So your pet needs surgery. Whether it be a routine spay/neuter, dental, an orthopedic surgery, or a life saving emergency surgery, there are always things to consider.
One of the most common concerns that we hear is that 'My pet is too old for anesthesia'. I try to explain things this way. Age itself is not a disease. That being said, older animals are more likely to have certain diseases, and may be less able to compensate while under anesthetic, or make recovery more difficult. We certainly take this into account when assessing an animal and making recommendations.
As with any procedure or surgery, it's always important to evaluate the benefits and the risks of surgery. Anesthesia has come a long ways in recent years, and is much safer than it has been in the past. Our recommendations are what is ideal for the animal. There a number of factors that come in to play when deciding on whether or not to proceed, and our job is to work with you to find the best solution that takes into account all of them.
Some of the big surgical considerations include:
1) Is the animal healthy enough to tolerate the anesthetic?
2) How much benefit will the operation provide to the animal? (immediately, and for how long?)
3) Is it something that can adequately be managed medically instead of surgically?
4) Costs - surgery is often not cheap, and we can fully acknowledge that. Are there alternative procedures or therapies that can accomplish the same thing? What are the drawbacks and benefits of each option?
There are some surgeries that have to happen regardless of age and concurrent diseases as they can be the difference between life or death. For example, an intestinal obstruction (most commonly when a pet eats an object of some sort), or other emergency procedures like a GDV (gastric dilation and volvulus). These are procedures which require immediate surgical intervention, and we do our best to minimize the risks.
For elective procedures, we have more flexibility as far as timing and options of what can be done. One of the most common elective issues that requires a general anesthesia is dental disease. Old or young, when dental disease is left untreated, abscesses can form in the mouth leading to bad breath, infection in the mouth and pain. It is often not noticed as much since it is hidden out of sight, and most animals will continue to eat despite this. The risk of a single anesthetic and operation is in many cases much lower than the risk of leaving a chronic infection untreated. We may elect to decrease or eliminate routine/prophylactic dental cleanings in some patients to avoid the anesthetic risk should there be concerning health issues, but for an otherwise healthy animal, the risks of surgery are minimal and the anesthetic is quite safe.
If anyone tells you that any procedure is 100% safe, you should question things a bit. Nothing is guaranteed as much as we’d like it to be. Procedures can be very safe, but there are always risks, and even in the best of hands things can go wrong unexpectedly. For example, anaphylactic or adverse drug reactions can happen in response to any substance however benign – think of it like a severe peanut allergy, only this can happen to any substance or medication. While these are very rare, they are near impossible to predict. In a hospital setting we have some ability to treat and manage these scenario's should they arise. If you're recalling a scene from Grey's Anatomy right now, it's not usually quite that dramatic. We do our best to minimize risks, but some things are unpredictable.
There are many reasons why surgery may be required, some of which are more urgent than others. If you ever have questions about the benefits vs risks of a procedure, or not having the procedure performed, ask us. We're happy to go into more detail as to why we recommend things and the possible risks associated with them. There are no bad questions, and there's a lot to consider before electing to put your pet through an anesthetic procedure. The better informed we can make you, the more equipped you'll be to make the best decision for you and your pets.