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Anaesthesia FAQ's

Frequently Asked Questions about anaesthesia

What happens to my pet following admission to the hospital?

Once admitted to the hospital your pet will have a full clinical examination, after which their appropriate dose of pre-medication will be calculated and prepared. This is then given by injection to provide pain relief and make your pet sleepy, once this has been given an intravenous cannula is placed into one of their legs (or ear). 

If a full general anaesthetic is required, induction is achieved via injection of a different medication into the cannula already placed. An endotracheal tube is inserted into the trachea (windpipe) to provide oxygen and gaseous anaesthetic agent if appropriate. Your pet is then maintained under anaesthesia with continuous monitoring for the duration of their procedure. 

Once the procedure is complete, the patient is lightened from anaesthesia until they can maintain their own airway, at which point the endotracheal tube is removed and the patient is returned to bed. During the recovery phase a nurse monitors the patient’s gradual return to full consciousness and will alert the duty veterinary surgeon to any issues that arise. 

When the patient has fully recovered and is able to stand and walk by themselves, the intravenous cannula is removed and they are discharged from the hospital with relevant discharge information provided to the owner. 

Why can’t my pet eat for 8 hours before anaesthesia/sedation?

The stomach needs to be empty during anaesthesia/sedation to minimise the risk of vomiting. Anaesthetised patients don’t retain their gag reflex and as such may breathe in stomach contents if they vomit whilst under anaesthesia. Having said this, excessive fasting may actually increase the chance of vomiting, so 8 hours is a sufficient time for stomach emptying in most patients. Water moves a little quicker, hence this can be provided up until the morning of the procedure.  


Rabbits and other small pets should not undergo fasting prior to anaesthesia, your vet/nurse will provide you with species-specific pre-anaesthetic information ahead of the planned procedure. 

Why does my pet need an anaesthetic/sedation for imaging?

Unlike humans, most animals won’t stay still when you ask them to, at least not still enough for certain imaging procedures. In order to gain the most useful information with imaging studies, we need to minimise movement as much as possible and this is usually achieved in the safest and most effective way via anaesthesia or sedation. 

How long will my pet take to recover from anaesthesia/sedation?

The duration of recovery depends upon multiple factors including medications used, duration of anaesthesia, patient age & health, etc. Usually the initial recovery period lasts 30-90 minutes, after this time the patient is usually awake and able to stand but it can take a few hours longer for them to behave completely normally following anaesthesia. 

How will my pet behave after an anaesthetic/sedation?

Usually owners report that their pets are completely back to normal by the time they arrive home. In some cases dogs & cats may be subdued, sleepy and less interactive, they may also be uninterested in food for the first 12 hours, these signs should pass by themselves. To help support your pet during recovery you should make them a warm bed in a quiet area of the house and allow them to sleep off any residual effects. Cats should be kept indoors for the first 24 hours with a litter tray provided. Dogs should only be walked into the garden to pass urine and faeces. A small bland meal, such as chicken or a prescription gastrointestinal diet (available at the hospital), should be provided that evening, but don’t worry if your pet doesn’t want this initially. 


Most importantly, you should follow all of the advice on the discharge information sheet provided for you. If you have any concerns regarding your pet once they return home, please don’t hesitate to contact the practice on 01603 867330, we are available 24/7. 

Can my pet have a reaction to anaesthesia?

The vast majority of pets experience no adverse effects from anaesthesia or sedation. However older patients and those with pre-existing diseases do pose a greater risk and may therefore require diagnostics or treatment ahead of anaesthesia. Risks of anaesthesia vary in severity from relatively minor changes (such as excessive sleepiness in the recovery period) to more significant events (such as organ damage, allergic reaction, vomiting, aspiration pneumonia, neurological disease) and in very rare cases even death. The highest risk period for anaesthesia is actually during recovery, for this reason pets continue to be continuously monitored until they have fully recovered.

Every effort is made to minimise these risks and your pet will be monitored closely before, during and after anaesthesia/sedation in order to identify any problems as soon as possible. 

How do you make anaesthesia/sedation safer?

The most important thing when it comes to patient safety under anaesthesia/sedation is preparation. Prior to anaesthesia a full clinical history will be taken followed by a though physical examination in order to identify any areas of concern that may impact on anaesthesia or sedation. Where there are concerns regarding a patient’s stability for anaesthesia, additional diagnostic investigations or treatments may need to be undertaken prior to their planned procedure. Your pet will be monitored very closely from the point of premedication until they have fully recovered from anaesthesia by our team of veterinary surgeons and registered veterinary nurses.  

During the anaesthetic or sedation your pet’s vital parameters (such as heart & rhythm, blood pressure, respiratory rate & pattern, neurological status, body temperature, tissue oxygenation and carbon dioxide concentration) will be monitored continuously in order to better evaluate your pet’s condition and adapt to any ongoing changes.

Is my pet too old to undergo anaesthesia?

As pets age they are slightly more likely to experience adverse effects around the time of anaesthesia. Despite this, anaesthesia for older patients is always advisable where the benefits of the procedure outweigh these risks. For instance, a dog or cat with chronic dental disease is likely to benefit greatly from anaesthesia for dental surgery given the dramatic improvement this will have on their quality of life. As our older patients are more likely to have underlying health conditions, there are instances where we advise undertaking pre-anaesthetic blood screening (and in some cases other diagnostic procedures such as echocardiography) in order to obtain as much information regarding the patient as possible. This means that the anaesthetic can be better tailored to your pet and the risk of adverse effects minimised.  

Should you have any specific questions regarding anaesthesia for older patients, please speak to your vet or nurse ahead of your pet’s planned procedure. 

Do brachycephalic breeds pose a higher anaesthetic/sedation risk?

Sadly, brachycephalic breeds (such as pugs & French bulldogs) are more likely to experience problems around the time of anaesthesia given their smaller airways and greater likelihood of vomiting or regurgitating. For these reasons, general anaesthesia can often be safer for these patients than sedation as we have complete control of the airway. We usually keep these higher risk patients in hospital a little longer in order to ensure that they can be monitored closely throughout recovery and are behaving normally prior to discharge. 


Should you have any specific questions regarding anaesthesia for brachycephalic patients, please speak to your vet or nurse ahead of your pet’s planned procedure. 

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