BACKGROUND: Etomidate is short-acting non-barbiturate intravenous anesthetic with minimal cardiovascular depression. As a small change in venous capacitance significantly alters venous return and thus cardiac output, it is important to know the effects of intravenous anesthetics on venous capacitance. The purpose of this study was to examine the effect of etomidate or pentobarbital (control agent) on venous capacitance. METHOD: All twenty rats (etomidate group: 10, pentobarbital group: 10), weighing 350-450 gram, were anesthetized with pentobarbital 50 mg/kg given intraperitoneally for surgical preparation. Mean arterial pressure (MAP), heart rate (HR), and mean circulatory filling pressure (MCFP) were measured in the awake state(recovered from pentobarbital anesthesia for surgical preparation) as well as during anesthesia with etomidate or pentobarbital. Venous capacitance was assessed before and during anesthesia with etomidate or pentobarbital by measuring MCFP. MCFP was measured during a brief period of circulatory arrest produced by inflating a balloon inserted in right atrium. RESULTS: As compared with MCFP in the corresponding awake state, MCFP was not significantly altered by etomidate but significantly decreased by pentobarbital. As compared with MAP in the corresponding awake state, MAP was not significantly altered by etomidate but significantly decreased by pentobarbital. CONCLUSION: The results suggest that unaltered venous capacitance by etomidate may contribute to a maintained MAP but increased venous capacitance by pentobarbital decrease in MAP of the normovolemic rat.