cat medicine because they have less impact on the environment.

Like fear of flying, some people have an inordinate fear of anesthesia because they heard of some animal dying or had a bad experience years ago. It is rare to almost non-existent for an animal to die from anesthesia when routine precautions are taken, so this fear is unnecessary.

It is common to have this fear when a pet is anesthetized for teeth cleaning. And we know, the risk of NOT cleaning the teeth is far greater. It will always lead to severe mouth infection, decay, and internal infection including endocarditis. Infected teeth not only cause unnecessary pain and suffering, but lead to premature death. For more information check out: More info and search for “risk of surgery” or “dental cleaning”.


Your CareTeam at the Animal Hospital of Unionville, a veterinary clinic serving Markham, Richmond Hill, Scarborough, Stouffville, and North York since 1966.

Markham veterinarian. Markham vet,

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