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French Bulldogs and Anesthesia

Most French Bulldogs do fine under anesthesia but on the other hand, they have had problems with handling the anesthesia or have even died while under or after the surgery was over. Vets can use a milder form of anesthesia on your French Bulldog, so ask them before your French Bulldog goes under. A lot of things have changed from years ago and anesthesia is safer than it was many years ago!

Because of their anatomic conformation, brachycephalic breeds often are affected by a combination of upper airway disorders known as brachycephalic syndrome. These airway disorders can cause varying degrees of upper airway obstruction. Brachycephalic syndrome involves stenotic nares (a narrow nostril opening), an elongated soft palate, everted laryngeal saccules, and a hypoplastic trachea.

A palate is considered elongated when it is long enough that it is pulled into the trachea on inspiration and blown into the nasopharynx during expiration, thus creating difficulty in both breathing and swallowing. Everted laryngeal saccules are caused by increased airflow resistance and increased negative pressure, thus pulling the saccules from their crypts and causing them to swell. Once out of their crypts, the saccules are under constant bombardment of airflow, causing them to become even more swollen.

Further inhibition of airflow is caused by a small tracheal airway diameter. The presence of upper airway disorders and the associated variable degrees of upper airway obstruction prevalent in brachycephalic dogs generally lead to chronic pharyngitis and tonsillitis, inflammation, and decreased laryngeal and tracheal diameters.

As if having a potentially dangerous airway situation is not complex enough, brachycephalic breeds have an abnormally increased parasympathetic tone. This means that excess acetylcholine is secreted, resulting in constricted pupils, increased peristalsis, and a slow heart rate, among other complications. The increased tone is caused by the constant shifts of intrathoracic pressure commonly associated with brachycephalic breeds.


As is the case for us, our four-legged friends may require anesthesia as part of a surgery or procedure. Puppies receive anesthesia when they are spayed or neutered, and most pets receive anesthesia at least once more during their lifetimes.

General anesthesia is achieved by administering drugs that suppress your dog's nerve response. During general anesthesia, your dog is in an unconscious state, so she is unable to move and doesn't feel any pain. Anesthesia can also be administered locally, to numb a specific area or part of the body-such as a tooth, area of the skin, or the spinal column.

How risky is anesthesia for your dog?

There are always risks when any anesthetic agent is administered to a patient, regardless of the length of time the patient is anesthetized. In fact, it is estimated that approximately 1 in 100,000 animals will have some sort of reaction to an anesthetic agent. Reactions can range from mild to severe and include a wide variety of symptoms, such as swelling at the injection site to more serious outcomes such as anaphylactic shock or death. While these statistics seem alarming, your dog is just as much at risk getting into the car to go to the veterinary hospital for the anesthetic event. The good news is there are many things you can do to reduce your dog's risk!

Fasting for several hours prior to anesthesia, as directed by your veterinarian, is important to reduce your dog's risk. If your dog has not fasted prior to anesthesia, she could vomit and possibly aspirate food or fluid into her lungs, even with intubation (tube to keep the airway open). This could potentially result in a condition called aspiration pneumonia, which can be life-threatening.

Anesthesia Protocol For French Bulldogs

Lori Hunt, DVM


Ace promazine
Sodium Thiopental (injectable anesthesia)
Metofane (inhalant gas)
Halothane (gas anesthesia)


Dormitor (reversible anesthesia/sedative)


Ketamine (usually used in combo with valium as an injectable anesthesia/sedative)
Valium (see above)
Torbutrol (analgesia)


Propofol (injectable)
with either of the following 2 gas anesthetics as a maintenance:
Isoflurane(aka IsoFlo) OR Sevoflurane (aka SevoFlo)

(These would be in addition to the Optimum anesthetic protocol listed above, and are highly recommended for c-sections or longer procedures)

Atropine given at induction
IV catheter & fluids
Famotidine (Pepcid) injection (helps cut down on nausea and post-op vomiting, hence aspiration)
Dexmethasone injection (may be given if palate if very long or irritated from ET tube; this can reduce post-op swelling and make recovery easier)


EVERY brachycephalic dog that goes under anesthesia should have an endotracheal tube (ET) placed in his or her trachea! Always! That airway must be protected at all times. The tube should be left in until they are VERY awake and trying to chew it out Use the intravenous propofol to induce anesthesia (which puts them under) and allows sufficient time to place the ET tube. From then on, anesthesia is maintained with sevo or iso.

