Give Your Senior Cat the Best of Care

Beach Metro News

By Dr. Nigel Skinner • September 20, 2011 • Print This Article

“BUT MY cat is too old to have an anesthetic…”

I’ll bet that every vet in the city hears this, or something like it, almost every day; “I know he needs his teeth cleaned but he’s too old for the anesthesia.”

We all know where this notion comes from, and in some cases it’s close to the truth, but for the vast majority, we really need to change this perception. The first thing every owner of a senior pet should realize is that ‘old age’ is not a disease. Of course as we age, both people and pets, certain health problems become more likely. The wear and tear of a lifetime of use on certain organs and systems makes them more vulnerable.

I use dental procedures as an example, because dental disease is a particularly common and significant problem in older pets. It can be a very debilitating, painful and, in some cases, life threatening condition in our pets. Ask most vets and they will tell you that they have tragically had to euthanize pets suffering from the complications of severe dental dis- ease.

Of course any time any medication is given, whether to any of us or our pets, a certain degree of risk is assumed. Some medications are inherently more “risky” than others. Unfortunately otherwise seemingly healthy pets have suffered unexpected serious complications from anesthetic and pain medications.

However, I think that the reputation of anesthesia in veterinary medicine lags a few decades behind the reality.

I recently re-read four of the James Herriot novels I had loved when I first read them some 20 years go. I loved them just as much this time, but have we ever come a long way! We don’t use the same drug just a lower dose to knock out a 10 lb cat as a 1500 lb horse anymore. In fact, the anesthetics we use to induce and maintain general anesthesia in pets now are all used in human medicine, the same drugs you, I, or our children might receive.

When your vet suggests a procedure requiring anesthetic for your senior pet, the discussion you need to have centres on the risk-benefit balance. You should be comfortable that the benefits of any procedure outweigh the risks, which means that first of all you have to understand both. If you’re unsure, ask until you are sure.

There are certain things that can be done before we anesthetize a pet that help us be more confident that balance is tipped in your pet’s favour. This is where a thorough check of a patient’s health becomes crucial. We need to identify who is going to be put at extra risk from proceeding with a surgery or dentistry requiring anes- thesia, from those otherwise healthy older patients who will be put at greater risk if we don’t.

Generally, at a minimum, our older patients will need, in addition to a thorough physical exam, recent blood tests. Your vet needs to know that the systems needed to break down and eliminate the drugs used, are functioning normally. We also have to be mindful that since our pets sadly lead much shorter lives than we do, their health status can change much more quickly than ours.

We have all heard the comparison of one pet year being equivalent to seven human years. While this is not always accurate it’s close enough to make the point. Blood tests from eight months ago may not reflect what is happening in your pet now, and it’s now we need to understand because it’s now that we’re considering putting your pet under general anesthesia.

In some cases, such as the discovery of a suspected underlying infection or endocrine disorder, the procedure can be delayed until these are addressed. In others, findings on blood tests will have us choose certain drugs or techniques over others. Sometimes these pre-anesthetic screening tests will make it clear that we cannot proceed with anesthesia in that patient, based on that risk benefit balance.

So, if you find yourself in the position of having to consider a procedure for your senior pet, try to keep a few things in mind. Make sure you understand why the procedure is recom- mended, what the risks are and what the benefits are. Know what can be done to keep those risks to an absolute minimum and consider the pre-anesthetic screening and other precautions as part of the procedure, not “extras.” Try not to let some out- dated misconceptions prevent you from helping your pet lead as happy and healthy a life for as long as they possibly can.