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My Dog Needs Surgery, But I Am Worried About the Anaesthetic!

Updated: Jun 23, 2023

A new VetCompass study aimed to help owners quantify the real risk of anaesthesia in dogs, and the good news? It is very low risk.

The paper, led by the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) and the University of Manchester, ‘Mortality Related to General Anaesthesia and Sedation in Dogs under UK Primary Veterinary Care’, used data from more than 150,000 dogs attending first opinion veterinary practices around the UK.

The study examined:

  • The overall risk of death for each dog which had at least one sedation or anaesthesic procedure over a set period of time.

  • Anaesthesia related to neutering (spaying and castration) in dogs.

The findings showed only 14 deaths in 10,000 (0.14%) dogs within two weeks of sedation/anaesthesia procedures carried out for any reason. Of this 14, 10 per deaths occurred within 48 hours.

For neutering surgeries in dogs, the risk is even smaller, with one death in 10,000 (0.009%) neuter procedures related to sedation and/or anaesthesia.

Factors associated with increased risk of sedation and anaesthetic-related death in this study included:

  • Older age

  • Poorer overall health

  • More urgent surgeries

  • Certain breeds such as Rottweilers and West Highland White Terriers compared with mixed breeds. (Cocker Spaniels, were found to be at lower risk compared with mixed breeds.)

Older dogs, those with poorer health or undergoing planned complex surgeries were found to be higher risk. These results emphasise that veterinary professionals should continue to manage and carefully plan for the anticipated anaesthetic risk of each individual case. Urgent procedures, regardless of complexity, were shown to carry greater risk and therefore should be approached with high vigilance. Veterinary professionals will continue to deliver the exceptional standards to their patients taking into account these risk factors.

Interestingly, there was no difference in risk for brachycephalic breeds. This is an incredibly positive finding as Brachycephaly has previously been associated with increased odds of anaesthetic complications. Given the welfare concerns for brachycephalic dogs, specifically conditions such as brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS), flat faced dogs were expected to be associated with increased risks of GA/sedative-related death. However, the lack of increased risk associated with brachycephaly in the current study suggest the additional interventions implemented during and after anaesthesia of brachycephalic dogs may be proving effective at limiting the risks.

The authors of the paper say that overall, these results should provide some reassurance for the veterinary and dog-owning communities regarding the safety of neutering, as well as the relative safety of sedatives and anaesthetics for more complex procedures.

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