Anesthesia-Related Memory Loss

Did you know that “most deaths occur after, not during surgery” and that “50% of canine deaths occur in the post-op period.” What? More pets die after surgery than during the operation? Does that indicate such serious loss of brain function that the heart, lungs, liver and other vital organs are left without adequate life-preserving signals? Yes.


From the monthly column "On The Line", ShowSight , The Dog Show Magazine, August 2015. CLICK TO SUBSCRIBE.


We encountered forgetfulness so severe that our beloved 10 year old Akita bitch began to urinate in the house. Back in the 70s we attributed it to mammary cancer, never realizing it was the life-saving surgery that caused her mental decline. She lived cancer-free until she was nearly 14 but Ch. Ko-Go was never “herself” again.


Here’s the point. Anesthesia-induced memory loss is not publicized by the medical and veterinary community but you should have all the facts before undergoing any elective surgery for yourself or your pet. Then you can take protective pre-surgery precautions. According to the University Of Florida College, post-surgery decline in brain function is characterized by subtle changes in memory, in the ability to learn new information and/or to do two or more things at the same time while ignoring distractions. The 2014 study was based on statistical medical data showing “about 40 percent of older adults experience such difficulties immediately following major surgery and 14 percent of patients continue to have problems even three months later.” Another medical source stated “The staggering loss of cognitive function and short term memory” statistics are believed to be much higher than 40%. The UNF study called anesthesia induced memory loss “postoperative cognitive changes” linked to “the length of the procedure and type and amount of anesthesia administered.”


That made sense but most veterinary colleges and websites are remiss in providing information on anesthesia-induced memory loss. No doubt it is hard to document in an animal but here’s my take on it. Post-anesthesia decline in brain function may cause your dog to temporarily forget house-training, regular family routines, obedience or trick training commands and to appear genuinely confused over simple things such as where he/she sleeps. For owners who get annoyed and frustrated because they don’t understand what is happening to their dog, the end result can be tragic.


There is an inordinate lack of information relating to the effects of anesthesia on pets. In 2014 noted “Animal studies showed this chain reaction has long-term effects on the performance of memory-related tasks.” Okay, so both humans and animals can suffer long-term memory loss but let’s looks at what cognitive dysfunction means to you and your continued good relationship with your dog.


Even more important than recognizing and forgiving “disobedience” or unusual behavior patterns is prevention! You’ve already taken the first step. You are reading this abbreviated information but I’ll provide you with a link to the full report in the Canine Health section of


Minimizing the effects of anesthesia include Vitamin “B” even though there isn’t any definitive information linking it to canine cognitive problems caused by anesthesia. However, the National Academy of Sciences found that 

vitamins B6, B12 and folic acid may help slow the progression of the Alzheimer’s Disease. Unless and until there is more research done on the effects to the brain which can occur under lengthy general anesthesia, we say make sure you and your pets get abundant “B” complex from natural sources in your diet and we cover that under 
dietary recommendations.


From Andrew Weil, MD we learned that ginkgo biloba, an herb which can enhance memory by increasing circulation to the brain, may help prior to and after surgery. The recommendation is 120 mg daily in divided doses with food. Dr. Dharma Singh Khalsa, medical director and president of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Foundation in Tucson recommends 200 mg a day of phosphatidylserine (PS) to augment the effect of ginkgo. PS may have a blood-thinning effect, so use it with caution if you or your pets are on Coumadin or any similar anticoagulant drugs.


Assimilated from several medical sites is the repeated recommendation of pure cinnamon for prevention of Alzheimer’s and numerous comparisons between the brain degeneration caused by Alzheimer’s and cognitive problems associated with anesthesia. Do dogs like cinnamon? Yes, they find it palpable when sprinkled on their food. Turmeric is a tasty spice also recommended for detoxing the system so you can try adding it to the diet.


Milk thistle protects the liver which is what rids the body of toxins associated with anesthetics administered during surgery. Milk thistle also prevents the depletion of glutathione, a potent antioxidant. Milk thistle is safe for dogs and is frequently used to treat diabetes, liver failure and IBD. It is also useful for dogs that are on phenobarbitol to prevent epileptic seizures as the phenobarb can be toxic to the liver. Milk thistle can be purchased in powder form and it is best to begin use at least a week before surgery and continue for at least two weeks afterward.


Dietary recommendations before and after surgery. While you or your dog recovers from anesthesia, 
steer clear of saturated fats, including meat and dairy and any refined sugar (you’d be surprised what is in dog food!). Both can slow or block the flow of liver bile making it harder for the body to eliminate fat-soluble toxins like anesthetics. Like milk thistle, water-soluble fiber such as oat bran, apples, beets and carrots contain compounds that aid in detoxification. Your dog should readily accept them when mixed with his regular meat diet. There are also herbs and spices that will help you detox and recover from anesthesia—especially the antioxidants turmeric and cinnamon.


There is much more information that we hope you’ll never need but I invite you to share this with your dog club members or any friend who may be going under anesthesia. It is better to be concerned and know how to prevent or deal with memory problems than to forget that you have them!


Go to the Canine Health section in or just ask your search engine for “ memory loss in people and pets”. 

  • Barbara “BJ” Andrews is the breeder of over 300 AKC Champions including over a dozen All-Time record holders. She is the author of 8 breed books and founder of 3 AKC Breed Clubs. In 1998 she launched the world’s first public website ( followed by and which, as part of the NetPlaces Network, serves all facets of dog ownership and exhibition. She and husband Bill pioneered the Akita, Miniature Bull Terrier, and Toy Fox Terrier to AKC recognition and BJ served on the board of each Parent Club. She has judged in England and AKC Specialty Sweeps. She was awarded UKC All Breeds approval but has never applied for an AKC judges license because it could interfere with objective reporting on the sport.

  • Show Comments

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

comment *

  • name *

  • email *

  • website *

You May Also Like

Why do we rescue dogs but abandon breeders?

From the monthly column “On The Line” by BJ Andrews, ShowSight Magazine, October 2017 ...

Frozen Assets: Protecting Your Stud Dogs Frozen Immortality

Frozen Assets From the monthly column "Thoughts I Had Driving Home From The Dog ...

A crocodile with its mouth open in the water.

Florida – Safety Tips for Your Dog When Visiting

Essential safety tips for your dog visiting Florida, covering beach dangers, wildlife, and potential ...

Histotripsy, veterinarian vaccinating dog in vet clinic

Progress Continues in the Development of a New Treatment for Canine Bone Cancer

With funding from the AKCCHF, investigators are studying a new, non-surgical treatment option for ...

Fertility in purebred dogs

From the ShowSight archives. ShowSight Dog Show Magazine, May 2014 Issue. From the monthly column ...

Your Cart

No Item Found
Subtotal $0.00
Shipping $0.00
Tax $0.00
Total $0.00