Is My Pet too Old for Anesthesia?

It’s a reasonable question, but one that’s increasingly less applicable to modern veterinary medicine. With advances in veterinary care, our pre-procedure screening, anesthetic drugs, techniques and monitoring tools are safer and more effective than ever before.

Age itself is not a disease, however as our pets age the likelihood of developing a disease does increase. It is these diseases (known as comorbidities) that can often increase the risk of an anesthetic procedure and why your veterinarian will recommend appropriate screening before a procedure. This is likely to include a thorough physical exam, full senior blood work to assess organ function, red and white blood cells and thyroid function. Based on these results your veterinarian may also recommend x-rays to check for possible heart and/or lung disease. It is important to understand that finding abnormal results does not necessarily make your pet a poor candidate for anesthesia but it may mean that your veterinarian will alter the specific plan to your pet’s needs, thus mitigating the risk.

With this information you and your veterinarian can have a discussion about the needed treatments versus the risk of anesthesia to determine whether to proceed. In most cases, especially regarding dental disease or tumor removals that will improve the quality of life of your loved one.

How do I know that my veterinarian is doing these anesthetic screenings and personalized anesthetic protocols?

The best way to know is to be educated and advocate for your pet. You can ask your veterinarian about what their procedure for anesthesia and screening tests are for the geriatric patient. You can also look for the AAHA (American Animal Hospital Association) accreditation. This is a voluntary accreditation that indicates the hospital holds itself to a higher standard, and that your pet is receiving care at a hospital that has passed the highest standards in veterinary care. These standards include better level of care and monitoring during anesthetic procedures. Sadly, only 12–15% of hospitals in the U.S. have this accreditation. To learn more you can visit To achieve this accreditation, hospitals must go through rigorous inspections every other year and demonstrate that they have dedicated, trained technicians for monitoring, have the appropriate and functioning monitoring equipment and use an individual anesthetic protocol designed for each patient. You can look for the AAHA logo on your veterinarian’s website, windows or ask the front desk.

With this understanding of proper care, your older pet may be able to get the necessary dental cleaning or procedure that will improve their quality of life. Please talk to your veterinarian about your pet and your concerns.