Concerns about anesthetics is common among my clients and is especially so when the pet is a senior citizen. It is a very legitimate concern and a big concern for veterinarians as well. Older pets are more likely to have conditions such as heart failure, kidney dysfunction, and liver dysfunction. These conditions can present anesthetic problems for your veterinarian and your pet. Pre-anesthetic exams and blood work are key to a smooth anesthetic procedure. If your veterinarian discovers an irregularity, it doesn't necessarily mean the procedure cannot be done; it allows your veterinarian to take the necessary precautions for a safer procedure.
Because veterinarians know that older animals do not metabolize drugs as efficiently or quickly as younger animals, the drugs used for sedation prior to surgery are tailored to your pet's concurrent conditions, age and breed. Pre-surgical sedation is necessary so that less anesthetics will be required for your pet. Most pre-surgical drugs are metabolized and eliminated through the liver and kidneys, an important reason why pre-surgical blood work is important. If your pet has pre-existing conditions, there may be additional drugs need to help it compensate for the side effects of anesthetics (such as decrease in blood pressure and temperature). I.V. fluids may be needed to insure sufficient blood flow to kidneys and heart, heating pads during surgery for good temperature circulation, etc.
Monitoring devices that measure heart rate, heart rhythm, blood pressure, temperature, respiration and oxygenation is important to all patients, especially for the senior pet. These devices can warn your veterinarian of problems during the procedure so that immediate action can be taken by your veterinarian and their surgical staff.
In most cases, the anesthetic being used will be a gas. Today's gas anesthetics are much safer than yester-years. This is not to say there are not risks. Any anesthetic procedure, no matter how simple or short it may be, carries risk. Depending on the procedure, your veterinarian will determine how 'deep' the plane of anesthetic will be needed. Procedures such as dental cleanings do not require your pet to be as deeply asleep as a more complicated surgery. Gas anesthetics are delivered through an intubation tube that is passed from your pet's trachea toward it's lungs. This tube not only serves to deliver the anesthetic, but delivers oxygen to your pet and can allow the veterinary staff to actually 'breathe' for your pet should there be a need.
With better veterinary preventative medicine, pets are living longer and we are seeing more age related conditions in our pets. Should your veterinarian recommend an anesthetic procedure, we should not pass off your pet as too old to handle sedation or anesthesia based on age alone. Often the recommended anesthetic procedure can and will increase your pet's quality of life and extend it's life.
Your veterinarian and/or veterinary staff should discuss the risks vs benefits with you prior to your pet's needed anesthetic procedure. If they do not, then you should ask. There is an increase in cost to care for senior pet's, but that comes with an increase in safety for your pet. At the ACC we understand that current economics makes it difficult for some of our clients to afford some surgical procedures. We tailor our anesthetic procedure to your pet's unique requirements, then it is left to you to decide which recommended precautions fit your budget. Keep in mind, no matter how many precautions are made, there are always risks. Each animal has their own unique chemistry and veterinarians cannot know with all certainty how your pet will respond to their tailored anesthetics. You and your veterinarian need a good working relationship, based on trust, in order for you to work as a team to provide the best care for your pet.