Cat has Dilated Eyes after General Anesthetic

A cat might have dilated eyes after a general anesthetic. This may worry the cat’s owner because anesthetics can harm or, rarely, even kill a cat. However, anesthetics have greatly improved over recent years and are considered safe. Although, I had to sign a consent form before the operation indicating some risk. No doubt, this is standard procedure.

The reason why I am writing this very short post is because my cat has recently undergone dental cleaning and repair together with another procedure – an endoscopy of the intestine –ย  under general anesthetic. When I picked him up his eyes were permanently dilated. Dilated eyes (actually the pupils) look like the eyes in the photo below. This is not my cat. I couldn’t photograph him. I was too concerned about him:

Dilated cat's eyes
Dilated cat’s eyes
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

When I saw Charlie’s eyes I immediately notice his dilated pupils. I remarked about it to my vet (the best vet I have employed). She said it was the adrenaline. I didn’t ask a follow-up question that would explain what she meant, despite being interested. I was too wound up.

However my research indicates that adrenaline (also called “epinephrine”) is used sometimes in anesthetics to improve the way the anesthetic works. My research tells me that it increases the nerve block and decreases bleeding as it is a strong vasoconstrictor (it narrows the blood vessels).

The adrenaline effect lasted until the following morning having picked him up in the evening the day before. I presume that adrenaline causes the eyes to dilate as it excites that part of the cat once he is awake. It makes parts of his anatomy more alert when awakened. This heightened state of alertness makes the eyes dilate so they let in more light to see better. I think that is the theory. Or the blood vessels feeding the retina are constricted making the eye less sensitive to light resulting in a compensation through dilated eyes.

My cat is still dopey and not himself but the eyes can be dilated. It looks a bit strange and disconcerting, but things get back to normal in due course.

I wrote this post to reassure some people who might have the same concerns as me after agreeing to anesthetise their cat.

Charlie is back to normal both in voice and with respect to his eyes.

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Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

24 thoughts on “Cat has Dilated Eyes after General Anesthetic”

  1. It’s been 3 weeks since dental surgery for Pebbles 15 years old. She was under about 4 hours due to extensive work. She is just not the same and one eye is dilated. Vet looked at it and could not see anything but told me to watch for her pawing it. Nothing like that but she still has one eye dilated. Does worry me

    1. Thanks for sharing Sharon and the best of luck to you both. Sometimes anesthetics can cause brain damage. Your vet’s advice seems to be off the mark. It indicates that he thinks there is something wrong with eye other than the possibility of the anesthetic causing injury. But I am unqualified so I am just speculating.

  2. At the above comment I am sharing my cat mittens dental experience for the first time I may not make sense on some parts simply because I am worried an while jotting down my thoughts i didnt really pay attention to how I spelled or how I said anything hope you guys can read this experience well

  3. Hello everyone , just would like to share me & my pet cat mittens dental cleaning I was so scared to just leave my animal with strangers I cried an didnt trust them no matter how much they assured me I also don’t like how vets don’t tell you the truth which I feel should definitely be discussed before anything I also believe that all the pets test should be printed our for the owner to see I am seeing lots of reviews of people stating that ” everything” is normal ? But find out later own that its not I don’t get that . Also my 8 yr old baby is my life so to see her with dilated eyes, painful gums, wet in her kennel on her back paws from when they removed an ingrown claw from her back paw pad but I wasn’t informed that it would be like this an the risk cause If I was I would never take a chance I can brush her teeth myself I love my cat too much to chance it with any danger to her life but after bringing her home seeing her with these big eyes running away at every movement had me in fear she never acted nothing like that an it was unrecognizable she also for the first time had problem with fleas but once that problem was fixed she had allergic reaction to the flea saliva causing her to excessively lick & nibble to relieve herself I have tried everything the Vet advised but still no success this anesthesia experience is petrifying an the worst I cant wait until this passes an I get to see my baby with no pain an back to her normal self an below is a pic of her sleeping an she was herself then I am not comfortable taking her picture with her in this condition

    1. Good luck Layla. I am not quite sure what you are saying but it seemed as though she was put under an anaesthetic and having woken up her eyes are dilate. That correct? I have had about this happening before. It can be quite serious if that is the problem. Please tell me how things develop. Anaesthetising a cat does carry some risk. There is a risk of death and if not death and brain damage. But please don’t be fearful because I’m just guessing as to what has happened from your comment.

