Fuzzy Side Up: Age is not a disease for you or your pet
Fuzzy Side Up
The older I get, the more this saying sticks in my head. One of the biggest concerns we hear from owners is the fear of putting their aging pet under anesthesia for any reason. The words I always hear are, “Oh, he’s too old for anesthesia.” Well, why? Old does not mean sick.
Many people tell us stories about how their cat or dog died under anesthesia when they were a kid, so they’re very nervous. But veterinary medicine has come a long, long way in the last 20 years. Also, look at our aging human population and think about who has more surgery, young people or the elderly. Consider knee and hip replacements, heart surgery, cancer surgeries, organ transplants, etc. A 2010 Center for Disease Control study shows that nearly 40 percent of all surgical procedures are done on people over the age of 65. The anesthetic risks to an individual are not based on age alone, they are more grounded in the overall health of the patient. I would be much more comfortable anesthetizing an otherwise healthy 12 year-old lab than a 5-year-old Yorkie with kidney disease and a heart murmur.
When we have a pet in the clinic for any procedure that requires anesthesia, we always perform “risk assessment.” What is the risk to this patient to go under? Yes, we look at age, but how do the heart and lungs sound? The liver and kidneys are very important in metabolizing the anesthesia. Are they functioning properly? Is there infection, obesity or other disease, like diabetes? Pre-surgical blood work is very important in assessing your pet’s overall health and ability to handle the anesthesia. Combining that with a good physical exam helps us to really minimize the risk. Current veterinary practice uses many of the same drugs that human hospitals now use, and we can change which drug we use or how much to tailor it to your pet’s condition.
There are many problems older pets have that require anesthesia to correct. One of the most important is dental disease. Often things like severe dental disease, with badly infected teeth and gums, can cause more health problems than you would think. For example, every time Fido eats with his loose, infected teeth, bacteria can get into the bloodstream. Now the kidneys and liver have to filter this stuff out. The bacteria in the bloodstream can also lodge on the valves of the heart, causing a condition known as endocarditis. A proper dental cleaning, including ultrasonic scaling and removing any loose teeth, can dramatically improve their quality of life.
Another common problem we see in older pets is cancer. We frequently need to remove masses or tumors before they get too big or spread to other parts of the body. Sometimes the procedures can be more involved, such as removing the spleen, or a section of the liver. However, most of the time we are trying to stop cancer before it gets to these organs, so early intervention is the key.
If it has been recommended that you have a procedure done, but you are concerned about age and anesthesia, please have a talk with your veterinarian. A good exam and blood work can make all the difference. Remember, age is not a disease.
Rebecca Lemmon is a veterinarian at the Valley Veterinary Clinic in Rifle.
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