Pet Vet: Evaluation should calm worries over anesthesia

February 16, 2015

I’ve 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.

Audrie’s 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.

We 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 work.

As 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.

Cindy 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?

I 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.

Would 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?

In 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.

I 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.

In 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 treatment.



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