My Rottweiler is Going under Anesthesia: Anesthesia Considerations for Large-Breed Dogs

Anesthesia is a drug-induced loss of sensation with or without loss of consciousness.

In veterinary medicine, anesthesia facilitates painful or lengthy procedures such as surgery. Non-surgical procedures that might require anesthesia include:

  • diagnostic imaging (x-rays, CT scans, MRI)
  • endoscopy
  • radiation treatments

Further information: A Primer on Anesthesia in Dogs

We decided on general anesthesia for Cookie’s follow-up PRP treatment because of the reaction she had to the deep sedation .

My Rottweiler is Going under Anesthesia: Anesthesia Considerations for Large-Breed Dogs

Sedation versus anesthesia

The choice between heavy sedation or general anesthesia depends on the procedure and individual considerations.

Anesthesia

Local anesthesia is the loss of sensation and pain in a particular part of the body while the dog remains conscious.

General anesthesia involves both loss of sensation and awareness of pain as well as a loss of consciousness.

A veterinarian will use general anesthesia for long, painful, or invasive procedures such as:

  • surgery
  • dental work
  • endoscopy
  • radiation treatments

Before anesthesia is administered, a dog is usually premedicated with a sedative. That helps to reduce stress and facilitates a lower level of anesthesia, which helps faster and smoother recovery. General anesthesia involves the administration of gases.

Depending on the procedure, the veterinarian might add pain medications as well.

Anesthesia protocols have improved in terms of safety, monitoring, and precautions. The advantage of anesthesia over sedation is that it can be adjusted on the fly. A dog under general anesthesia also already has a breathing tube and IV lines to quickly intervene when needed.

Careful monitoring during anesthesia is vital.

Further information: 2020 AAHA Anesthesia and Monitoring Guidelines for Dogs and Cats

[Heavy] sedation

A veterinarian might use sedation for shorter and minimally-invasive procedures such as:

  • diagnostic imaging
  • joint injections
  • suture removal
  • wound management

Heavy sedation is induced by an injection. A sedated dog can be brought back to an alert state with reversal agents.

A sedation protocol may include:

  • tranquilizer (e.g. acepromazine)
  • sedative (e.g. dexmedetomidine)
  • opioid
  • anesthetic agent where warranted

Once the procedure is complete, the veterinarian wakes the dog up with a reversal injection. But it is only the sedative drug that can be reversed.

Typically, a sedation protocol contains a sedative and a tranquilizer. The tranquilizer facilitates a lower dose of sedative which can lower the dog’s heart rate. That is, however, the drug that caused Cookie’s adverse effects.

Pre-anesthetic blood work

Never skimp on pre-anesthetic blood work. It ensures that your dog’s liver and kidneys will be able to clear the drugs out of the system. Any existing health issue impacts what protocol and precautions the veterinarian needs to employ. And, in some cases, you might need to forego the procedure.

Breed-Specific anesthesia considerations

Many considerations go into a safe anesthesia protocol. The important factors are not only age and general health but also the breed of the dog. You might expect that in brachycephalic breeds, but did you know that other breeds have different needs too? Breed-specific considerations apply to:

  • brachycephalic breeds
  • toy breeds
  • herding breeds
  • Sighthounds
  • Doberman Pinschers
  • Boxers of UK lineage
  • giant breeds

Further information: Canine Anesthesia: Special Considerations Based on Breed, Size, and Conformation

Breed-Specific anesthesia: Giant Breeds

Normally, drug dosages calculations are based on body weight. That, however, doesn’t work for large dogs. Dosage based on body weight is typically too much.

The reason behind higher drug sensitivity in giant breed dogs is their metabolic rate. Metabolic rate correlates to body surface rather than body weight. That means that it is harder for a large dog to clear the drugs out of their system. The ratio of body surface to body weight results in the need to calculate drug dosages differently.

Giant breeds often respond profoundly to normal therapeutic doses of sedatives, such as acepromazine … It is essential to lower the dose or calculate it based on lean body mass or surface area rather than body weight.

Clinician Brief

Further, giant breeds age faster, and senior dogs are at greater risk with general anesthesia. As well as just handling an unconscious large dog requires careful considerations.

Further information: Breed-Specific Anesthesia

Related articles:
A Primer on Anesthesia in Dogs: What Do You Need To Know About Anesthesia?

Further reading:
Anesthesia for Dogs
Canine Anesthesia: Special Considerations Based on Breed, Size, and Conformation
Some Breeds Handle Anesthesia Better than Others
Breed-Specific Anesthesia

Categories: Adverse reactionsAnesthesiaDog health advocacyPre-anesthetic blood testing

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Jana Rade

I am a graphic designer, dog health advocate, writer, and author. Jasmine, the Rottweiler of my life, was the largest female from her litter. We thought we were getting a healthy dog. Getting a puppy from a backyard breeder was our first mistake. Countless veterinary visits without a diagnosis or useful treatment later, I realized that I had to take Jasmine's health care in my own hands. I learned the hard way that merely seeing a vet is not always enough. There is more to finding a good vet than finding the closest clinic down the street. And, sadly, there is more to advocating for your dog's health than visiting a veterinarian. It should be enough, but it often is not. With Jasmine, it took five years to get a diagnosis. Unfortunately, other problems had snowballed for that in the meantime. Jasmine's health challenges became a crash course in understanding dog health issues and how to go about getting a proper diagnosis and treatment. I had to learn, and I had to learn fast. Helping others through my challenges and experience has become my mission and Jasmine's legacy. I now try to help people how to recognize and understand signs of illness in their dogs, how to work with their veterinarian, and when to seek a second opinion. My goal is to save others the steep curve of having to learn things the hard way as I did. That is the mission behind my blog and behind my writing. That is why I wrote Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, which has turned out being an award-winning guide to dog owners. What I'm trying to share encompasses 20 years of experience.

6 Comments
  1. My three senior dogs are scheduled for teeth cleaning this February. I have some concern for them because of their ages, but they are all small, so I’m glad to know the risk is less due to their sizes.

  2. I did not realise the differences and how vital these might be. This post is a real eye opener. I know I am beyond anxious when one of my cats goes under the needle (OK terrified is closer to the truth). Knowing there are different types and that the whole issue can affect breeds in different ways means it is vital for owners to know their breed and how it reactions to things like medication.

    This is a very important post. Thank you.

  3. Thanks for this interesting post but with Layla aging I will not do it with her as I am afraid she will not wake up and the vet is aware of that. BUT always good to know

  4. This was really interesting to read. I was unaware of the additional considerations for giant breed dogs, as I have never had any larger than a small GSD to date. That being said, it’s definitely VERY important information that owners of larger pups should be familiar with. Thank you for taking the time to break it down in such an easy to follow way.

  5. Thanks for sharing the difference between anesthesia and heavy sedation. I honestly didn’t give it much thought thinking they were pretty much the same. This is a great post because it can help pet parents make a more educated decision as to what is absolutely necessary in order to get certain procedures done. Some pets are more sensitive to anesthesia compared to others.

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