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I am worried about my 13 year old dog undergoing anesthesia for a dental procedure. Is it possible for a dog to be “too old” to benefit from professional dental care?

Some people tell us about pets that have had problems or died under anesthesia. Fifteen or twenty years ago many of these concerns would be valid reasons for not proceeding with an elective procedure in an older pet. Fortunately, things have changed for pets having anesthesia today. Contemporary anesthesia is much safer in several ways.

First, pre-anesthetic testing helps us to recognize those pets that are having internal problems that aren’t yet recognizable by their owners at home. If a problem is found, we can try to resolve it before allowing the pet to undergo anesthesia.

Second, modern inhalant gas is a much safer arrangement than using only injectable agents to achieve an appropriate level of anesthesia. As mentioned above, the endotracheal tube protects against contamination of the lungs by oral or stomach matter.

Third, monitoring has changed from merely watching to see if the dog is breathing to tracking pulse rate and quality, oxygen saturation, blood pressure, respiratory rate, temperature, and electrical rhythm of the heart. When pets are being monitored appropriately it allows veterinarians and technicians to detect abnormalities and initiate therapy to avoid anesthetic problems.

Fourth, all pets undergoing dental care now receive fluid therapy by intravenous catheter during anesthesia to maintain vascular volume and blood pressure. This protects sensitive brain and kidney cells. We also use thermal support to prevent hypothermia during anesthesia which can change the rate at which drugs are processed.

I know our clients get tired of us saying it but I really believe that age is not a disease, and mature pets that are otherwise healthy are able to tolerate anesthesia well. A pet that is older is more likely to have more severe periodontal disease and thus more pain. These animals still need care in order to maintain the quality of their lives. Taking care of their gums and teeth is also one of the best ways to extend their lifespan.