had a few letters in the recent past dealing with the
subject of anesthesia in our companions. Audrie has a
10-year-old toy poodle named Cindy who has a problem
with her teeth. Audrie has been told that her companion
has bad dental disease and needs to have dental work
done to correct this problem. Her concern, and
reluctance as a result, is about whether the anesthetic
is necessary for Cindy’s dental work.
concern is very common among caretakers and rightfully
so. Anesthesia does not come without risk. Having said
this, when done properly and with proper monitoring,
anesthesia for our companions is extremely safe.
know that Cindy is in need of what appears to be a
significant amount of dental work. This will, at the
very least, involve a thorough evaluation, cleaning and
polishing of each of her teeth and may include
extractions or possibly root canal work depending on the
condition of each tooth. As has been pointed out to
Audrey, this procedure involves the use of a general
anesthetic in order for Cindy to tolerate the needed
I mentioned earlier, anesthesia is not without risk. It
is up to us as veterinarians to minimize this risk.
First of all, Cindy needs to be evaluated for any
underlying health problems. Minimally, we know she has
dental disease. This can lead to other health problems
as well that would need to be determined before any
anesthetic procedure was considered.
needs a good physical examination after which a few
diagnostic tests need to be run to try to assess her
overall health. She is 10 years old, and this is upper
middle age for her type of dog. Does this mean she is
too old for us to help her?
have heard the remark from many people over the years
saying their companion is too old to have an anesthetic
and for some type of surgery. My response to this has
always been that old age is absolutely not a disease.
Imagine if you are 75 years old and go to see your
doctor for a problem that requires surgery.
you accept the fact that you are too old to have the
surgery done? I don’t think so. The key is knowing
what kind of shape the patient is in, in other words
what the risks are in anesthetizing this patient?
Cindy’s case, I would recommend a blood sample and
urinalysis, a chest radiograph, an ECG
(electrocardiogram) and a blood pressure. These tests
will help me to know how well Cindy is working on the
inside. Armed with this information, I could formulate
an anesthetic plan specific to Cindy’s requirements.
We may discover she has other problems, we may find out
she’s in excellent health other than her teeth; either
way we would need to know.
do not believe that any companion is too old for
anesthesia when necessary. Certainly there are health
problems that can greatly increase the risk of
anesthesia and indeed may preclude it all together.
Cindy’s case, if she is otherwise determined to be in
good health, her teeth should most definitely be
addressed. The risk to her health from her dental
disease is far greater than the risk of proper
anesthesia. Dental disease can lead to liver disease,
kidney disease, respiratory disease and heart disease,
all of which could be prevented with good dental