Old age isn't a disease, and there are plenty of treatments that can be done to keep old timers enjoying their twilight years.
Even though as a matter of convenience we say that one human year equals seven dog years, and that we consider pets over seven years of age to be seniors, there are certainly breed, species and individual variation. An 80-kilogram Mastiff is pretty much a senior at six, but a healthy cat or Chihuahua may not really physically be a senior until ten.
The existence of other physical problems also changes the age of seniorhood. Regular wellness exams with your veterinarian are an important part of deciding when your pet is a senior, when senior screening is important for them and whether changes in food, supplements or medications will be helpful to keep them spry. Occasionally the treatment or diagnosis of the problem requires an anesthetic or sedation. One of the first questions we as veterinarian hear as soon as we recommend a procedure that requires an anesthetic or sedation is, "Do you think that he is too old?"
Old age doesn't preclude anesthetic, but it's important to make sure the anesthetic work-up and the anesthetic itself is appropriate for the age of the patient. Pre-anesthetic work-up for seniors should include, as a minimum, a complete physical exam and history, including good evaluation of the circulatory and respiratory systems, as well as bloodwork that checks the organs and blood cell counts to a more in-depth level than a puppy. In some seniors, assessing the urine and details of the heart function with an ECG (electrocardiogram) are indicated. This is done to tailor the anesthetic to the patient, check for health problems that need to be dealt with prior to the anesthetic, or to decide that an anesthetic is not recommended at this time.
The day of the procedure is a little different for seniors than for youngsters, as well. The pre-anesthetic work-up will help the veterinarian choose drugs and doses specific to your senior and create a monitoring plan for their procedure. Often the IV fluids (given as good practice for most anesthetics) need to be given over a longer period of time to allow their older organs to adjust. Like other patients, they have monitoring of their blood pressure, heart patterns, temperature, blood oxygen levels, and depth of anesthetic. Even with age-specific selection of drugs, seniors are typically monitored longer after a procedure to ensure a smooth recovery, which can mean a slightly longer stay in the clinic compared to a young adult.
An anesthesia is never risk-free at any age, but a properly planned and monitored anesthetic in a senior minimizes the increased risks that the advancing years can bring. Pain, debilitating or unsightly masses, and life-shortening processes that can be improved by surgery, do not have to be endured because of age. In short, being old doesn't mean your pet is too old to have a better life on the other side of an anesthetic.
Dr. Katharine North has been a resident and active participant in the Fort St. John community since her family immigrated to Canada from the United Kingdom as a child. Dr. North spent many hours at the North Peace Veterinary Clinic as a student and joined the practice as a veterinary associate upon graduation.