Recently I performed a dental on a 16-year-old dog, after which I removed an infected eye from a one pound, four-week-old kitten. While the cases were very different, they had one common denominator. At one point or another, someone suggested the patients should not have surgery based solely on their age. Now I will admit, I kind of held my breath a little on the one-pound kitten. It wasn’t because of its age; it was because of its size. It was hard to dose the medication accurately; and even harder to get an IV catheter in. However, I trusted my staff, they trusted me, and the kitten did very well during the surgery.
Age is not a disease process. There are certain diseases that are more common in elderly patients; but the diseases, not the age, dictate whether anesthesia and surgery are plausible. As an emergency vet, all my surgery cases were very sick when they were placed under anesthesia. We didn’t have the luxury of waiting to anesthetize healthy animals. Are there times when an animal is too sick to have a routine procedure on them? Absolutely… but the disease, not the age dictates that.
While I was at the Western Veterinary Conference in March, I attended a lecture on anesthesia. The board-certified anesthesiologist described a phone call he got for a consult with a former student. The dog was healthy, all the pre-anesthetic bloodwork was normal, but the doctor was terrified to anesthetize the dog. When the specialist asked why, the local doctor explained that the dog was 27 (it was an AKC registered dog, so the age was accurate). With a gentle prod and a reminder that age is not a disease, the 27-year-old Bichon had his dental done successfully, and the owner was very happy. So, the next time you think your cat or dog shouldn’t have something done because it is older, remember the 27-year-old Bichon!
Ann E Bastian, V.M.D.