Anesthesia in old dogs and cats

Anesthesia in old dogs and cats.

If you want to scare a pet lover, tell him or her that you are going to need to perform surgery on their pet who is in his teens. For lay people, it’s still a pretty scary concept.

However, in modern times it is nearly an everyday event. Of course, regardless of the age or condition of the patient, we veterinarians approach every surgery with great respect and concern. Never, ever, would we consider any procedure “routine,” not even the ones we perform daily.

Anesthesia today is so much safer than it has ever been. Here’s why:

  1. Pre-anesthesia laboratory testing is both advanced and routine.
  2. Pre-anesthetic drugs are safer. Before anesthesia even starts medications are given to help the body deal with the anesthetic and to prevent pain before it starts.
  3. Induction anesthetic agents are safer. Before “maintenance” anesthesia begins an induction agent starts the anesthetizing process. Modern induction agents are completely metabolized in a matter of minutes so that they don’t linger and complicate the maintenance anesthesia picture.

Maintenance anesthesia medications now give phenomenal control. When a procedure is over, we want our patients awake now. With inhaled anesthetic agents we have that kind of control.

Next Tuesday I have a 14-year old geriatric dog whose tail has to be removed to prevent complications from a tumor in that area. Today her preoperative laboratory test results came in and showed all systems to be healthy. While we will be incredibly cautious and attentive, we will enter the procedure without fear.


  1. My cat is approx 15 yrs old. Chronic URI symptoms. Vet believes tumor or foreign body in nasal cavity worst case scenario. Vet says x-rays necessary but wont do them because she won’t use anesthesia on my cat due to age and no medical history. He was rehomed to me 3 years ago. I mentioned a local anesthesia/ sedation but she stated they don’t have that. Chronic sneezing, discharge, and some bloody mucus if sneezing hard. Unilateral discharge primarily. Thoughts? Thanks.

  2. My cat, age 15, has a serious heart murmur. She also has a non cancerous and non infected cyst just in front of her left hear. It was aspirated and has refilled and swollen within 24 hours of the procedure. The Vet. said that she is NOT a candidate for surgical removal due to her heart murmur. I was wondering if she could have this cyst removed with a local. Or if she even needs it removed… other than for cosmetic reasons… it is ugly but not red or otherwise inflamed and doesn’t appear to hurt even when touched or squeezed.

    • I see lots of bumps that pet owners want to be rid of that are bothering them, but not the patient. I get it. But, if a procedure has significant risk, the risk:benefit ratio might not be in the patient’s favor. While people have bumps removed with local anesthesia all the time, it’s different with pets because most of them won’t sit still, especially for a procedure on the head. That said, board-certified veterinary dermatologists do more removals with local anesthesia than anyone else. If you have one within reach, it might be worthwhile to ask for a referral to have him/her to take a look at it. Thanks for reading our blog, Dr. Randolph.

  3. Hello, I have a 16 year old dog who has perianal adenocarcinoma (as the veterinarian said), he had a surgery and the abssecess came back. He cannot have another but because they got very swollen the veterinarian popped them without any type of anesthesia. This was way too painful for him and I want to know if we can use local anesthesia there because they need to be popped again, since they got very big. My dog is pretty strong btw thats why he did the surgery in the first place. Please answer asap, cause this is urgent.

  4. Hi Dr. Randolph, my golden retriever is 11 yrs old. He has hypothyroid, anemia, a slightly enlarged heart, a 2″mass on his liver, megaesophogus and adenocarcenoma/squamous cell, in his nose. I feel I have the ME managed as well as possible, the nose growth is the main concern, it grows slowly but will soon alter his breathing. My primary care vet says he wouldn’t survive cryosurgery with general anesthesia. She does not recommend surgery at all under a general. The Dermatologist says if his thyroid numbers are good, he thinks the surgery will be fine. As I sit here listening to him breathe, it sounds like someone with a cold. Right now the growth is only on one side.. I don’t want to put him through removing the mass or radiation, if he could make it through a little cryosurgery just to keep that area open and use a local anesthesia , would that be a possibility? And what if both sides have a growth, can he breathe through his mouth only? These are hard decisions. His health is still pretty good, he eats and walks a half mile a few days per week. Thank you for your insight!

    • Wow, Julie, you are between a rock and a hard place. I don’t envy you. With all of those problems your baby has done extremely well to make it to 11. Many megaesophagus patients succumb to complications sooner than that. However, here you are. There is only one way I would proceed in this situation, and that is to have a referral to a board-certified surgeon who works closely with a board-certified oncologist, preferably in the same facility. Let them guide you through the process with their recommendations. Best wishes to you and your pup, and please write back and let us know how he does.

      • Hi Dr. Randolph,
        Many thanks for your reply. I put everything on hold with the cryosurgery and scheduled an appt. with a vet at U of F. That appt. is in Dec., so I have to wait and in the meantime, I am getting a better grip on his ME and his meals. I feel his energy is up and hope to put a little weight back on. I will keep you posted. Thank you again!

  5. Is it adviseable to anesthetize a dog with esophageal structure? He isn’t underweight and has good Pre -op test results. The structure was caused because of complications with Gerd and Aspiration pneumonia after an emergency surgery 3 years ago. The vet has advised neutering due to an extremely enlarged prostate. Dog is 13.

  6. My 11 year old Cavalier has cardiac disease and seizures. He now has an enlarged prostate and enlarged testicle. What are your thoughts on being neutered. It should be done but I am afraid of his reaction to anesthesia.

  7. I have learned so much every time I have search in this site. Thank you Dr. J. Randolph for your wisdom, experience and determined efforts in keeping My Pets Doctor current and available to pet parents everywhere.

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