One in 416 cats die under anesthetic. Cat owners should know the chance of their cat dying under general anesthetic. A lot of medical procedures on the domestic cat require a general anesthetic. Even simple ones such as cleaning a cat’s teeth require a general anesthetic unless, of course, you have trained your cat to accept teeth cleaning while alert and awake.
Some people are so keen to give their cat a lion cut that they accept the risk of putting a cat under general anesthetic so a vet can do it. Although some vets don’t do lion cuts with the cat under general anesthetic – thankfully.
I have heard of a 1% chance (1 in 100) of a cat dying under anesthetic. I heard that figure in a vet’s clinic in London, UK while I was chatting to a cat owner who was nervous about his cat’s teeth being cleaned.
I have also heard of .1% chance (1 in 1000). These are both significant numbers and I think they affect our decision making. Yesterday, I found the results of a full blown study on the risk factors for anesthetic related death in cats. It took place in the UK between 2002 and 2004. That is 8 years ago so the standards may have improved since.
The study was pretty comprehensive in that 79,178 operations (“anaesthetic and sedation procedures”) were recorded from 117 veterinary clinics. I would have thought the data was accurate which is what I was looking for because as usual on the internet figures are bandied around and you can get misinformation quite easily.
The study concluded that 0.24% of cats died under anesthetic (“anaesthetic and sedation-related death”). 0.24% is 1 cat in 416 cats. So every 416 operations that require an anesthetic the cat dies as a result of the anesthetic.
I would trust these figures. On that basis, it does give a cat owner something to base their decision making on. A lot of operations on cats are necessary. There is no choice so the slight risk of dying under anesthetic has to be taken. Of course the cat himself has no choice in the matter. An interesting thought is “would the cat make the same decision as a human?”
But in other operations or procedures there are choices and the vet would probably ask you whether he should proceed or not. You need all the information you can get to make the right decision and a major influencing factor is the risk of injury or death by the anesthetic.
There must be a variation on the risk between different veterinarians. How up to date and professional are they? Modern techniques and equipment probably reduce risk. The study, incidentally, also concluded that the odds of anesthetic related death were increased by factors such as:
- the cat’s health. A cat in poor health has a higher risk. That is common sense.
- the cat’s age. Older cats have a higher risk.
- very fat or very thin cats (“extremes of weight”) are at a higher risk.
- the complexity of the operation is a factor too. The more complicated the more risk of a cat dying under anesthetic would seem to be conclusion.
- if the operation is urgent there would seem to be a higher risk too.
- “endotracheal intubation” (passing a tube down to the lungs via the mouth and windpipe) is associated with increased risk.
- “fluid therapy” (adding fluids to the cat) is also linked to increased risk.
Two factors are linked to reduced risk:
- pulse monitoring.
- pulse oximetry – I think this is a method to measure and monitor the levels of oxygen carried by hemoglobin in the blood.
How much a veterinarian invests in equipment and keeps pace with new technology is a factor in reducing the risk of injury and death of a cat under anesthetic.
As an interesting comparison, it appears that the risk of death for people is 11-16 deaths per 100,000 persons. That is about 1 in 7700 operations. This figure is much better than for cats. Cats are 18 times more likely to die under anesthetic. Why? Is it because cats are delicate creatures? Or is it because vets are less careful than doctors? Or perhaps it is because the equipment for vets is less sophisticated than for people. Do you know the answer?
The figures for human deaths come from the anesthesiaweb.org website.