Are Some Dogs More Sensitive to Anesthesia Than Others?

No, breed sensitivities to anesthesia are pretty much a myth. Here are 5 concerns we hear all the time about anesthesia.

Some breeds are more sensitive than others. By: John Donges
Smush-faced dogs need more recovery time after anesthesia. By: John Donges

We regularly hear clients voice concerns about their pets going under anesthesia.

Anesthetic protocols are designed according to a number of factors based on your pet’s health, blood work and demeanor. Hear are 5 classic concerns we commonly hear at veterinary clinics.

1. The Size of the Pet

“My teacup Yorkie is so small — you’re not going to give him too much anesthesia, right?”

All drugs, including anesthesia drugs, are calculated based on weight, so whether your dog weighs 2 pounds or 102 pounds, he will get each drug based on his exact body weight the day of anesthesia.

That said, small patients have a higher risk of hypothermia (low body temperature) and need to be kept warm before, during and after anesthesia.

2. Breed-Related Myths

“My dog’s particular breed is especially sensitive to anesthesia.”

We’ve heard it all: “Chihuahuas are more sensitive to anesthesia…”  “Cocker spaniels are more sensitive to anesthesia…” “Greyhounds are more sensitive to anesthesia…” Just last week it was a Japanese chin.

The reality is quite different when you look at scientific facts. Breed sensitivities to anesthesia are pretty much a myth, despite whatever your breeder, your best friend or your groomer may claim.

There is 1 drug that Greyhounds are very sensitive to: barbiturates. However, these drugs are no longer available in the United States, so they’re not really a concern anymore.

To be fair, some breeds and certainly some individuals can respond to some drugs differently. For example, Northern dog breeds such as huskies tend to vocalize after receiving injectable pain medications related to morphine. Then again, if you have a Husky, you probably know they are quite vocal to begin with.

Anesthesia is based on the pet's weight. By: e3000
Anesthesia is based on the pet’s weight. By: e3000

3. Age

“My dog is too old for anesthesia.”

“Age is not a disease,” as the saying goes.

A surgical or dental procedure under anesthesia that may benefit your pet’s health should not be avoided because of advanced age.

As long as pre-anesthetic blood work, physical exam, and possibly X-rays or ultrasound are performed to be sure that vital organs are functioning well, older pets can safely go under anesthesia.

Geriatric patients may need an anesthesia protocol that is tailored to their needs, and your vet was trained to make such adjustments. In complicated situations, a board-certified anesthesiologist can be consulted.

4. Breathing Difficulties

“My Bulldog always breathes loudly, but that’s normal.”

Actually, it’s not normal. Bulldogs and other brachycephalic (flat-faced dogs and cats) breeds have a significantly higher risk for respiratory complications around anesthesia time.

What many Bulldog folks don’t understand is that their anesthesia is very safe. The most critical period is after surgery. Bulldogs sometimes need an extended recovery period. The technician should monitor them closely until they are fully awake before removing the tube from their wind pipe.

Corrective surgery can be performed to make breathing less of a daily struggle.

5. Secondary Conditions

“My dog can’t go under anesthesia because she has a heart murmur.”

Patients with heart conditions do need special attention. Pre-anesthetic radiographs of the lungs and heart and an ultrasound of the heart should be done to assess the severity of the heart condition and determine if treatment is needed.

Anesthetic complications, no matter how rare, do happen. It is our job to minimize them by hiring well-trained nurses, performing pre-anesthetic physicals, using modern monitoring equipment and tailoring anesthesia protocols to each patient.


This pet health content was written by a veterinarian. Kelly Serfas, a certified veterinary technician, contributed.

Dr. Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ

View posts by Dr. Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ
Dr. Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ, is a traveling, board-certified veterinary surgeon in the Allentown, Pennsylvania area. He is a certified veterinary journalist, an award-winning author and a prolific speaker. He co-wrote Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound, about weight loss in dogs and humans. He also writes a free weekly newsletter, available at

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