Should You Put A 14 Year Old Dog Under Anesthesia?

As dogs age, their risk for complications under anesthesia increases. According to recent studies, around 14 in 10,000 dogs die within two weeks of anesthesia, with higher rates in dogs over 7 years old.

Many dog owners wonder if it’s safe to put their elderly canine under anesthesia. This article will examine the risks, benefits, and alternatives to consider when an older dog needs a procedure requiring anesthesia.

We’ll provide an overview of factors to weigh, like your dog’s health status, anesthesia options, and steps you can take to minimize risks. Our goal is to help owners make an informed decision about anesthesia in senior dogs.

Risks of Anesthesia in Elderly Dogs

As dogs age, the risks associated with anesthesia increase. Senior and geriatric dogs undergo physiological changes that can make the administration of anesthesia more complicated. Compared to younger dogs, older dogs are at higher risk for complications like low blood pressure, slow heart rate, and problems regulating body temperature during and after anesthesia (AKC Canine Health Foundation).

Studies show that older dogs have higher rates of mortality following anesthesia. One study found the mortality rate was 0.05% for dogs under 10 years old, while it jumped to 0.11% for dogs 10-15 years old. For dogs over 15 years old the mortality rate was even higher at 1.33% (AKC Canine Health Foundation).

While the risks may increase with age, a thorough pre-anesthetic evaluation along with careful monitoring and supportive care during and after anesthesia can help minimize complications in senior dogs. But pet owners should be aware of the increased risks when considering elective procedures requiring anesthesia for dogs over 10 years old.

Assessing Your Dog’s Health

Before putting an elderly dog under anesthesia, it is crucial to assess their overall health status. An important part of this evaluation is getting recent pre-anesthetic bloodwork done (Preanesthetic Bloodwork | VCA Animal Hospitals). Bloodwork provides valuable information about your dog’s organ function, hydration status, blood cell counts, and presence of infection.

The two main components of pre-anesthetic bloodwork are a complete blood count (CBC) and a serum biochemistry profile (Preanesthetic Blood Testing and Your Dog). The CBC checks red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets, while the biochemistry evaluates kidney and liver function, blood sugar, proteins, and electrolytes. These tests can identify common issues like anemia, dehydration, infection, or poor organ function that may require modifying the anesthesia protocol.

In addition to bloodwork, a full physical exam should be performed to check weight, temperature, heart and lung sounds, mouth health, and muscle/joint issues. Your vet will also review your dog’s medical history and current medications. Alert your vet to any signs of illness, like coughing, vomiting, or diarrhea. Underlying health conditions that could complicate anesthesia, like heart disease, should be noted (Pre-Anesthetic Bloodwork: Is It Really Necessary?).

While pre-anesthetic screening does not guarantee safety, it provides key information to customize anesthesia administration for your senior dog’s needs.

Type of Anesthesia

The type of anesthesia used for senior dogs is an important consideration, as newer anesthetics tend to be safer for geriatric patients. Veterinarians typically avoid outdated anesthetics like thiopental in favor of newer drugs like propofol, which is easier on the heart and cleared from the body faster.

According to research, the anesthetic alfaxalone has proven very safe for elderly dogs when used for induction and maintenance at appropriate doses. Alfaxalone allows for rapid changes in anesthesia depth, smooth recovery, and requires minimal metabolic change from the liver – making it ideal for aging dogs with reduced organ function.

Some anesthetics like ketamine or tiletamine/zolazepam (Telazol) may be avoided in senior pets as they can cause prolonged recoveries. Veterinarians will often opt for newer anesthetics like sevoflurane gas or propofol infusions to maintain a stable plane of anesthesia.

Overall, experts recommend using short-acting, reversible anesthetics customized to the individual patient over outdated or prolonged-action drugs for elderly dogs undergoing anesthesia.

Anesthesia Protocol

When putting an elderly dog under anesthesia, vets need to carefully adjust the dose for the dog’s age and weight. Older dogs are more sensitive to anesthetic drugs and require much lower doses – as much as 50% less than an adult dog [1]. The dose should be individually calculated based on factors like breed, health status, and procedure type.

It’s also critical to use monitoring equipment during the procedure to closely control anesthesia depth. This includes ECG, blood pressure, oxygen levels, body temperature, and exhaled anesthetic gas. Tight control and adjustments allow vets to keep the dog stable under anesthesia without going too deep or too light [2].

A light plane of anesthesia may be most appropriate for elderly dogs to maintain protective reflexes while minimizing drug exposure. Multi-modal pain control is also recommended to use lower anesthetic doses.

