Study shows anaesthesia risks in dogs are low

It’s natural to worry about our furry friends’ wellbeing, especially when they need surgery or other procedures, but new research may give some reassurance for owners whose dogs require sedation or general anaesthetic.

The VetCompass study, led by the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) and the University of Manchester, reveals a relatively low risk of death from sedation and general anaesthetics for dogs in the UK.

Based on data from more than 150,000 dogs, the researchers found that the current risk is 14 deaths in 10,000 dogs within two weeks of sedation/anaesthesia procedures carried out for any reason, of which 10 deaths per 10,000 are within 48 hours of these procedures.

For anaesthesia related to neutering (spaying and castration) in dogs this risk was much smaller, with one death in 10,000 neuter procedures related to sedation and/or anaesthesia.

Some of the key factors associated with increased risk of sedation and anaesthetic-related death included:

  • Older age
  • Poorer overall health
  • More urgent surgeries
  • Certain breeds such as Rottweilers and West Highland White Terriers compared with mixed breeds

The RVC said that for older dogs, those with poorer health or undergoing planned complex surgeries, the findings emphasise the value of careful planning to manage the anaesthetic risks. Urgent procedures, regardless of complexity, were shown to carry greater risk and therefore should be approached with high vigilance and caution.

“Waving a tearful goodbye to your beloved dog as they are admitted for an anaesthetic at your veterinary surgery can be one of the scariest moments of many dog-owners’ lives,” said Dr Dan O’Neill, Associate Professor in Companion Animal Epidemiology at the RVC and co-author of the paper. “This new VetCompass study can help owners deal with these fears by understanding the real anaesthetic risk is not that high: 14 deaths in every 10,000 dogs. Decision-making based on the known can now replace fear of the unknown.”

At Petwise we offer senior dog insurance with no upper joining age limit, and no co-payment excess is applied regardless of the age of your pet. As a policyholder you will also have unlimited access to video consultations with a fully qualified vet, available 24/7 365 days a year.