Key points: Precapillary gas exchange for oxygen has been documented in both humans and animals. It has been suggested that, if precapillary gas exchange occurs to a greater extent for inert gases than for oxygen, shunt and its effects on arterial oxygenation may be underestimated by the multiple inert gas elimination technique (MIGET). We evaluated fractional precapillary gas exchange in canines for O2 and two inert gases, sulphur hexafluoride and ethane, by measuring these gases in the proximal pulmonary artery, distal pulmonary artery (1 cm proximal to the wedge position) and systemic artery. Some 12–19% of pulmonary gas exchange occurred within small (1.7 mm in diameter or larger) pulmonary arteries and this was quantitatively similar for oxygen, sulphur hexafluoride and ethane. Under these experimental conditions, this suggests only minor effects of precapillary gas exchange on the magnitude of calculated shunt and the associated effect on pulmonary gas exchange estimated by MIGET. Abstract: Some pulmonary gas exchange is known to occur proximal to the pulmonary capillary, although the magnitude of this gas exchange is uncertain, and it is unclear whether oxygen and inert gases are similarly affected. This has implications for measuring shunt and associated gas exchange consequences. By measuring respiratory and inert gas levels in the proximal pulmonary artery (P), a distal pulmonary artery 1 cm proximal to the wedge position (using a 5-F catheter) (D) and a systemic artery (A), we evaluated precapillary gas exchange in 27 paired samples from seven anaesthetized, ventilated canines. Fractional precapillary gas exchange (F) was quantified for each gas as F = (P – D)/(P – A). The lowest solubility inert gases, sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) and ethane were used because, with higher solubility gases, the P–A difference is sufficiently small that experimental error prevents accurate assessment of F. Distal samples (n = 12) with oxygen (O2) saturation values that were (within experimental error) equal to or above systemic arterial values, suggestive of retrograde capillary blood aspiration, were discarded, leaving 15 for analysis. D was significantly lower than P for SF6 (D/P = 88.6 ± 18.1%; P = 0.03) and ethane (D/P = 90.6 ± 16.0%; P = 0.04), indicating partial excretion of inert gas across small pulmonary arteries. Distal pulmonary arterial O2 saturation was significantly higher than proximal (74.1 ± 6.8% vs. 69.0 ± 4.9%; P = 0.03). Fractional precapillary gas exchange was similar for SF6, ethane and O2 (0.12 ± 0.19, 0.12 ± 0.20 and 0.19 ± 0.26, respectively; P = 0.54). Under these experimental conditions, 12–19% of pulmonary gas exchange occurs within the small pulmonary arteries and the extent is similar between oxygen and inert gases.