Anesthesia Side Effects in Bulldogs

Easy breathing isn't his forte. It can lead to anesthesia issues.
i George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images

His flat, pushed-in face is part of your bulldog's appeal. It also leads to possible side effects if he requires anesthesia for surgery. That's because he's a brachycephalic breed, a term meaning "short head." When choosing a vet, find one familiar with the needs of these special, lovable dogs.

Brachycephalic Dogs

Your bulldog's head and airway structure present challenges to anesthesiologists. He's likely got small, pinched nostrils, formally known as stenotic nares; an elongated soft palate; everted laryngeal saccules -- in which tissues within his airway somewhat obstruct his air flow -- and a narrow trachea. These features are a primary reason your bulldog tires out easily and doesn't do well in heat weather. Some of these conditions, such as little nostrils and elongated soft palate, can be surgically corrected. When your bulldog undergoes anesthesia, he must be monitored even more closely than other non-brachycephalic breeds.


One of the most common medications given to dogs before general anesthesia, acepromazine, or "ace," can be used in bulldogs. However, your veterinary anesthesiologist should give your bulldog only about half the amount of ace she'd administer to a nonbrachycephalic dog. In general, bulldogs shouldn't receive excessive sedation, according to "Breed-Specific Anesthesia," a peer-reviewed article by Tufts University veterinarians Stephanie Krein and Lois A. Wetmore. While dexmedetomidine usually causes sedation without any related breathing difficulties, it shouldn't be given to bulldogs because of heart rate issues in the breed.


Most bulldogs require preoxygenation before anesthesia induction, giving the body extra oxygen. Because of the bulldog's facial structure, it can take longer than usual for the anesthesiologist to intubate the dog. Your veterinary anesthesiologist might also use a short-acting medication such as propofol during the intubation phase, according to the Tufts University researchers. In bulldogs, as with other brachycephalic breeds, it's especially important that intubation is done as quickly as possible, again due to airway issues with the breed.


Extubation, or breathing tube removal, should be performed only after your bulldog has become alert, rather than still semi-groggy from the anesthesia. The American College of Veterinary Surgeons warns that brachycephalic breeds should "spit out" the tube, so the veterinary nurse knows the dog is pretty much recovered from the anesthesia and less likely to suffer from airway obstruction. The ACVS adds that monitoring of these dogs should continue even after extubation. Your bulldog's heart rate might also fall, so your vet should have medication on hand to increase the cardiac rate.

the nest