      1. On Jan 6 My pet Cat Mittens was scheduled for teeth cleaning . The vet did numerous blood work an test an vaccines before They did put her on anesthesia an gave her something to wake back up.when I went to pick her up her eyes were fully dilated an she looked an acted scared out of her mind. Which scared me also . They told me everything was normal as far as the tests go I read alot of reviews I see a similarity that people are saying that even though the vet said everything was normal some of there pets ended up with brain damage, loss of eyesight & other things . My Question to everyone reading this how long will my pet mittens have dilated eyes ? She also haven’t slept like they told me she would . Also mittens have been under anesthesia yrs ago when she got fixed an she never acted this way please reply in detail something I can do or the reason why this is happening

  4. Thanks for this, Michael. I got my cat home 7 hours ago and he is restless, with dilated eyes and huge appetite. Intuitively, I figured he’d be mellowed out by morning, but still concerned. Your explanation of the adrenaline effect/affect was very helpful.

  5. Hi Michael,
    How long did it take for your cat’s pupil to be back to normal? My cat had teeth cleaning on Thursday and it is now Sunday morning, it is still dilated and it seems she has problem to focus. I saw her blink when I turned on She kept looking somewhere but there is nothing interesting. I wasn’t sure if it was due to the poor eyesight or hallucination. Last night we had to keep her in the cage when we were sleeping to prevent her from running/chasing invisible things. I wasn’t sure if she got any sleep at all, she was up all the time when we are around and was agitated since coming back from hospital. The doctor uses alfaxalone/isoflurane/metacam. She also refused to drink/eat for 2 days, the vet we went for surgery was closed yesterday so we went to another one to get her subcutaneous fluid therapy. Now she just started eating (I had to bring the food to her it seems she could not see well but after all she were able to eat). I was really worried and hopefully this pupil dilation is temporary. My cat is 10 years old and a bit overweight (15pounds), she had some bad teeth extracted in the surgery. I think I’ll try to clean her teeth from now on and don’t let her go through this again ๐Ÿ™

    1. Thanks Mia for you story. It must be very stressful. Personally it would make me very worried. I don’t know what the vet said about the dilated pupil. I would have thought they would have returned to normal well before now. I wish you both the best of luck.

  6. Guys I’m going through hell at the moment. My cat was spayed this afternoon at about 1430 hrs and its 0430hrs and she hasn’t revived yet. Her pupils have been dialated for that long and she can’t move. Will she be ok? Someone please help

  7. So glad other people have commented on this subject, my cat hasnt moved since getting her home, and her eyes are very dilated it was starting to worry ne, especially after having a cat with dilated eyes be blind without me knowing dnt like looking at her at the moment as its reminding me of my previous cat who was poisoned

    1. My Dreama was left brain damaged and blind as a result of general anesthesia.
      Her pupils were completely dilated and remain that way today.
      My belief is that she received too much anesthesia, as she had to be revived.

      1. I think you are right in your assessment, Dee. I read somewhere recently that a general anaesthetic kills brain cells and when an animal or a person is put under general anaesthetic it has to be carried out extremely carefully because it can damage the brain. In fact, I know a person who had to be held under anaesthetic for about two days and it resulted in some sort of brain damage because her memory is less good than it was before. This is why I don’t like taking a cat to a vet to have their teeth cleaned because they have to go under a general anaesthetic which seems a very severe procedure when all you are doing is cleaning teeth but unfortunately it has to be done because a cat’s teeth can get into very bad condition.

        1. Yah?They (2 vet clinics) now want to put my poor little female 17 yr. old cat under just to take her blood pressure after anesthizing thrice including the 1st one, a dental where 5 teeth had to be taken (including the 4 canine teeth). Dialated eyes since! + , no diagnosis/test for mystery uti! Terrible!

  8. When I got my kittens spayed over xmas I nearly had a heart attack. Afterwards I thought they were both vegetables. Gigi in particular seemed to be really brain dead with big black dilated eyes. I was so worried. Its hard not to have nightmares that they got brain damage or something. When they started eating and reacting to movement and so on I started to feel better. I suppose everything was normal. The only unusual thing was when I picked them up. Gigi was out of it and Molly was frozen in terror at the back of the box with her ears flat, wide awake looking. She was very frightened. Gig was too out of it to be so scared. IT was upsetting to see Molly like that. She got dopey when we got home so she must have had alot of adrenaline to be that scared even soon after waking up. Poor thing. It was all a scary experience for all of us.

    I hope Charlie’s endoscopy brought back good/desired results. I hope the whole thing went as smoothly as it could go. Michael, I suggest a large glass of red wine and some time to snuggle with Charlie and calm down a bit after the whole ordeal ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Ruth aka Kattaddorra

    I’m so glad Charlie is back to himself now, it’s upsetting seeing a cat like that.
    I think you have done a very good thing to share this on PoC to reassure anyone else who may be worried about their cat after undergoing any procedure under anaesthetic, that it is normal and will pass.

    1. Thanks Ruth. I was actually quite concerned because brain damage can happen so insidiously with companion animals. It can be hard to tell sometimes. I was very pleased to see his pupils change shape from a perfect round (wide open) to the normal oval indicating the brain, nerves and muscles were working.

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