Anesthesia Sensitivity in Dogs

Anesthesia Sensitivity in Dogs

Many dog owners have been told, typically just after surgery, that their dog is sensitive to anesthesia. Oftentimes, they’re told this by their vet and so, accept the statement as true. These owners then go on to tell their story to others, and the idea about anesthesia sensitivity in dogs grows and is purported. However the truth is, in most cases, it’s simply not true. A sensitivity to anesthesia in dogs is simply something does not exist except for one breed, the greyhound.

In fact, even when a pet dies during a procedure that requires anesthesia, it’s not usually the cause of the loss.

The Misconception About Anesthesia Sensitivity in Dogs


There are two main reasons for the misconceptions that certain dogs, or breeds of dogs, are sensitive to anesthesia:

  • 1Before the year 2000, barbiturates were widely used in veterinary offices as an anesthetic.
    While these drugs are perfectly safe when used properly, the recovery from them is slow and the effects of them last much longer. This is because before full recovery can be seen, the barbiturates needed to move into the fat of the animal where it could then metabolize – very slowly. This made it very difficult for certain breeds with very low body fat recovered from the drug even slower than other breeds.
    This problem was exasperated when other supports, such as warm blankets and fluids via IV, were not given along with the barbiturates. Today however, anesthesia moves through the system much more quickly, meaning that it leaves the body more easily and dogs recover much faster. Pet owners with pets that had surgery before the year 2000 might have been told their pet has an “anesthetic sensitivity” when really they were being given barbiturates, not anesthetics.
  • 2Unfortunately, there is very little oversight or governing bodies when it comes to veterinary medicine, especially in the case of the types of medicines they use.
    When it comes to anesthesia, there are high-quality medicines and there are also those that are much cheaper and simply don’t work as well in patients. And while most vets do try and use only the best medicines, some are content with sub-standard product. If these products are used and problems arise from it, the vet then tells the owner that the dog simply had “sensitivity to anesthesia” and the owner really has no choice but to believe them.

Breeds That Might Be Sensitive to Anesthesia

While it’s been stated that a sensitivity to anesthesia in dogs simply doesn’t exist, there is one breed that has had proven, documented sensitivity to anesthesia.

That breed is the greyhound, and their sensitivity to the medicine has nothing to do with their body fat but rather, that they don’t have an enzyme that’s needed for the body to process the anesthesia properly. That enzyme is called the Cytochrome p450, and it is needed to process Thiopental, a component of many anesthesia medicines. Thiopental was taken off the market a few years back so, unless it proves itself effective enough to work properly, there’s little concern that dogs will react to it.

Small breeds, also known as “toy breeds” might not have an actual sensitivity to anesthesia, but giving anesthesia to these tiny dogs can prove to be quite difficult.

This sensitivity has nothing to do with their breed, but with their actual size. Because their blood vessels are small, just like them, proper placement of a catheter IV can be much more difficult to achieve. Also, during anesthesia, the patient typically needs to be restrained and this can also prove to be much more difficult with smaller dogs. Because they are so small and fragile, it can be difficult to restrain them without causing them harm.

How to Deal With Anesthesia And Dogs

So, what’s a pet owner to do when their dog needs surgery that will require anesthesia? Is there really no hope, especially after hearing that their dog is “sensitive to anesthesia”?

In fact, there is a way to get your pet the help they need, even if it requires anesthesia.

Always make sure that you work with a vet that’s been certified by the board of veterinarians in your county or state. This way you can be sure you’ll be working with a veterinarian that will work closely with you and your pet to ensure they receive an individualized anesthetic protocol tailored specifically for your pet.

Truthfully, there really is no such thing as anesthesia sensitivity in dogs, with the exception of perhaps the greyhound breed. If your vet has told you this, ask them what makes them believe a sensitivity exists and get a second opinion with a vet that’s board-certified in your area. These professionals will administer and monitor your pet during the entire procedure and will do so in a way that will not adversely affect them.


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