Senior Dog Anesthesia Risks

Dog AnesthesiaIf you worry about the risk associated with your senior dog being anesthetized for a medical procedure, you’re not alone.

Victoria Lukasik, a board certified veterinary anesthesiologist based in Tucson, Arizona, remembers one client who canceled her 15-year-old Daschund’s dental appointment five times before finally bringing him in for much needed teeth extractions.

“Age is not a reason to avoid anesthesia and therapy that might really enhance your dog’s life,” she says.

To ease your anxiety and ensure the safety of your dog, find a knowledgeable veterinarian or hire a board certified veterinary anesthesiologist.To ease your anxiety and ensure the safety of your dog, find a knowledgeable veterinarian or hire a board certified veterinary anesthesiologist. You may also consider looking into various types of insurance for your dog, equivalents to those that are offered by companies like Aviva for people are also offered for pets.

For more than a decade, Lukasik has traveled the country, and world, providing anesthesia care to pets on every continent except Antarctica. Both veterinary hospitals and concerned owners hire Lukasik for her specialized mobile service, mainly for old or sick dogs who must undergo necessary surgery.

So far she’s had a good track record. Not one of her 8,000 patients has died because of the sleep inducing drugs. Lukasik chalks up her success to in-depth knowledge of anesthetics, and vigilant monitoring of vital signs during and after a procedure.

Adverse anesthesia-related outcomes run the gamut from regurgitated food blocking the airway to death.

A study published earlier this year in the journal Veterinary Anaesthesia and Analgesiafound the anesthetic and sedation death rate in healthy dogs is 1 in 1,849. Sick canines do much worse, with a mortality rate of 1 in 75.

To put the survival odds in your dog’s favor, he should first undergo a physical exam by your veterinarian and get blood drawn for a pre-anesthetic screening that detects problems such as hidden infections or malfunctioning organs.

While it doesn’t happen very often, if the blood test reveals an unknown medical condition it’ll change the course of the procedure and/or anesthetic protocol in order to keep your dog safe, says Lukasik.

If everything checks out OK, though, the anesthesia drugs selected are based on your dog’s age, breed, health status and the procedure, says Pedro Boscan, a board certified veterinary anesthesiologist at Colorado State University’s veterinary teaching hospital in Fort Collins.

On the day of surgery, your dog is given a tranquilizer and pain killer before a catheter is inserted into a vein in his leg. If a complication from either the surgery or anesthetic occurs, the catheter allows for easy delivery of potentially life saving drugs.

While giving an analgesic before surgery might seem odd, it’s important, says Lukasik, so patients are more comfortable when they wake up. And ultimately they’ll require fewer pain pills post operatively.

Next, intravenous fluids are started to keep older dogs hydrated and oxygen is given – for just a few minutes — before a short acting anesthetic is injected into the catheter, knocking the patient unconscious.

At that point, a soft tube is placed in the windpipe (to prevent aspiration of fluids or vomit) and connected to a machine that produces a mixture of gas anesthesia and oxygen to keep patients asleep during the procedure.

During surgery special equipment helps technicians or veterinarians monitor your dog’s blood pressure, temperature, pulse rate, breathing, heart rate, and oxygenation.

At minimum, Lukasik says a dog’s blood pressure and respiration should be monitored during surgery by an experienced veterinary technician.

Unfortunately, in some states, she says, vet techs are not required to undergo formal training, or even posses a high school degree, to work in the animal medical field. That’s why it’s important for owners to ask: How much experience does the person monitoring my dog have?

After the procedure, both Lukasik and Boscan say your pet should receive additional pain medication to help in the recovery process.

Each veterinary hospital manages its anesthesia patients differently so consult with your veterinarian first before your older dog undergoes a medical procedure.

To find a board certified veterinary anesthesiologist near you, visit the American College of Veterinary Anesthesiologists, at