Should My Geriatric Pet Undergo Anesthesia?

September 21, 2020

Should My Geriatric Pet Undergo Anesthesia?

Pet owners often are afraid about their geriatric pets undergoing an anesthetic procedure, because they fear their pet’s organs are too old to handle anesthetic drugs, or that their pet may not survive the procedure.  With anesthesia, age really can simply be a number. Although anesthesia is never without risk, older pets who are in good physical condition can undergo anesthesia with no complications.

Sometimes, however, an older pet with a pre-existing health condition requires surgery, and specialized care. We understand your concerns, and are equipped with advanced tools to screen your geriatric pet prior to anesthesia, monitor her throughout the procedure, and care for her during recovery. 

Why does my pet require anesthesia?

If an anesthetic procedure has been recommended for your pet, her veterinarian believes it is necessary for optimal health, or to maintain a good quality of life. Common procedures performed in geriatric pets include:

  • Mass removal — Older pets often develop masses that cause discomfort or that could be cancerous. If a mass interferes with your pet’s daily life, removal can make her more comfortable and improve her quality of life. Your veterinarian often will recommend mass removal to send tissue to a lab to determine if cancer is present. 
  • Biopsy — Cancer incidence increases in geriatric pets, and a biopsy is often the only way to reach a diagnosis so treatment decisions can be made. During a biopsy, tissue is collected with a needle, endoscope, or by surgical excision for microscopic evaluation. 
  • Dental cleaning —  Your pet’s health care needs should not be put on hold due to old age. In addition to inflammation and pain, periodontal disease can lead to heart, kidney, and liver disease, which can shorten your beloved pet’s life. 
  • Diagnostic imaging — During disease testing, anesthetizing your pet for advanced diagnostic imaging, such as a computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, may be necessary to reach a diagnosis.

The decision to anesthetize your geriatric pet is not taken lightly. We know that older pets have an increased anesthesia and disease risk, so we will take a complete history, perform a thorough physical exam, and run pre-anesthetic testing before your pet’s procedure. 

How do you determine that my pet is healthy enough for anesthesia?

Pre-anesthetic testing is recommended for all pets, but it is particularly important for geriatric pets to identify pre-existing health conditions that could complicate the procedure or compromise their health. A geriatric pre-anesthetic evaluation includes tests that evaluate overall health, such as:

  • Complete blood count (CBC) — A CBC measures your pet’s red and white blood cells and platelets to screen for conditions such as anemia and infection.
  • Blood chemistry — A blood chemistry measures chemicals in your pet’s blood that provide information about her major organ function. Knowing that her liver and kidneys are working properly, so they can break down and eliminate the anesthetic drugs, is critical.veterinary anesthesia
  • Electrocardiograph (ECG) — An ECG measures the electrical activity of your pet’s heart to screen for arrhythmias and other heart conditions.

Depending on your pet’s health status and physical exam findings, we may perform other tests, such as radiographs (x-rays), to gather all the information needed to fully evaluate her overall health. 

How will my pet be monitored while she is anesthetized?

A veterinary technician will monitor your pet while she is under anesthesia, constantly checking her vital functions, including:

  • Heart rate and rhythm
  • Respiratory rate and depth
  • Mucous membrane color
  • Capillary refill time
  • Temperature 
  • Blood pressure
  • Blood oxygen levels
  • Exhaled carbon dioxide levels
  • Depth of anesthesia

If your pet’s vital signs become slightly abnormal during anesthesia, we will take measures to correct them.

How do you care for my pet during anesthetic recovery?

Your pet’s veterinary technician will stay by her side and continue to monitor her vital signs until she is safely recovered. If your pet requires extended care after she is awake from anesthesia, she can be transferred to either our emergency or critical care department for continued care. 

We understand your concerns about placing your geriatric pet under anesthesia, which is why we will perform a thorough health evaluation before, monitor her closely during, and provide support after her procedure. If you have concerns about your geriatric pet and anesthesia, contact us