Procedure Duration

The duration of anesthesia should be minimized as much as possible for elderly dogs. The longer a dog is under anesthesia, the higher the risks of complications and side effects. According to experts, anesthesia duration over 2 hours significantly increases the risk of kidney and liver problems in older dogs (Source:

When planning a procedure for an elderly dog, the veterinarian will take steps to minimize anesthesia time. This includes efficient pre-op planning, having all necessary equipment and staff ready, and monitoring vitals closely during the procedure. Simple procedures like dental cleanings often take less than an hour. More complex surgeries may require longer anesthesia but the risks can be reduced by careful post-op monitoring and care.

Owners should discuss keeping their dog’s time under anesthesia as short as possible when planning any procedure. Prioritize only essential tests and treatments to limit risks. Consider alternatives like local anesthetics when appropriate. With careful planning and preparation, even longer procedures can be conducted as safely as possible.

Post-Op Care

Caring for your dog after surgery is crucial for their recovery. Some key aspects of post-op care include:

Keep Them Warm – It’s important to keep your dog warm after surgery. Their body temperature can drop during anesthesia, so use blankets or a heated pet bed to maintain a warm environment. Monitor their temperature and keep the room they are recovering in warm.

Monitor Vitals – Keep an eye on your dog’s breathing, heart rate, and temperature. Look for any signs of distress or abnormal vitals. Contact your vet if you notice anything concerning. Check incision sites for bleeding or swelling as well.

Pain Control – Controlling pain is essential after surgery. Follow your vet’s recommendations for administering any prescribed pain medications. Look for signs your dog is in pain like whining, restlessness, changes in behavior, or loss of appetite. Keeping pain under control aids healing. According to the PDSA article: “Most dogs need rest after surgery, even if it was only a minor procedure”

Your dog will likely need lots of rest and care while they recover. Limit activity, keep them comfortable, and monitor their condition closely. Proper post-op care helps get your dog back on their feet.

When to Avoid Anesthesia

While anesthesia is generally very safe for dogs, there are some situations when the risks may outweigh the benefits. According to the VCA Hospitals, anesthesia is not recommended for dogs with severe organ dysfunction, such as kidney, liver, or heart failure. Anesthesia puts additional strain on body systems, so dogs with compromised organ function are at higher risk of complications.

Dogs with advanced cancer or other severe illnesses may also be poor candidates for anesthesia, depending on their overall health status. As noted in “Small Animal Local and Regional Anesthesia,” coagulopathies or bleeding disorders are an absolute contraindication for anesthesia procedures due to increased risk of hemorrhage.

Additionally, if a dog has had anesthesia recently, vets typically recommend waiting 1-2 weeks before administering it again. Repeated anesthetic events within a short timeframe increase the likelihood of complications, so spacing them out allows the dog’s body to fully recover.

Alternatives to Anesthesia

There are some alternatives that can be considered instead of general anesthesia for dogs, especially elderly dogs where the risks may be higher.

Local Anesthetics

Local anesthetics like lidocaine can be injected at the specific site where a procedure will take place to numb just that area, rather than putting the dog fully under. This allows the dog to remain awake during minor procedures like small tumor removals or dental extractions (Source). The effects wear off within a few hours. Local anesthesia carries lower risks than general anesthesia but can only be used for very minor and localized procedures.


Sedatives like dexmedetomidine can produce calming effects and pain relief in dogs without making them fully unconscious. This is often combined with local anesthetics. Sedation allows dogs to undergo brief procedures like imaging or exams while avoiding risks of general anesthesia (Source). Sedation may not be suitable for invasive or painful procedures.

Nerve Blocks

Injecting local anesthetics near major nerves can numb larger regions of the body, allowing more extensive procedures on awake dogs. For example, epidurals, ankle blocks, and dental nerve blocks can provide alternatives to general anesthesia in some cases (Source). However, nerve blocks require expertise to perform safely.


Assessing the risks and benefits of anesthesia for a senior dog is a complex decision requiring careful consideration. While anesthesia does carry increased risks for older dogs, it may still be the best option for treating certain conditions or allowing diagnostic testing. Dog owners should have a thorough veterinary exam performed to identify any pre-existing conditions that could complicate anesthesia. The type of anesthesia and procedure protocol can be customized to minimize risks based on the dog’s health status. Shorter procedures are preferable when possible. Post-operative care also becomes especially important for senior dogs recovering from anesthesia.

In many cases, the benefits of anesthesia will outweigh the risks. However, if the dog is extremely elderly or has multiple health issues, the veterinarian may advise that anesthesia is too dangerous. Owners can discuss alternatives like oral sedation or pain medication that may allow certain treatments without full anesthesia. But the veterinarian’s guidance is key, as they can best assess the overall risks and benefits of anesthesia based on the dog’s unique circumstances.

With careful planning and monitoring, anesthesia can often be safe even for senior dogs. But dog owners should educate themselves on the considerations involved and work closely with their veterinarian to make the best decision for their elderly pet.

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