Khursheed Mama, DVM, DACVA
Colorado State University
Two formulations of propofol are available for
veterinary use in the United States. Both are
isotonic 1% (10 mg/mL) macroemulsions with
10% soybean oil, 2.25% glycerol, and 1.2% egg-
lecithin. The pH is adjusted to approximately
7.5 with sodium hydroxide.
The original formulation has no preservative and, given the medium used to solubilize propofol,
the label recommends discarding the container within 6 hours of first use to minimize microbial
or fungal contamination. Refrigeration is not recommended so as to prevent separation of active
drug from the emulsion.
To reduce potential waste from incomplete use of an opened container of preservative-free pro-
pofol, 2% benzyl alcohol has been included in the new formulation, with a 28-day shelf life after
initial use. This formulation is only approved for use in dogs; safety and efficacy studies in cats
are ongoing. Because the 2 formulation labels differ only slightly, users must be aware of which
propofol formulation has been selected.
Additional nonlipid-based formulations of propofol have been evaluated to a limited extent for
use in several species and are available in Europe and Australia; macroemulsion products with
varying preservatives are also available for use in humans in the United States.
Administration of propofol, an IV anesthetic, can
result in dose-dependent effects, ranging from sedation
to general anesthesia.
March 2013 •
Because the 2
differ only slightly,
users must be aware
of which propofol
has been selected.
Either veterinary propofol formulation may be administered over 30 to 90 seconds
IV for induction of anesthesia. A titrated dose of 6 to 10 mg/kg is recommended in
healthy, unsedated animals. Dose reduction is suggested for compromised patients.
Both sedation (premedication) and the addition of benzodiazepines to anesthetic
induction protocol often reduce the dose requirement (by 1–4 mg/kg) and have the
potential to reduce costs associated with propofol administration. Slow administration
(versus rapid bolus) of propofol is recommended to allow blood and brain concentra-
tions of drug to equilibrate and minimize the likelihood of a relative overdose. Slow
administration is not usually associated with excitement as with historic drugs;
cardiovascular and respiratory effects are also minimized.
Indications & Duration of Action
Propofol is primarily indicated as an IV sedative to facilitate a short period of restraint
for nonpainful or minor procedures (eg, ultrasound evaluation, bandage change,
upper airway examination) or as an anesthetic induction agent to facilitate intubation
before maintenance with inhaled anesthetics. However, because of its unique pharma-
cokinetic profile (including a short context-sensitive half-time in dogs), it may be
given by repeated injection or continuous infusion to maintain total IV anesthesia
without significantly prolonging recovery.
Propofol has also been used concurrently with inhaled anesthetic agents (partial IV
anesthesia). Analgesic drugs (eg, opioids, α
agents) are recommended to reduce dose
and/or provide analgesia when use is extended to painful procedures.
Propofol is metabolized and redistributed by the liver and
extrahepatic sites, resulting in an ultrashort duration of
action. The effective clinical duration of action during which
a patient can be manipulated is typically <10 minutes. Com-
plete recovery to ambulation occurs within 20 minutes (dogs)
or 30 minutes (cats) after an anesthesia induction dose and is
rapid, smooth, and excitement free. These properties also
make propofol a good choice in patients with underdevel-
oped (eg, kittens, puppies) or impaired (eg, geriatric patients,
those with a portacaval shunt) liver function. Puppy viability
after cesarean section is reportedly better following the dam’s
anesthesia induction with propofol than with other injectable
Propofol is considered appropriate for patients with CNS
disease, including refractory seizures and raised intracranial
pressure, as long as rises in CO
tension are minimized. The
effects on intraocular pressure are more variable and potentially influenced by other
drugs and changes in CO
tension. Propofol mediates CNS actions by facilitating
• March 2013
Some patients may withdraw
limbs in reaction to a potential
burning or painful sensation
with propofol administration.
inhibitory transmission through postsynaptic activation of the GABA-
ride complex. It also inhibits NMDA subtype of glutamate receptor, slow calcium
channels, and voltage-gated sodium channels.
