Is My Pet Too Old for Anesthesia?

Older Pet

Owners of aging dogs and cats are often hesitant about allowing their pet to be put under anesthesia for a dental cleaning or other procedure. There is a fear that the pet is too old and not able to handle the anesthesia, but this is really not the case at all. As with humans, old age isn’t a disease and when using the proper anesthetic dosages and protocols, anesthesia is quite safe for an older pet — just as it’s safe for an older person.

Older dog after dental care under anesthesia

Chico, an 8 year old Chihuahua, was treated by Dr. Kressin for severe periodontal disease and oral nasal fistulas.

Dr. Kressin, AVDC, Animal Dentistry & Oral Surgery Specialists reminds us, “Age isn’t a disease. We all know of healthy older people (or pets) and young people with poor health. Anesthetic related death in pets is estimated to be less than 1/10 of 1%, which is extremely low.  The likelihood of your pet being in pain and suffering from untreated disease approaches 100%.”

Dr. Tony Woodward, Montana Pet Dentistry & Oral Surgery shares, “we routinely treat patients up to 20 years of age. In fact, many veterinarians bring their own older pets to us for dental treatment.”

Winkie - 23 year old cat & patient of Dr. Brook Niemiec

Winkie is a 23 year old cat who underwent anesthesia for treatement of resorptive lesions and recovered quickly from the procedure.

According to Dr. Brook Niemiec, AVDC of Southern California Veterinary Dental Specialties, “when all other factors are equal (meaning the patient has no other medical problems) an animal’s age was proven to not be a negative indicator in anesthetic complications.”

Board certified veterinary dentists are highly skilled and experienced in anesthesia and take great care in the pre-anesthesia, anesthesia and recovery process for each pet undergoing a veterinary dental cleaning or procedure. Since pet patients require general anesthesia for evaluation and treatment, the safe and effective use of anesthesia and pain management are an integral part of an Board Certified Veterinary Dentist’s advanced training and certification. The initial phase of the process includes a comprehensive evaluation and blood chemistry panel, labs and identification of any pre-existing medical conditions – all which give a full picture of the older pet prior to the anesthesia process.

The anesthesia phase is also very different than what you might expect. Veterinary dentists don’t simply put a pet under heavy general anesthesia until the dental work is complete. Your veterinary dentist will employ both local anesthetic to the areas to be treated, allowing the use of lighter general anesthesia. “The anesthesia Research shows that if we block pain before it is started, it is much easier to manage. The local anesthetic allows us to maintain the general anesthetic at as light a level as possible, usually only needed to keep the patient still,” Dr. Michael Peak, Tampa Bay Veterinary Specialists.

While under anesthesia, a vet dentist assures the pet is closely monitored throughout the entire process. Each patient has an intravenous catheter placed and is maintained on Isoflurane gas anesthetic. Intravenous fluids are administered during anesthesia. Blood pressure, ECG, heart rate and blood oxygen saturation along with respiration and temperature are monitored throughout anesthesia. Core body temperature is maintained with heated tables, warm water blankets and fluids.

Dr. Allen Matson, AVDC, Eastside Veterinary Dentistry, uses equipment that reduces the older pets time under anesthesia, for example,  “We utilize digital dental x-rays which allow us to take multiple x-rays of your pet’s mouth during a short duration keeping the patients anesthetic procedure shorter.”

At Arizona Veterinary Dental Specialists, Dr. Chris Visser, AVDC offers his patients who are high risk the opportunity to consult with a board certified veterinary anesthesiologist if they have concerns and want to learn more about the anesthetic options for their pet.  

Veterinary dentists understand the place older pets hold in their owners hearts and take very special care with the anesthesia during their dental care. It is most important for pet owners to understand that an older pet’s dental health is very important for them to remain as healthy as possible and live long, active and pain free lives. Their age is not a disease, but untreated dental problems are disease that is much higher risk to their health and happiness. Read more about why treating an older pet with anesthesia free dental cleaning could be more risk to their health.