We all want our pets to remain perfectly healthy and never need medical procedures like surgery. But for many dogs, there may come a time when they require medical procedures that involve sedation or anesthesia. 

The idea of anesthetizing your dog may ruffle your anxieties, but remember that it’s a common and necessary practice that prevents pain and fear during vital medical procedures.

In this article, we’ll explore the realm of anesthesia for dogs, uncovering its purpose, various types, and the precautions implemented to ensure its safe application. Additionally, we will discuss why some dogs act weird after anesthesia and how to help them recover.


  • Anesthesia is a helpful tool that allows dogs to tolerate medical procedures with minimal pain and anxiety. 
  • Changes in behavior after anesthesia are very common in dogs and usually resolve within a day or two.
  • It’s never wrong to contact a veterinarian if you’re concerned about your dog’s recovery.

Understanding anesthesia for dogs

Anesthesia creates a loss of sensation and consciousness, allowing us to perform procedures without the animal feeling discomfort. It is achieved by administering a combination of different drugs, each serving specific purposes such as unconsciousness, pain relief, and muscle relaxation. The specific combination of anesthetic drugs is customized for each dog to ensure safety and effectiveness.

Ideally, an anesthetized dog will be motionless and “asleep” while maintaining normal physiological function. Throughout the procedure veterinarians and anesthetists carefully monitor vital signs and make necessary adjustments to ensure the dog’s well-being. 


Dog High After Vet Visit - Hallucinating Funny Pug Beagle Puggle Faces
Funny but typical recovery behavior (thanks to Dan Rubin-YouTube)

Types of anesthesia used in veterinary practice

Various types of anesthesia are used to accommodate the unique needs of each patient. These different approaches consider factors such as the procedure, the dog’s health, and the desired level of sedation

Local anesthesia

Local anesthesia involves the administration of numbing agents (lidocaine, bupivicaine, etc.) to temporarily block nerve sensation in a specific area. It’s commonly used for minor procedures where the dog doesn’t need to be unconscious. It is also used during sedation and general anesthesia to provide additional pain relief. 

Local anesthesia offers several benefits:

  • Targeted nerve blocking in a specific body area.
  • Minimizes the need for higher doses of general anesthesia drugs.
  • Causes fewer systemic side effects than sedation or general anesthesia.


Sedation is different from anesthesia in that it is not adequate for performing most invasive procedures. Sedation involves the use of medications to induce a state of relaxation and decreased awareness in dogs. 

Veterinarians turn to sedation to facilitate diagnostic procedures such as X-rays or ultrasounds, to keep your pet still and relaxed. Most animals receive a sedative prior to general anesthesia as well.

The benefits of sedation include:

  • Can increase comfort during diagnostic procedures.
  • Enables better patient cooperation and reduces anxiety.
  • Lowers drug doses needed for general anesthesia, minimizing potential side effects.
  • Can allow for smoother recovery with less erratic behavior.
intubated Frenchie on operating table (dog acting weird after anesthesia)
A dog under gas general anesthesia.

General anesthesia

General anesthesia is a comprehensive approach to anesthesia that induces a controlled loss of consciousness, pain relief, and muscle relaxation in dogs. It’s typically used for invasive procedures such as dental extractions, intestinal surgery, spaying, neutering, and cruciate ligament repair. 

The benefits of general anesthesia include:

  • Better monitoring and control of cardiorespiratory variables.
  • Allows for a more precise and focused approach to surgery.
  • Provides pain management and comfort for the dog during the procedure.

Local anesthetics are the least likely to cause behavior changes but a dog might be confused by the loss of sensation to the anesthetized body part. Sedation and general anesthesia are more likely to cause strange behavior during the recovery period. 

Each type of anesthesia has its specific advantages and is chosen based on the nature of the procedure, the dog’s health, and the required level of sedation. Your veterinarian will carefully assess your dog’s individual needs and recommend the most appropriate anesthesia approach to ensure their safety. 

Anesthesia risk factors

When it comes to healthy dogs, the overall risks of anesthesia are low. Pre-anesthesia assessments are imperative to ensure safe anesthesia for dogs. Laboratory testing and physical examination help the vet assess your dog’s organ functionality and screen for undiagnosed disease. 

Veterinarians and veterinary technicians play an important role in ensuring the safety of the procedure through close monitoring. They carefully observe vital signs such as heart rate, blood oxygen levels, blood pressure, and body temperature and make adjustments as needed. 

Some pre-existing conditions can increase the risk of complications during and after anesthesia. I’ve listed some of the most common conditions below.

Kidney disease

Dogs with kidney disease may experience prolonged effects from anesthesia. And there is a risk of increasing kidney damage during anesthesia. 

