Anesthesia can be scary for people to imagine their fur kids going through at any age. A common concern, though, is whether or not a dog or cat is too old for anesthesia. While this is a bit of an oversimplification since health status can vary between senior animals, it makes sense to compare the present with possibilities in the future. It helps us to plan.
Generally, anesthesia is quite safe given the precautions and protocols that your veterinarian and their team are trained for—even for senior pets! Complications are exceedingly rare. Vets require a current blood panel and a physical exam ahead of time to evaluate health and possible risks and will discuss findings and their recommendations with you. During procedures and recovery pets are monitored and cared for just like humans are in hospitals. Your pet’s safety is ensured with every step.
Despite all this, dental procedures are commonly put off by owners since they aren’t emergent—particularly when pet owners feel it’s “just a cleaning”. There is a problem with this, though. Gingivitis, tooth decay, bacterial load, and pain only get worse over time. Further, the bacteria that are thriving in a mouth full of plaque and decay are proven to contribute to heart, liver, and kidney disease.
So, it’s not a stretch to suggest that neglecting a dog’s or cat’s dental hygiene can actually shorten the window of time where they are in good health.
Dentals are also more than just cleanings. They are diagnostic in nature, with each tooth and its surrounding gum tissue being carefully charted, and damaged or decaying teeth sometimes requiring extraction. Early removal of plaque and decay prevent much more painful situations in years to come—years that could coincide with age-related illnesses that could increase risk.
As with people, when pets age, each year that passes marks more possibility for illness. For example, more than half of senior cats over 14 will develop chronic kidney disease. Senior pets experience cardiac changes very similar to those in elderly humans. Older pets are more likely to develop cancer than young ones. Any of these illnesses and many more can increase the risks associated with anesthesia or procedures.
We owe it to our furry family members to tend to their needs optimally. This means early detection and early intervention. It’s less a matter of asking if they are “too old” than whether or not they are still in good health. Ultimately, the goal is to maintain or restore that good health and comfort for years to come.
Anesthesia itself isn’t scary. The need for it after an animal has already developed a serious illness can be. Let’s minimize risk and increase whole body health by tending to their needs early.