Be Careful when masking a frenchie down. Masking can be harder on brachycephalic dogs because they struggle to hold their breath, which can irritate the airways and deplete their oxygen levels (which you do not want before surgery). It is my opinion that using injectable and then tubing them gives them the optimum oxygen supply that is ideal for Frenchies.

How to minimize the risks of anesthesia on your dog

Make sure your veterinarian knows your dog's complete history before the anesthetic event. Her vaccine history, lifestyle, and any medications she takes all influence how she may respond to anesthesia. Your veterinarian may recommend a presurgical examination and diagnostic tests that help identify any underlying conditions that should be addressed before your dog undergoes anesthesia.

Recommended diagnostic tests usually include:

Chemistry tests to evaluate kidney, liver, and pancreatic function, as well as sugar levels A complete blood count (CBC) to rule out blood-related conditions Electrolyte tests to ensure your dog isn't dehydrated or suffering from an electrolyte imbalance Additional tests may be added on an individual basis. Your veterinarian will recommend the right thing for your best friend.

In addition to blood tests, your veterinarian may recommend the following:

The placement of an intravenous (IV) catheter as part of the anesthetic preparation. The catheter can be used to provide anesthetics and intravenous fluids to keep your pet hydrated; additionally, if needed, it would serve as a pathway to directly administer life-saving medications, should a crisis arise. Intravenous fluids to help maintain hydration and blood pressure. IV fluids also help your pet with her recovery process by aiding the liver and kidneys in clearing the body of anesthetic agents more quickly. What to expect on the day of the anesthetic/surgical event Your veterinarian and/or veterinary staff will answer any questions you may have before your dog receives anesthesia. They may ask you to review and sign a consent form that describes all of their recommended services prior to the anesthetic event and during the procedure. It is very important to review the forms and have all your questions answered.

How your dog is monitored during anesthesia

Several safeguards are put into place to help reduce your French Bulldog's risk during anesthesia.

They include:

The surgical assistant/veterinary technician: A technician or assistant is present during the anesthetic event to monitor your French Bulldog's vital signs and to help adjust anesthetic levels, under the direction of the veterinarian.

A heart rate monitor counts your pet's heartbeats per minute. Anesthesia and other factors, such as surgery itself, can affect heart rate. By monitoring your French Bulldog's heart rate, your veterinarian can make anesthetic adjustments quickly.

An electrocardiogram (ECG) monitors your dog's heart rate and heartbeat pattern. It can detect abnormal heartbeats called arrhythmia's. If an arrhythmia is detected, your veterinarian can make suitable changes in anesthesia. Core body temperature may be monitored, especially if your dog is undergoing a prolonged surgical procedure. Changes in body temperature can cause dangerous complications.

A blood pressure monitor measures your French Bulldog's blood pressure. When used in conjunction with other monitoring equipment, it provides detailed information on your pet's cardiovascular condition.

Pulse oximetry may be used to monitor the amount of oxygen in your French Bulldog's blood and her pulse rate.

Carbon dioxide (C02) is often monitored together with oxygen, as it helps determine if your pet is receiving the right amount of oxygen during anesthesia.

How soon after anesthesia will your French Bulldog be back to normal?

Recent improvements in anesthetic agents allow for a quick recovery, and your dog should almost be back to normal when you pick her up after the anesthetic event. She may seem more tired than normal when she goes home. This has as much to do with the stress of her visit to the veterinary hospital as to the anesthetic itself!

Make sure you follow all go-home instructions for your French Bulldog, including feeding instructions.