These animals can be anesthetized safely but require extra support such as IV fluids before, during and after anesthesia. Careful monitoring during the procedure helps minimize damage to kidneys from low blood pressure. 

Liver disease

Adequate liver function is required for clearing many anesthetic drugs from a dog’s body. Dogs with mild to moderate liver disease can often be anesthetized safely. 

Dogs with severe liver disease require careful drug selection and post-operative care. Pre-anesthetic lab tests can detect abnormalities, allowing for appropriate treatment decisions. 

Heart disease

The severity of heart disease can vary greatly. While many toy breed dogs with a heart murmur face minimal anesthesia risks, giant breed dogs with dilated cardiomyopathy present a higher risk due to potential congestive heart failure. 

Fortunately, most dogs with significant heart problems have enough symptoms that it will be detected before they’re anesthetized.

Very young animals

Anesthetizing puppies under 12 weeks old can be challenging due to several factors. Their underdeveloped liver function makes them prone to hypoglycemia compared to adult dogs. 

Additionally, their small size and limited body fat increase the risk of hypothermia during anesthesia.

Senior dogs

While old age alone doesn’t automatically mean a higher risk for anesthesia, it’s important to consider that older dogs may have underlying health conditions affecting their liver, kidneys, lungs, and heart. It’s not uncommon to observe that senior dogs may have a slower recovery compared to their younger counterparts.

Short-faced dogs

English Bulldogs, Frenchies, and Shih Tzus have adorable but problematic short noses. A 2018 study found that they are about twice as likely to have complications before and after anesthetic events.(1

Intubation during anesthesia can improve breathing during the procedure. Extra care is needed during the recovery period to make sure the dog is conscious enough to breathe without the tube in place. 

Normal anesthesia recovery behaviors in dogs

Many dogs behave differently, sometimes even weirdly, after anesthesia and surgery due to their biochemical response to stress.(2) These common side effects are typically temporary and resolve within 24 hours. Expected behavior changes include 

It’s important to remember that these behaviors are often related to the anesthesia and will subside with time. If they’re still occurring after 24 hours, please see your veterinarian.

Long haired brown and white dog hiding under furniture

Abnormal anesthesia recovery: warning signs

Some dogs have a rough recovery even with the best of medical care. Unexpected symptoms after a procedure don’t necessarily indicate an anesthesia overdose. If you are in doubt about your dog’s recovery, you should seek emergency veterinary care. Warning signs to watch for

  • The dog is unconscious and can’t be roused
  • Rapid breathing
  • Crying out in pain when moving or when touched
  • Not eating for over 24 hours
  • Repeated vomiting or diarrhea 
  • Bleeding or significant bruising
  • Sutures coming out of surgical wounds
  • You’re unable to stop the dog from chewing the surgery site

Help your dog recover smoothly

Start by preparing your house before you bring your recovering dog home. Block off stairs and any other dangerous areas such as swimming pools. 

Create a quiet and comfortable recovery space for your dog, providing their favorite food and fresh water within easy reach. Have a “cone” collar available to prevent them from licking or scratching the surgical area. 

Your veterinarian may prescribe pain medications for home administration. Post-operative pain management can prevent many rough recoveries. Don’t be afraid to ask your vet whether your dog’s pain is well-controlled. 

My experience

I’ve spoken to thousands of dog owners after their dog’s anesthetic or sedative procedure. It seems the vast majority of dogs are a little groggy and less active during the 12 hours after the event. By the next day, they are eating and getting back to normal. 

Most of the pets I’ve seen that have prolonged recoveries have underlying health conditions or inadequate pain management. 


Anesthesia is a crucial aspect of veterinary care, ensuring the comfort and safety of dogs during medical procedures. It is important to understand the different types of anesthesia and the precautions taken to ensure its safe application. 

While dogs may experience temporary behavioral changes after anesthesia, such as acting strangely, changes in appetite, or confusion, these are typically transient and resolve within a day or two. 

By providing a supportive and comfortable recovery environment, following post-operative instructions, and promptly seeking veterinary care if any concerning symptoms arise, dog owners can help their pets navigate the recovery period after anesthesia.

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  1. Gruenheid, M., Aarnes, T. K., McLoughlin, M. A., Simpson, E. M., Mathys, D. A., Mollenkopf, D. F., & Wittum, T. E. (2018). Risk of anesthesia-related complications in brachycephalic dogs. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 253(3), 301-306.
  2. Hernández-Avalos, I., Flores-Gasca, E., Mota-Rojas, D., Casas-Alvarado, A., Miranda-Cortés, A. E., & Domínguez-Oliva, A. (2021). Neurobiology of anesthetic-surgical stress and induced behavioral changes in dogs and cats: A review. Veterinary World, 14(2), 393-404.