The effects of halothane, isoflurane and sevoflurane anaesthesia on hepatic function and hepatocellular damage were investigated in dogs, comparing the activity of hepatic enzymes and bilirubin concentration in serum. An experimental study was designed. Twenty-one clinically normal mongrel dogs were divided into three groups and accordingly anaesthetized with halothane (n=7), isoflurane (n=7) and sevoflurane (n=7). The dogs were 1-4 years old, and weighed between 13.5 and 27 kg (18.4+/-3.9). Xylazine HCI (1-2 mg/kg) i.m. was used as pre-anaesthetic medication. Anaesthesia was induced with propofol 2 mg/kg i.v. The trachea was intubated and anaesthesia maintained with halothane, isoflurane or sevoflurane in oxygen at concentrations of 1.35, 2 and 3%, respectively. Intermittent positive pressure ventilation (tidal volume, 15 ml/kg; respiration rate, 12-14/min) was started immediately after intubation and the anaesthesia lasted for 60 min. Venous blood samples were collected before pre-medication, 24 and 48 h, and 7 and 14 days after anaesthesia. Serum level of aspartate aminotransferase (AST), alanine aminotransferase (ALT), alkaline phosphatase (ALP) and gamma-glutamyltransferase (GGT), lactate dehydrogenase (LDH GGT) activities and bilirubin concentration were measured. Serum AST, ALT and GGT activities increased after anaesthesia, in all groups. In the halothane group, serum AST and ALT activities significantly increased all the time after anaesthesia compared with baseline activities. But in the isoflurane group AST and ALT activities increased only between 2 and 7 days, and in the sevoflurane group 7 days after anaesthesia. GGT activity was increased in the halothane group between 2 and 7 days, and in the isoflurane and sevoflurane groups 7 days after anaesthesia. All dogs recovered from anaesthesia without complications and none developed clinical signs of hepatic damage within 14 days. The results suggest that the use of halothane anaesthesia induces an elevation of serum activities of liver enzymes more frequently than isoflurane or sevoflurane from 2 to 14 days after anaesthesia in dogs. The effects of isoflurane or sevoflurane anaesthesia on the liver in dogs is safer than halothane anaesthesia in dogs.