Disadvantages & Adverse Effects
Some animals (7.5% of unpremedicated dogs) may withdraw their limb in response to
propofol administration (presumably from a burning or painful sensation), but peri-
vascular injection does not cause a local inflammatory reaction. An animal may show
focal twitches or muscle fasciculations, which do not appear harmful but can be dis-
ruptive, especially if localized to the surgical site.
Cardiovascular depression may be observed when propofol is administered as an IV
bolus. This is more likely in volume-depleted patients and those with underlying car-
diovascular disease. Arterial hypotension, the most common cardiovascular effect
reported, primarily results from a decrease in systemic vascular resistance, although
negative inotropic effects have also been reported. Slow administration of the drug
and prior administration of IV fluids (5–10 mL/kg balanced electrolyte solution over
≤5–10 minutes) can help reduce these effects. However, in certain patients (eg, those
with significant mitral regurgitation or heart failure), fluid administration at this rate
may be inappropriate and could preclude propofol use. Respiratory depression to the
point of the apnea is the most common effect reported after administration and may
be minimized by slow administration.
While propofol may be used repeatedly or by infusion in dogs, cats respond less pre-
dictably, presumably from hepatic enzyme saturation (limited ability to glucuron-
idate). Prolonged recoveries following propofol infusion, Heinz body anemia, general
malaise, anorexia, and diarrhea have been reported with sequential daily administra-
tion in cats. Recent reports suggest that the magnitude of some of these changes may
be dose related. Other considerations with the macroemulsion formulation include
the potential to exacerbate hyperlipidemia (increase triglycerides) in certain disease
states. In addition to life-threatening sepsis possibly resulting from microbial contami-
nation of propofol, an increase in the incidence of wound infections has been reported
with propofol use in dogs. These findings may have been confounded by the method-
ology for administration and storage of the preservative-free intralipid compound.
As mentioned, propofol is commonly used with IV fluids and adjunct drugs (eg, α
agonists, benzodiazepines, opioids). Combinations of ketamine and propofol are also
used for anesthesia induction. While concurrent use of these drugs may reduce the
dose requirement of propofol, combinations may increase the incidence of adverse
effects. Cardiovascular effects tend to vary and should be weighed in patients with
cardiovascular disease; bradycardia with concurrent use of opioids is a possible effect
but easily mitigated by administration of an anticholinergic.
March 2013 •
Propofol is not considered an
analgesic drug; it does, however,
have the potential to cause
adverse reactions in animals that
are allergic to components of
the emulsion (eg, soy, peanuts,
egg protein). The volume of
drug necessary for anesthesia
induction is larger than required
for other common anesthetic
drug combinations (eg, ketamine–
diazepam), which may be of
practical consideration if an iv
catheter has not been placed.
While generally not considered
cost prohibitive, an equivalent
dose of propofol is more
expensive than a combination
of ketamine and diazepam.
Recently, propofol has come
under scrutiny for its potential as
a drug of diversion and abuse
with reports of both accidental
overdose and intentional suicide
in humans. This has led the US
Drug enforcement Agency to
consider whether to assign it a
scheduled drug designation.
Cats may recover less predictably
than do dogs with propofol
• March 2013
Although the cost of propofol is more
than the most common alternative (keta-
mine–diazepam), it is likely that the drug
costs are somewhat offset by improved
recovery time and quality. Because of the
advantages and generally manageable
disadvantages, propofol is rapidly becom-
ing the anesthetic induction agent of
choice for healthy dogs and cats.
improved recovery time.
Costs associated with propofol may be offset by
See Aids & Resources¸ back page, for references & suggested reading.
For more information on anesthesia see Dr. Khursheed Mama’s
Endocrine & Anesthesia Protocols: An Exclusive Series on
Propofol offers bronchodilation, which
may be useful in asthmatic patients and
has no detrimental effects on mucociliary
function. Its effects on splenic size are
either better or no worse than other con-
temporary induction agents. It may be
used to maintain anesthesia in patients
with malignant hyperthermia as it
doesn’t trigger this syndrome. It may also
be considered the anesthetic-induction
agent of choice in healthy greyhounds.
Propofol is reported to have antiemetic
benefits in recovery in humans.