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Research comment
Monitoring small animal anaesthesia: where are we now?
  1. Pamela J. Murison
  1. Small Animal Hospital, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK
  1. email: pamela.murison{at}

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Anaesthesia is performed daily in most small animal practices. Figures for the total number of anaesthetics administered are not readily available, but, with the most recent Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association pet ownership statistics1 estimating the number of pet dogs and cats in the UK to be nine and 7.5 million, respectively, and the fact that each dog or cat will probably receive at least one anaesthetic in its lifetime, it can be estimated that up to one million anaesthetics are administered per year.

However, anaesthesia is not without risk. In the confidential enquiry into perioperative small animal fatalities (CEPSAF), Brodbelt and colleagues presented an overall risk of anaesthetic-associated death of one in 601 for dogs and one in 419 for cats.2 Healthy animals – classed as category I or II using the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) classification of physical status3 – have a lower risk of anaesthetic-associated death (one in 1849 for dogs and one in 849 for cats) but unhealthy animals (ASA physical status III–V) have a risk of death that is much greater (about one in 75). The risk is even higher in small mammals such as rabbits and rodents.

Although these risk figures represent a significant improvement compared with earlier studies, they still compare poorly with the one in 100,000 quoted for anaesthetic-associated death in people.4 The figures given for people and small animals may not be directly comparable due to differences in the classification of anaesthesia-associated death. However, even making allowances for this, it would appear that the veterinary profession still lags behind …

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