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How risky is a general anaesthesetic?

Overall, the risk of general anaesthesia is low. On average in the UK, the fatality rate from anaesthesia is 0.05% for healthy dogs and 1.3% for sick dogs. The need for an anaesthetic needs to be weighed against the benefits of the procedure. For example, if your pet has severe cardiovascular or respiratory disease it may be considered too unsafe or they may need to be stabilised prior to the anaesthetic.

Top anaesthetic risks:

  1. Age – young dogs are less capable of maintaining their temperature and older dogs may not be able to process drugs as efficiently.
  2. Weight – underweight dogs have more difficulty maintaining their temperature and drugs may persist for longer in their body. Whereas overweight patients can be more difficult to position and are more likely to experience breathing difficulties.
  3. Breed – particular breeds with short noses (e.g. Pugs and bulldogs) have compromised airways which make it difficult to breathe, especially during recovery.
  4. Pre-exisiting medical conditions – any conditions affecting the cardiovascular system, liver, kidneys or hydration have the potential to compromise anaesthesia.

How can it be made safer?

We will never be able to completely eliminate the risk of anaesthesia, however there are multiple ways we can make it substantially safer. Ultimately, the more information we have about your pet’s current health status, the better we can recognise, prevent and treat any potential anaesthetic complications.

Below are steps that we take to minimise anesthetic risk:

Veterinary nurse or animal technician: A trained member of staff will be assigned to your pet. Their sole job is to continuously monitor your pet’s vital signs throughout anaesthesia, from induction to recovery, alerting the vet to any changes and making adjustments quickly.

Pre-anaesthetic assessment: Your vet will take into account your pet’s history, current conditions and medications, lifestyle and other relevant history. Every dog will undergo a thorough veterinary exam prior to the anaesthetic to identify any underlying conditions that can then be addressed.

Intravenous catheter placement: Every patient has an intravenous (IV) catheter placed prior to the procedure. The catheter can be used to provide anaesthetics and fluids to keep your pet hydrated; additionally, if needed, it would serve as a pathway to directly administer life-saving medications should a crisis arise.

Below are steps we may take on an individual basis or by an owner’s request:

Pre-anaesthetic blood test: If your dog is 8 years old or over, has a preexisting medical condition or if there are any concerns raised following pre-operative examination or on history, then we strongly recommend a blood test prior to the procedure. This allows us to better assess the functioning of critical organs and proteins which are important for healing times, amongst other things. Any problems that are identified can then be addressed, such as administering fluids or altering drug protocols, or possibly delaying the procedure if necessary.

Intravenous fluid therapy: Fluids may be administered during the procedure to maintain or correct hydration and blood pressure. This keeps sensitive organs like the kidneys functioning optimally and aids recovery by helping the liver and kidneys clear the body of anaesthetic agents.

Other diagnostic tests may be recommended on an individual basis.

How is my pet monitored throughout the anaesthetic?

There are many ways in which your dog will be monitored during anaesthesia. They include:

  • Heart rate and respiratory rate – this is monitored by a nurse or animal technician every 5 minutes.
  • Electrocardiogram – this monitors your dog’s heart rate and heartbeat pattern. It can detect abnormal patterns called arrhythmias. If an arrhythmia is detected, your vet can make suitable changes in anaesthesia or administer life-saving drugs.
  • Body temperature – this is especially important if your dog is undergoing a prolonged surgical procedure. Heat pads and blankets can be used to maintain their temperature as significant changes can cause dangerous complications.
  • Blood pressure – when used together with other monitoring equipment, blood pressure provides detailed information on your pet’s cardiovascular condition.
  • Pulse oximetry – this monitors the amount of oxygen in your dog’s blood as well as pulse rate.
  • Carbon dioxide – is monitored as it helps determine if your pet is receiving the right amount of oxygen during anaesthesia.

If you have any other questions about anesthesia or specifically questions relating to your pet, don’t hesitate to speak to one of our vets.

If your pet has a specific procedure booked in over the coming days please click here.