Categories: anaesthesia

Percentage of cats that died under anaesthesia?

This has always concerned me. I’ve seen a range of percentages and have written on this topic before. A research paper on the website informs us that, “Current estimates indicate that approximately 0.11% (1 in 895 anaesthetics) of healthy cats die of an anaesthetic-related death”.

Anesthetised domestic cat. Photo unattributed and on the Today’s Veterinary Nurse website.

This is twice as frequent as reported in dogs which is 1 in 1849 or 0.05%. The study says that most of the deaths occurred in the post-operative period. The researchers provide some pointers as to why this figure is quite high (in my opinion). Do you think it’s high? When you take your cat to a veterinarian for dental cleaning do you factor in that there is a possibility of 1 in 800 that your cat cat could die undergoing such a straightforward and routine operation?

Another website, states that about 1 in 1000 healthy cats die under anaesthesia annually while 1 in 2000 healthy dogs die under similar circumstances annually.

Risk factors

Risk factors associated with death under or after anaesthetic include such aspects of vet work as endotracheal intubation and fluid therapy. Reduced risk of death is associated with monitoring patient pulse and the use of a pulse oximeter. The information helps a veterinarian to care more precisely for the patient when under a general anaesthetic. Apparently careful fluid administration and patient monitoring during and after anaesthesia can help reduce perioperative1 complications and cats.

Kidney failure rates after anesthetic are high

VCA Hospitals say that an estimated 1 in 100,000 animals have some sort of reaction to an anaesthetic. They also say that, “0.9-2% of all patients that received general anaesthesia will develop kidney dysfunction or failure 7-14 days after anaesthesia”. Two percent is 2 in 100. So 1 cat in 50 will develop kidney dysfyunction or failure after 7-14 days after anaesthesia. Do you find that shocking? If you were thinking about having your cat’s teeth cleaned would you ask your vet to do it? It seems that the risk is too great and the downside is also too great. Isn’t it? Do vets tell their patient’s owners this information before cleaning their teeth and do periodontal work?

Human equivalent

The risk for humans is tiny – 1 person may die for every 100,000 general anaesthetics given. Why the stark difference? The answer appears to be that (1) cats are much smaller with a greater surface area to weight ratio making them susceptible to hypothermia and (2) their small size makes them vulnerable to drug overdose and (3) less attention to detail by vet staff compared to doctor’s staff.

Note: 1 Perioperative: occurring or performed at or around the time of an operation

P.S. My previous research indicated that about 1 in 400 cats died under anaesthesia. This seems to be too high.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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