Sedation vs. General Anesthesia for Kitty: Pros and Cons
World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress Proceedings, 2015
C. Pacharinsak, DVM, MS, PhD, DACVAA
Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA, USA

Cats are one of the species that can be challenging due to their unique behavioral and personality differences. Cats have higher risks to anesthetic-related death. Many procedures for feline patients require either sedation or general anesthesia. There are risks associated with anesthesia. Sedation may affect body systems to a lesser degree than general anesthesia that can affect multiple systems in the body; i.e., cardiorespiratory depression, central nervous system depression, and alteration of blood gas analysis, metabolism, hormone secretion, tissue perfusion, and thermoregulation. Light sedation may not be sufficient to perform a procedure, and therefore, heavy sedation or repeated administration of sedative drugs may often be needed.

Factors Involved in Decision Making

Procedure types: The invasiveness of procedures will partially determine the type of anesthesia needed. For noninvasive, short procedures (small biopsies or blood collection), heavy sedation may be sufficient. For invasive (minor or major surgeries) or long (MRI, CT scans) procedures, general anesthesia is mostly required. Regardless of the procedure used, general anesthesia with endotracheal intubation offers one advantage - the protection of the animals' airways.

Temperament: Even friendly feline patients often object to physical restraint. Working with unsedated feline patients can lead to stress that can be detrimental to some animals. Evaluating the temperament of patients will help anesthetists choose what anesthetics doses, and/or routes should be performed on particular patients.

Health status of feline patients: As stated above, general anesthesia may affect body systems and condition more than sedation. This also depends on what medications are used.

Pharmacology of medications and familiarity of anesthetists: There are several drugs affecting different body systems in dose dependent manner. Some drugs may have antagonists and some may not. Anesthetists have to decide what drugs are best for the patients based on what is available in hospitals.


1.  Brodbelt D. Perioperative mortality in small animal anaesthesia. Vet J. 2009;182:152–161.

2.  Thurmon JC, Tranquilli WJ, Benson GJ. Essentials of Small Animal Anesthesia & Analgesia: General Consideration for Anesthesia. Baltimore, MD: Lippicott Williams & Wilkins; 1999:1–27.


Speaker Information
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C. Pacharinsak, DVM, MS, PhD, DACVAA
Stanford University School of Medicine
Stanford, CA, USA

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