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Surgery for Older Dogs

Administering Anesthesia To Your Older Dog

Up until the late fifties and early sixties, the successful outcome of many surgical procedures for older dogs was somewhat uncertain. This was due in small part to the surgical techniques and materials employed at the time, but primarily to the types of anesthetics that were available then. Those anesthetics were often unpredictable, sometimes produced longer periods of anesthesia than were needed for the operation, and they had to be detoxified and eliminated largely by the liver and kidneys, organs which usually are already under stress in the older dog.

These problems sometimes prompted many conscientious veterinarians to advise clients that "your dog is too old to anesthetize or be operated on." What they were really saying was that the risk from surgery and anesthesia was at least as great, or greater, than the risk from whatever was wrong with the dog.

Today that situation has radically changed. Anesthetizing a seriously ill older dog is still in the high-risk category, but the chances of a successful outcome are tremendously improved. The new types of anesthetics give excellent control over the depth and time of anesthesia and allow for rapid recovery to a normal, conscious state. Many of the newer and much safer injectable anesthetics can be used alone for general anesthesia or, in combination with some gas anesthetics, to provide "balanced anesthesia." And certainly, the ready availability of artificial respirators which can breathe for your dog has both increased the overall safety of anesthesia as well as permitted surgery within the chest cavity for some types of cardiac and lung disorders.

No dog should be considered "too old" for surgery or anesthesia if otherwise in reasonable health. The aging kidneys and liver still must detoxify much of the anesthetic, aging lungs can make inhalant anesthetics more difficult to control, and heart disease does increase the overall danger. There still is risk, but it is a calculated risk, usually weighted on the side of success.

In today's modern veterinary hospitals and clinics, surgery is done under conditions similar to those found in human hospitals. Everything is done to keep the surgical area sterile, which includes doctors scrubbing before surgery and wearing sterile cap, mask, and gown. All instruments, surgical drapes, and any piece of equipment that will come in contact with the patient is sterilized. The surgery is performed in a separate operating room, which is used only for sterile surgery. While each operating room will vary in the variety of equipment available, it will have whatever is needed for the particular operation being done. If your veterinarian's hospital is not equipped to perform a particular type of surgery, he will refer you to a colleague who does have the necessary equipment, or he may do the surgery himself but in his colleague's hospital.


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